Book Bub Ads: Exploring a new universe

All right, so, I have made my first tentative forays into the world of advertisement this year. I’m not trying to learn all about the Big Three Ad Platforms all at the same time, because (a) I don’t have time, and (b) learning about every aspect of marketing, ugh, please, no. One at a time is all I can tolerate.

I took a cursory look at Amazon ads, Facebook ads, and Bookbub ads and picked the latter to explore first because it looked like the simplest platform. I’ve poked at Facebook ads a little and seriously, ugh. It’s complex: it’s not intuitive AT ALL, as least not for me; it’s actively unpleasant to try to deal with it, and no thanks. I tried one Facebook ad without any particular enthusiasm or success last year and then set that platform aside for the present. Ditto with Amazon ads, except that platform doesn’t look nearly as difficult or unpleasant as Facebook. BookBub looked like the easiest interface.

So I read David Gaughran’s book about BookBub ads, and watched his video about using Canva to create BookBub ads, and looked at ads he says have been successful — all this in between waves of revision and proofreading and whatever else — and finally put together a series of ads I’m going to try out later in August, when I run a sale on the TUYO series.

Wait! You may be saying. A sale on the TUYO series? Should I have waited to get TASMAKAT? If that question occurs to you, the answer is no. I really don’t think it’s fair to early buyers to drop the price dramatically soon after releasing a book, so that’s one thing; plus it’s going to be a good long time before I get over wishing I’d brought it out as three books. I’m going to drop its price by a whopping one dollar and even that is just so Amazon puts a “lowest price in thirty days!” banner on it.

However, I’m going to discount the rest of the series heavily, run an aggressive ad campaign on Book Bub in conjunction with promotion services, and see what happens. Have I followed all of David Gaughran’s advice? No, I have not. I don’t have time to test each and every author whose followers I’m targeting. Would I have had time to do that earlier this year? I mean, maybe, if I’d jammed that kind of thing in with everything else. But I have genuinely been super busy this year, so if the ads don’t work as well as they might, fine. At least I understand the kind of testing he recommends, why he recommends it, and how to do it, so maybe later. For now, I’m skipping that step in the full understanding that this is possibly unwise. I am, however, following a lot of his other advice. Here, if you’re interested, take a look:

And this one

It’s exactly the same except the background is a little more faded. Maybe I should redo them all this way because this does make the book covers pop a little better, doesn’t it? But check out this one:

I have five iterations of this same basic ad, and let me just mention that honestly, Canva really is a great tool. Your image has to be 300×250, which you can specify, and you know what is especially helpful? You can copy a correctly sized template, erase everything you don’t want and add different elements. I did all this over the weekend, and it wasn’t awful. I’m far from a graphic designer, but if I saw some version of this ad, I’d probably click through. The tiger would catch my eye for sure. I’m making it as easy as possible for people to click through by making the first book free, so we’ll see how it goes.

Here’s what Gaughran says:

1) Use a background pulled from your bookcover. Drop the transparency of the background.

I wasn’t sure how far to drop the transparency of the background, so I tried different levels of transparency.

2) Put your actual bookcover on the ad. If you’re doing a series sale, put every single book in the series on the ad.

This seemed like a good idea, and thank you to the cover artist for automatically including 3D images which were perfect for this.

3) Put a big, obvious box on the ad that says “FREE” or “0.99” or “NEW” or whatever. Make the box red with white letters, black with yellow letters, or yellow with black letters. Don’t worry about whether that clashes with the book covers; statistically, ads with those colors of boxes and letters work better.

I couldn’t quite disregard all possible artistic judgment. I could not make myself use neon yellow or red. I tried, but it was really hard to disregard how awful that looks. I guess I should make a version with neon red and try it one day, then this more aesthetically tolerable red a different day.

4) Try different versions of the same ad because tiny tweaks can make a big difference.

BookBub ads are easy to adjust on the fly (says Gaughran). You can switch out the ad image every day, drop more money into the ad if you like, and changes are practically instantaneous.

5) Use Cost Per Thousand Impressions (CPM) rather than Cost Per Click (CPC). Bid high-medium to promote a sale, and bid uneven amounts. That is, if you want to bid $12, don’t, bid $12.06 instead.

I don’t remember the reasoning for the first bit of advice, except it’s supposed to work best if you do author targeting and testing the way he wants you do, which I didn’t. The reasoning for the second bit of advice is obvious: you’ve just outbid everyone who bid $12 even or $12.01 or $12.05.

