Bookbub Deconstructed

A typical Bookbub deal

Just before BookExpo, I had lunch with two self-published writers to swap book marketing tips. We were trying to crack the code for getting books accepted by BookBub, the Cambridge-based company that sends out daily ebook promotions via enewsletters to millions of subscribers.

Bookbub has a reputation for selling thousands of an ebook at a pop—and easily returning revenues that exceed what they charge for a book promotion. But the problem is they’re very selective in the titles they accept for a Featured Deal promotion—and both of my writers were initially rejected by them.

But why? Was it the number of reader reviews they’d gotten on Amazon? The formats the books were published in? The editorial reviews from Publishers Weekly and the like? The discounted price points? We speculated on all these possibilities.

So when I saw the Bookbub folks at BookExpo, I pinned them down to see what I could learn. Here’s a summary of what they said, along with some ideas from those two writers in the trenches.

• Each day Bookbub gets over 300 submissions for each of its 40+ categories (thriller, mystery, self help, etc). They normally choose 2-3 to promote. Not great odds.
• Decisions are made by 15 editors who specialize in various genres. They don’t (can’t) read all the books submitted, so they make their decisions based on additional criteria submitted by writers and publishers—reviews, formats, price, topic, etc.
• Because Bookbub tracks their sales data closely, they know what’s trending among their subscribers, and they choose books with trending characteristics—themes, plots, topics.
• Bookbub does look at reader reviews on Amazon. My writers heard that you must have 35+ reviews to be considered, but Bookbub claims that no minimum number is required: decisions depend on the day your book is submitted, and the other books in the mix on that day.
• Bookbub expects all books to be discounted for the promotion. My writers tried various price points and found best results when books were $.99 (yes, they made money even at that low promotional price). Bookbub claims that they only require your book be discounted by 50%–but of course, better pricing tends to increase the likelihood of a book being chosen.
• Bookbub reaches subscribers in the US, UK, Canada, India and Australia, and books submitted for all those categories rank higher than books submitted for the US market only.
• Bookbub prefers books published on all ebook platforms. My writers heard that Bookbub wouldn’t consider books that were published only on Kindle. Bookbub says that’s not true—but ebooks published only on one platform have less of a reach than those published on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iPad and others.

In the end, both of my writers succeeded in getting Featured Deals. What do they attribute that to? Persistence. (You can submit your book once a month.) The Bookbub folks said the same thing: “We love our writers and root for them every time a book is resubmitted. Keep trying.”

Bookbub Demographics Charth




Tips on Formatting a Book Interior

Formatting the interior of your book can be tricky– and if you don’t do it well, it can give you away as a novice. If you’re going to do it yourself, here are a few formatting tips for your book:

book formatting templates


  • Set your margins wide–around .75″ to 1.0″ (depending on the trim size of your book). Most self-published authors make margins too narrow because they can save money on paper and printing–but that’s false economy.
  • Experiment with line spacing at something a little larger than single-spacing. Try 1.2 spacing. Then eyeball the results. Too dense? Too airy? Adjust as necessary.
  • Except for some novels, start each chapter on a right-hand page. That means left-hand pages are sometimes blank.
  • Start the first line of a new chapter about a third of the way down the page.
  • Consider starting the first line of text in a chapter with a dropcap (see example in the right-hand book above). Whether you go that route depends on what the rest of your chapter opener looks like.
  • Position your subheads on the line directly above the text block they introduce. And set them off with a linespace above to separate them from the previous text block. They should never float equidistant between the previous and the subsequent text blocks.
  • If a subhead requires two lines, try to break the first line so that it is shorter than the second line. This creates the illusion that the second line is a foundation for the first line.
  • For most pages, create a header (usually consisting of the author’s name on the left-hand page and the name of the book or chapter on the right-hand page) and a footer (usually consisting of a page number).
  • Remove the header and footer on the first page of every chapter.
  • Remove the header and footer text on all blank pages. Blank pages should be entirely blank.
  • Remove the header or footer text in the front matter (title page, copyright page, dedication, table of contents, etc) and back matter (acknowledgments, about the author). Not sure? Check some traditionally published books on your shelf.
  • Never allow a widow (one or two words) or orphan (a single line of text) to appear alone on a page. Cut or add text to fix this problem.
  • Make sure your title page appears on a right-hand page. Generally, the copyright page appears on the following left-hand page.

If all that makes your head ache, you might want to consider using a preformatted book template. All these details are baked into these templates, and all you do is cut and paste your manuscript into the right sections.

Basic templates are free on the Createspace site (log in to your account, click on Interior in the left-hand navigation bar). If you want something a bit spiffier, take a look at the templates available through At $59, they can save you a lot of trial-and-error.



Books that hit #1 in their categories on Amazon

Kudos to two of my authors whose books hit #1 in their categories on Amazon in the past few weeks. Both authors wrote excellent books for specific audiences, sought out professionals to design and edit those books, and executed well-focused marketing strategies–including arranging for pre-orders–to get the word out. More on pre-orders in a subsequent post.

