Or, to put it another way:

“You’re just going to give your book away?! Have you lost your mind?!”

Given I hate the way food bloggers bury their recipes—you have to scroll through a mile of dumb story (like a trip down their chocolate frosting memory lane) to get the ingredients and method—I’ll give you the short answer now:

YES, YES and YES … about 34,000 times over.

For those of you not interested in writing/self-publishing topics, sorry. I’m just running with something very current for me right now—my experience with BookBub. And, to be honest, it’s the reason most of you are here! (If there’s something you’d like me to blog about, do please leave a comment or drop me an email!)

A few months ago, I had no idea what BookBub was. For all I knew, it could have been an intensive reading program for toddlers—you know, something to help pushy parents ramp up the smugness. But I soon learned/heard/read that this BookBub thing was something of a Holy Grail for self-published authors like me.

And who doesn’t want their Holy Grail?!

Naturally, I was all ears.

BookBub is essentially a global book club with millions upon millions of members. And, so the legend goes, if you get one of your books on their recommended reads email then, well, you know, you’ve pretty much hit the struggling writer’s jackpot (which, in monetary terms, equates to anything above half the national average income … No kidding. We’re that easily pleased, it’s scary. And pathetic.)

Anyway, that was the word on the street: BookBub could be a game-changer for someone like me.

Great. Count me in. So how soon will they be spruiking my book?

Maybe never.

Turns out there’s a catch to getting your book featured in one of BookBub’s recommended reads—a list that gets emailed to a gazillion people. And the catch is it’s not what you’d call easy. Yes, you have to pay them for the privilege of being included in their email but you can’t just buy your way in. You have to be selected.

So you submit your book for consideration and they, well, consider it. In the end, only 10-20 percent of submissions get the nod.

In making their judgment, BookBub staff take into account various factors such as the strength of your cover and the volume/strength of the reviews your book has garnered on the likes of Amazon and Goodreads.

Okay, so I’ve got no chance, I thought. But the advice was to keep trying. If you get knocked back, you can reapply after thirty days. Implement their submission advice as best you can and keep reapplying. So went the self-publishing community pep talk.

So in early July, I submitted Force of Justice, pricing it at 99 cents (instead of US$2.99) and asking for it to go out to BookBub’s US and international markets. A week later, they got back to me with an offer of a non-US deal, meaning the book would only go out to BookBub subscribers in Canada, the UK, Australia and India (which had was a total of about 700,000 subscribers for the Thriller category). It would cost me US$242. Not what I wanted but it was better than nothing.

So out it went.

The result? A little disappointing, to be honest. I got a spike of 480 sales, which was less than average, according to BookBub’s stats (they say the Thriller category in the non-US market at that price draws an average of 680 sales). And while sales did spike in three countries, in India they were just about non-existent.

So on those figures, with Amazon’s 30 percent royalty, I didn’t come out ahead financially. Still, it broadened my readership in the UK, Canada and Australia a little. And it all adds up.

But getting a US deal was what I wanted. There are almost 2.7 million people who subscribe to BookBub’s Thriller category in the US. So I resubmitted Force of Justice, saying I was prepared to give it away. (At a cost of US$476, a free book in this category draws an average of 28,000 downloads, according to BookBub.)

Why give it away?

Well, Force of Justice was a year old by this stage and wasn’t earning a great deal of money. So I decided to use it purely as a marketing tool. If 28,000 people downloaded and read Force of Justice, I hoped some of them would discover that I’m the kind of author who writes books they like to read. In short, the idea was to expand my reader base, spread the word, as they say, and get people engaged with the Brad Madison series.

Soon after I reapplied, I got an email from BookBub saying it had been accepted.

To say I was thrilled is an understatement. But why was it accepted for the US market now and not on my first go? Well, I think the book met a lot of their requirements and it was the right fit. But I also suspect Force of Justice’s trial run in the International market helped. But being free instead of US$2.99 meant this was a genuine bargain BookBub could pass on to its members.

So what happened?

The impact was nothing short of phenomenal. When the newsletter went out, I monitored my KDP sales dashboard and watched the download count skyrocket. It was exhilarating, but then in the back of my mind I wondered, Is it really going to reach 28,000? Surely not? But it did. And then some.

Oh, and in the process Force of Justice went to the top of Amazon free rankings chart.