6) If you’re running a series sale, take out all the automatically generated links to the first book and drop in links to the actual series page. Do that for the US, UK, and maybe CA Amazon pages.

Canada is not included in countdown deals. If you’re going to manually lower the prices, you can include Canada, and now I get why Gaughran spent some time explaining how and why to target different countries that are not the US. Canada is included in free deals — every country is included in free deals.

Either way, targeting the series page is a very good idea! I wouldn’t have realized that was possible, but it’s actually easy.

Final note: What does Gaughran mean by “testing authors?”

When you’re setting up Book Bub ads, you can tell the ad to target readers of fantasy AND you can tell it to target readers who follow, say, Guy Gaviel Kay or Kate Elliot. According to David Gaughran, you should look at Book Bub through the reader interface, not the author (“partner”) interface, and take a quick look at all the authors whose readership should reasonably overlap with yours to see how many followers (not readers) they have. You should then pick out ten to twenty authors, each with 1000 to 20,000 followers, then test each author by dropping your book to $0.99 and running the same exact ad targeted to one author at a time, one day each, dropping $15 or so into each ad. I’m sure the point of this exercise is obvious. What Gaughran says is that once you find out which authors’ followers work best for you, that result tends to remain consistent long-term. That may be, but as I say, I haven’t done this. Maybe later this year, maybe next year. I’m willing to go to the trouble when I have time and attention to spare.

Which authors’ readers ought to overlap with mine? Well, I think Kate Elliot is a good choice, Guy Gaviel Kay, Sharon Shinn, Robin McKinley, CJ Cherryh, maybe Robin Hobb. I came up with twenty names or so, including pulling some by looking to see whose books are recommended on TUYO’s page on Amazon, and dropped a lot of them into the targeting for the ad.

I guess it also makes sense to ask you all, anybody who has read this post: Who are some of your favorite authors? Because maybe I should add them to the upcoming ad targeting.

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18 thoughts on “Book Bub Ads: Exploring a new universe”

  1. I would add Martha Wells to your list of possible authors. I know she’s mostly famous for Murderbot, which is sci-if not fantasy, but she does also write fantasy and lots of people read both. And there is a lot of overlap in character centred books that focus on learning to trust others in the face of culture clash and/or different power dynamics.

    I’d also suggest Victoria Goddard, though aware she might not have a lot of followers. Still, that should mean the CPM is cheap.

    Of the authors you have on your list, I would guess Robin Hobb will have the least overlap. I’m not sure I can articulate it exactly but her books are higher-stress than your books, often have less likeable or more morally-grey viewpoint characters, and overall feel less optimistic. I’m probably not the only person who has read both, but I do think someone in the right mood for one of your books is not necessarily in the right mood for a Robin Hobb book and vice versa, and it might be a mistake to advertise the books as being similar.

  2. I think that’s a great idea! On Amazon, that’s how I pick up new books and authors, when they suggest books/authors based on the book I’ve clicked on. I would suggest Juliet Marillier, Sharon Lee, and Lois McMaster Bujold. Maybe even Casey Blair. What about Andrea Host? Lots of people here seem to like her books.

  3. That looks very good!
    I do like the first, slightly less bleached background, where the water looks more like icy water instead of ideterminate background.

    I like both the yellow-on-black and the white-on-red text, and I think this somewhat deeper red gives better contrast to the white letters than neon red would.

    I think taking a bit of aesthetic care, like not using neon yellow banners when they would clash horribly with the rest of the ad, should give a more positive signal to potential readers regarding the quality of your writing; rather than just screaming “I want attention and don’t care how bad it looks” – that doesn’t create an impression of an author who can handle her subjects with good taste (unless you can blame it on a marketing department).

  4. Out of the authors you’ve listed, the main overlaps for me and Robin Hobb and Robin McKinley – I’ve read everything by them. I have also read some Guy Gavriel Kay and C.J. Cherryh, but I haven’t sought out all of their books.

    I would also add Lois McMaster Bujold and Megan Whalen Turner (I’ll read everything they write immediately and I think they’re character centered in the same way). Definitely also Katherine Addison!

    My other favorite authors are Naomi Novik, Katherine Arden, Robert Jordan, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson, Lloyd Alexander, Diana Wynne Jones, Neil Gaiman, Steven Brust, plus some books by Tad Williams, Garth Nix and Elizabeth Moon. I’m not sure how much overlap there there is, but I figured I’d share in case it’s helpful.