Hidden Blessings: Midlife Crisis as a Spiritual Awakening, by Jett Psaris

Hidden Blessings: Midlife Crisis as a Spiritual Awakening, by Jett Psaris

Subscription Marketing: Strategies for Nurturing Customers in a World of Churn, by Anne Janzer









What Makes a Good Book Cover?



That’s a question I wrestled with as I walked the aisles of BookExpo 2016. A great cover can be the secret sauce that gives a book the oomph it needs to get discovered. But how do you get there?

I never recommend authors create their own covers. Never. Your book must look as professional and polished as those created by pros—so hire a book designer. It’s worth the effort. If you’re strapped for cash, try a crowdsourcing service such as 99Designs. There are plenty of talented designers looking for work.

And once you’ve settled on a designer, learn to speak her language. In my experience, you can talk to a designer all day, but unless you show her samples of what you like, she will seem deaf as a post. Designers are right-brain people: they understand images. So go onto Amazon and find some covers you like. Use an app such as Grab to take a digital picture of your favorites, and prepare a creative brief for your designer, explaining what you like about each cover.


Here are some things you might discuss:

  1. The Mothers - A Novel, by Brit Bennett


    Show your designer the color palettes you like. Note: I didn’t say “colors”; I said “color palettes.” You want to choose a palette with several colors that go together and that capture the mood of your book. You’ve written a thriller? Maybe dark colors. A business book? Maybe jewel tones. Stay away from white covers, which look terrific in a busy bookstore, but which disappear into the background on the Amazon page.

  1. Decide whether you want the dominant element on your cover to be type (common for business books) or images (photos or graphics). Even when creating a cover that’s primarily type, look for small spot images or graphics you can use to suggest something about the content of your book.
  1. Often, an image that captures your book is hard to find. Check what your competitors have done. Then peruse Istockphoto or another stock house to see what’s possible. For a fee, your designer will do a photosearch for you, and frequently she will come up with a better idea than yours. She also knows how to manipulate photos, which can produce powerful and unique covers.
  1. Find fonts you love and show them to your designer—but let her choose the fonts to use. Poor font choice is the most common error I see on self-published books.
  1. First Snow book


    Make your title big—because it’s going to appear postage-stamp size on the Amazon page, your primary selling location. Check to make sure it’s still readable in that small size.

  1. Pay attention to the back cover, too. It should have a short descriptive paragraph about your book, a bio and your (professionally produced) photo. People want to see who wrote this book. Also, a barcode is necessary, and your publishing imprint with city, state, and website are helpful.
  1. If you have testimonials, add a few at the top of the back cover. If you have a great one from a crackerjack reviewer, put that one at the top of your front cover. All the rest can go in the very first page of the book.










Kindle Paperback Books: Not Ready for Primetime


[NOTE: Since this post was first published, KDP has made significant changes to its site.  I no longer have concerns about using KDP for print books as well as ebooks. –HB]


You may have gotten this announcement from Kindle recently: Make life easier by publishing both your ebook and your paperback with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), and you get a 60% royalty on your print book (whereas Createspace generally pays 40%).

What’s not to like?

One of my authors and I jumped on this offer early—and quickly found that KDP is not ready for primetime.

Leaving out all the pleasantries, here’s what happened after we uploaded our book files.

• • •

KDP: Sorry. Files rejected. Text must not be present in the barcode location.

Us: Hmmm…that’s strange. Createspace wants text in the barcode location. Are we not able to use our own ISBN with this new process? Oh, well.

[We remove the barcode and resubmit.]

KDP: Sorry. Files rejected. Text must not be present in the barcode location. And the disc reference should not imply that the disc is packaged with the book.

Us: Disc? What disc?

[We submit a help ticket with a screen shot of the cover with a blank space where the barcode should be. And we assure them there’s no disc in play.]

KDP: [No answer. For over a week.]

[We decide to give up and upload the files to Createspace. They reject the files because KDP has our ISBN number locked in their system. Now we can publish on neither platform.]

Us: Free our book! Give us back our ISBN number!

KDP: Sorry. We can’t help. We recommend you publish on Createspace using one of their free ISBN numbers.

In the end, we did publish on Createspace, but we did not use their free ISBN number because we did not want Createspace to be listed as our publisher. We purchased a second ISBN number of our own.

And by the way, if this isn’t enough to make you think twice, KDP is also currently unable to send you a proof copy of your print book to review before you publish.








Foreword Magazine Indie Awards Finalists

The Writer's Process by Anne Janzer, Tussie-Mussies by Irene Deitsch and Escape Velocity by Susan Wolfe--all Foreword Reviews' Indie Award Finalists


I’m pleased to announce that three of the writers with whom I work have been named finalists in Foreword Reviews‘ 2016 # ForewordINDIES Book of the Year Awards. These titles will be featured by Foreword  at both the American Library Association Conference and BookExpo 2017.

In a competition with over 2,200 entrants, it’s pretty great that they have made it so far.

Congrats to:
– Susan Wolfe, for Escape Velocity: A Novel
– Irene Deitsch, for Tussie-Mussies: A Collector’s Guide to Victorian Posy Holders
– Anne Janzer, for The Writer’s Process: Getting Your Brain in Gear

Feeling the # indielove!