By the way, I spent no money on advertising (on any platform) or promo stacking as other smart and well-organized authors have done, so I can’t say how much better the result could have been, but when the dust settled I can only say I was stoked. It was a massive shot in the arm.

I’ll just summarize its impact:

1. Downloads

In total 34,547 copies of Force of Justice were downloaded over five days. The bulk (28,044) came on the day the newsletter went out, so it fell off rapidly.

2. Sales

Although I gave Force of Justice away, I easily recouped the $476 spend through sales alone. The day the newsletter went out, I sold 94 copies of book two in the series, Divine Justice. That’s almost $200 right there. But when Force of Justice returned to $2.99 both books were selling two or three times better than they were previously.

3. Page reads

Page reads of both books spiked from about 10,000 a day combined to 20,000. This kept up for almost a month after the deal.

Amazon rankings

Force of Justice went to #1 on Amazon’s free chart. So no one in the world was giving away more books than me for a couple of days. A month before the deal, Force of Justice had dropped to #30,436 on Amazon’s paid chart. After the five-day free deal, it returned at #4,668 and rose to #1,575. Only now, a month later has it dropped below #10,000. For Divine Justice, the impact was radical. Five days before the deal, it was sitting at #19,607. Then on deal day, it shot up to #1,369—its highest ever ranking—and has maintained solid (but decreasing) sales ever since.

5. Reviews

Amazon reviews are so important for authors because they have an impact on the ranking and hence visibility of your books. My BookBub sparked a surge in reviews for both Force of Justice and Divine Justice, and the vast majority were positive, I’m happy to say. This has happened on Goodreads too, so I’m still enjoying the benefit of that deal, as people buy the second book and respond to it favorably.

6. Author platform

The feature deal has led me to gain more than fifty followers on my BookBub profile and about the same number for subscribers to each of my blog and newsletters.

So to finish, I can say that the free BookBub deal gave me one of the best experiences I could hope for as a self-published author with little money to spend on advertising and marketing. It has given my prospects an enormous boost. It’s up to me now to make the most of that.

And to that end, I need to get back to Brad Madison book three—Game of Justice.

9 Comments

  1. Marv Scott October 21, 2019 at 1:12 am - Reply

    I read books one and two in the series and am looking forward to Game of Justice.

  2. Linda Stone October 28, 2019 at 1:13 am - Reply

    Just finished Divine Justice. As much as I enjoyed the first Brad Madison book, this one was even better. In fact, it was great. Some legal thrillers can get pretty boring. Especially in the courtroom and too in depth trial prep. But not this one. Interesting and exciting. Maybe a little unrealistic regarding the characters endurance and means during the rescue mission at the end. But you have to stretch it a little to be exciting and allow the mission to succeed, right?
    And almost no typos or grammar goofs!

    Anyway, good job. But I can’t figure out how to leave an Amazon review. My older Kindle Paperwhite won’t take me there and when I pull up the book on Amazon on my smart phone – well guess I’m just not computer savvy enough. I can read the reviews but can’t leave one….

    • JJ Miller October 28, 2019 at 1:13 am - Reply

      Hi Linda. Stoked you enjoyed DJ, and yes I have to try and be realistic without being strictly bound by real life. And as you say, and as many lawyers will admit, actual trials are more often than not very tedious affairs. Re the reviews, there are a few conditions you have to meet before you can leave one on Amazon – one being you have to have spent US$50 or thereabouts on Amazon. Don’t know if you’ve met that threshold but it might be the issue…

  3. Tracy L. Free November 22, 2019 at 1:02 am - Reply

    Read and loved both books. On a level with Baldacci or Gresham. Looking forward to the next!!

  4. Patrick M August 25, 2020 at 1:02 am - Reply

    Just finished the Brad Madison series in 4 days. Congrats on the stories and first Kindle Unlimited author with whom I don’t find myself grinding my teeth at all the typos. Don’t think I saw a single one in 3 books. Starting “I Swear to Tell” now and looking forward to that.

    • JJ Miller August 25, 2020 at 1:03 am - Reply

      Hi Patrick. I’m stoked you enjoyed the Brad Madison series. I’m working on #4 now. Typos are insidious beasts. They can be so hard to eradicate 100-percent. It’s funny you should raise this topic because I’m getting all my books proofread again, just to be sure.

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