  5. Thank you all! I had already added most of the authors you suggested, but I’ve now added Elizabeth Moon, who I think ought to be a good fit, and Katherine Arden. For the TUYO series, I think DWJ and Garth Nix are writing for significantly younger readers and that readership may not overlap enough to be worth trying to target, though I’ve made a note of those names because I may as well test them when I start testing.

    Rowan, I actually felt just like that about Robin Hobb — that she might not be that great a fit, that the tone of her books is perhaps too different from mine. I’m adding her anyway for this particular ad, but I would not be surprised if her readers don’t overlap as much with mine.

    I’m not adding Brandon Sanderson because Gaughran is very clear that while targeting super famous authors may work on other platforms, it definitely does not work for Book Bub. Interesting — at least, I found it interesting — the ONLY author who makes a big difference to how broad Book Bub says the targeting is, is Lindsay Buroker. I doubt we overlap that much, so I’ve tentatively removed her for now.

  6. I like the last design, with the red banners. They pop out against the blue gray of the rest of the ad. Also agreed with Hanneke about not fading the background too much, as in the second image (because you’re centering the tiger). The other thing I would try with coloring is to use the yellow-orange from the Tasmakat cover as the banner color. It would tie in and yet still pop. Other than that, maybe use numbers instead of saying ‘deep series discounts’? Easier to grab attention with a 15% off. It’s such a small space for an ad, I would also reconsider how much text and the size of that text, with an eye to maximizing readability at a glance.

    Epic friendship 100%! I can’t think of any other book or series that centers friendship like Tuyo, let alone so beautifully. Although I agree with Rowan about Murderbot— “learning to trust others in the face of culture clash and/or different power dynamics”. Well put.

  7. I have a deep suspicion that Tuyo was algorithmically recommended to me because I read Victoria Goddard, but I have no proof of that. Something about the relationship flavor between Tuyo and Goddard’s works seem similar to me.

  8. Kimberly, a lot of people say that. And I agree! It’s the tone, and the way people try to do good things and improve the world, I think. That’s at least part of it. I’m sure there are other important similarities. A powerful man who is much kinder than he needs to be. A leisurely pace. Anyway, there’s a reason The Hands of the Emperor was one of my favorite books the year I read it, and a book I immediately re-read. I write what I love, and it turns out Victoria Goddard also writes what I love, so that’s certainly an important similarity!

  9. Kimberly – less algorithmically, or rather some of what’s feeding the algorithm: Tuyo is one of the series that has its own thread in the Victoria Goddard fan Discord and there’s several of us who will happily hand-sell it to anyone who might possibly be interested. Less directly but possibly equally importantly, a lot of folks wound up discovering Goddard via Alex Rowland, and while I don’t think I’d say there’s a huge overlap with Alex’s books, Tuyo is one of my go-to series for “fealty stuff” and that’s something Alex (and their fans) often like. (And it’s a thematic itch that can be really hard to scratch – I have exactly three other non-fanfic recommendations, one by Alex.)

  10. Of authors not mentioned yet, how about Sherwood Smith or Gillian Bradshaw? I first read about both of these here, so you/your readers probably like them. Maybe not enough followers , though.

  11. Certainly happy to know TUYO has a thread on Goddard’s Discord (a platform I have to admit I’ve never even heard of before!)!

    Alison, now I’m thinking, really, how rare can “fealty stuff” be? I guess rarer than I thought. Maybe I should write a blog post about that …

    JeanZ, thanks for the suggestion about Bradshaw! I hadn’t thought of her at all, but she might be a good choice … ah, no, I see she has very few followers. I did add Sherwood Smith, who actually has a godawful lot of followers, probably too many to make her a good target, but I added her anyway because there should certainly be overlap there.

  12. Heh, Discord started picking up a few years ago and is probably the most active community-oriented fandom platform at the moment – it’s not particularly comparable with Tumblr or Twitter but a lot of conversations have moved there anyway.

    And I’d be delighted to have a blog post and/or recs on fealty stuff! It gets touched on fairly frequently, but for books that actually spend a major part of their plot looking at the development/evolution/ramifications of that kind of relationship – well, The Winter Prince by Elizabeth E. Wein, King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner, and A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alex Rowland. (The last is also prince-and-bodyguard romance, so while I love it a lot I feel like it probably needs an asterisk if it’s going on a fealty list.)

    It is absolute catnip for me, so believe me, I’ve looked!

  13. Jeanine, yes, and I’m targeting McKillip, but I think she would be a much better choice if I were actually advertising CITY. I don’t think I ever hit that kind of fairy-tale tone as well again, and TUYO isn’t as much like McKillip’s books.

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