A Dirty Little Secret About Book Discounts

Cash register


Most of the writers using self-publishing techniques to reach readers know something about discounting books. They know that if you want to make your book attractive to bookstores, you must 1) offer your book to bookstores at a discount of 30% and 55%; and 2) make sure your book is returnable, because bookstores won’t buy books that aren’t returnable.

To date, the only print-on-demand (POD) vendor who’ll allow you do both those things is Ingram Spark (IS). In fact, that’s the main reason Ingram Spark has become so popular: it’s the way into bookstores.

Or so we all think.

But let me tell you a story about a book that a pair of savvy business writers published through Ingram Spark this past spring. We knew we wanted the book in bookstores, so we decided to offer the book at 40% discount. We assumed the discount would be passed down the line to bookstores.

Not so. When we went to our local indie bookstore and looked up the book in the Ingram catalog, the discount offered was not 40%–but 5%.

When I asked Ingram Spark about this at BookExpo last month, I was told that IS books were distributed by Ingram Book Company, a separate entity that took 10% and 15% before offering the book to bookstores. By the time it got to our little bookstore (which doesn’t have much clout in the distribution chain), the discount had dwindled to 5%.

What does that mean for writers? It means that you might as well not try to get your self-published book into bookstores because you’ll never be able to offer it at a discount that’s competitive. You might as well spend all your efforts finding your readers through Amazon.

Personally, I’m very surprised that Ingram has allowed this situation to exist, and that they’ve not been more transparent about how discounts are allotted. (Here’s Ingram Spark’s official statement on why you should discount your book.) As the premier distributor of books to bookstores in this country, Ingram has a vested interest in helping independent authors sell their books into bookstores. Ingram Spark already takes 45% of your revenue for its POD services, plus an additional fee for printing your book. Does Ingram Book Company really need an extra 10% to 15% for distributing it?


Print book, ebook, or both?


I help writers publish books in both print and ebook formats. But I’ll admit: I have a strong preference for print.

That’s because I find it easier to read print books than ebooks–despite all the fuss about resizable text. I read mostly at night, and that iPad screen does indeed disrupt my sleep rhythms.

There’s something about a well-crafted interior that adds pleasure to my reading, too. (I just checked out from the library a large-type version of Geraldine Brook’s Pulitzer-prize-winning book March and found the huge, clunky print horrifying against such a beautifully written story.)

And as it turns out, a new scientific study backs up my preference. A summary of that study on reports that recall is better among people who read print vs. ebooks.

“The brain reads by constructing a mental representation of the text based on the placement of the page in the book and the word on the page. [And] the tactile experience of a book aids this process, from the thickness of the pages in your hands as you progress through the story to the placement of a word on the page.”

So do I buy ebooks, too. Yes. Plenty. Here’s why:

  • Ebooks cost less, so I can sample more.
  • Ebooks allow me to search content–great for nonfiction titles.
  • I can easily add audio and have the book in my ear when I’m doing other things.

This may be why 98% of the writers with whom I work end up publishing in both print and ebook formats.

How “Influential Readers” Can Drive Book Discovery


The emergence of “influential readers” has changed the way books are discovered. These folks–Vine Voices on Amazon, notable readers on Goodreads, certain book bloggers–have enough clout to push a book up in popularity so that SEO algorithms are triggered.

Otis Chandler, cofounder of Goodreads recently wrote a piece for Digital Book World on who these infiuential readers are and how to find them. It’s well worth a read.

How to Publish a Book With Color Interior


When I work with writers, I often hear that they want to produce a book with a color interior (such as a children’s book, a cookbook or a photography book). In these cases, I often recommend an ultra-short run printer over a print-on-demand vendor (such as CreateSpace or Ingram Spark) to produce the book.

This often puzzles people. On first glance, it makes no sense to incur the upfront costs of printing, say, 50 copies of your book when you can upload your manuscript free to CreateSpace and, poof, it appears for sale on Amazon, right?

What people don’t understand (and what is often hidden from them by print-on-demand vendors until the last minute) is that the per-copy cost of producing a color book by a print-on-demand vendor is generally higher than the per-copy cost of producing, say, 50 books by a short-run printer.

And why do you care about the per-copy cost of your print-on-demand book, since your readers will be incurring that cost?

The reason is that print-on-demand vendors require that you set your book’s price above a certain minimum, based on the book’s production costs. They do that to make sure that for every book sold by you and produced by them, they get their cut. Whatever’s left comes to you. What sometimes happens when you start to get fancy with color is that the print-on-demand vendor’s minimum price becomes so high that your book is unlikely to sell at all.

So how do you get a book produced by an ultra-short run printer up for sale on Amazon? You consign it to Amazon through the Amazon Advantage program. That’s what the vendors of all those non-book items are doing. Once you complete the online “paperwork” your book is posted for sale just like any other book on the Amazon site.

P.S. Yes, you do have to store 45 copies in your garage. But if your book sells, Amazon will order more. And many writers send out a good chunk of those first copies to family, friends and reviewers, or sell them during speaking engagements.