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[Ep. 69 of The Writer’s Way Podcast]
On this week’s show I get to talk to Balachander Vijayakumar! And we are still talking about BOOKBUB.
Bala explains a new offering from Bookbub and how it went for him. #spoileralert – he was disappointed in the results.
Children’s authors! If you want to go back and learn about Bookbub from the beginning, click here.
Get Connected with Bala!
Find Bala on Amazon HERE
Make a connection with Bala on Instagram HERE
Joining me for the first time? Start at the beginning HERE
Would you rather listen on the go? Go HERE
Laurie: Hello writers. Welcome back to the Writer’s Way podcast. I’m Laurie here with Balachander Vijayakumar, the author of “Toddlers with Trunks” series. Welcome Balachander. Thanks for doing this with me.
Balachander: Thank you, Laurie. I’m very pleased to be here. Thank you for this invite.
Laurie: Okay, so before we start talking about your BookBub experience, can you just give us a bit of your history and how you started writing books for kids?
How Bala Became a Writer
Balachander: Sure, I can. My name is Balachander.
You can call me Bala, Laurie. But I grew up in India. So I was born there. I grew up in India. I spent most of my life there. And then work took me to the US where I lived for a couple of years. And then I went back to India. And then I moved to the UK in 2013 so I’ve been here for six years or more, yeah? So that’s a bit about me personally.
I work as a data consultant. That’s what I do full time. And I started off with books as a hobby. So I have a bit of an interesting story there, so my son, who was now 4, when we started writing books. He had an enormous appetite for reading books. And he loved to hear a new story every day. And we couldn’t really catch up with the number of books that he wanted.
So I had to come up with new stories to put him to bed every day. And then most of my stories then did the job perfectly well. They just put him to sleep immediately, probably because they were boring. But there was one particular story that he loved so much.
He asked for it to be repeated the next day, the next day after that. And then it went on for a few days. After which one day after putting him to bed, we were sitting on the sofa and talking to my wife and I told her. Hey, why not make a book out of this? Because he really likes it and probably we should share this with a lot of other kids around the world.
In house illustrator!
And then my wife was silent for a few minutes. She thought it was one of my crazy ideas again. But then she said, Hey, why not? Let’s try that. I’ll illustrate books for you. And she’s not an illustrator, again. She comes from a design background though. So she’s practiced architecture. She designs mobile labs. Computer applications. And she’s also practiced interior design. So she comes from a rich background of design and she was happy to try this.
From Start to Book!
And then we started working on this. And at that point in time, we were not even aware of what self publishing was. What the traditional route was. And only after we actually decided to do this more as a hobby as an exciting project.
We actually went about it. And in two months from that conversation, from merely being an idea. We had a live book out there on Amazon available for kids to buy. And yeah. So it was a really exciting project that come 60 days. We went from just an idea to a live book and so much you learn along the way. And then we had a book out there for everybody can show. Yeah.
Laurie: That’s a great story. How did you decide to self publish? Like what was the tipping point that made you say, Oh, we’re just going to do it ourselves versus trying to?
Why Did Bala Self Publish?
Balachander: Sure. Yeah. So I think at that point in time, because firstly, if it was more of an exciting project that we wanted to work on. So and also mainly the skills were actually in house. So I had the story in mind so I wrote that. I obviously got it edited by a professional, but then beyond that, my wife did the illustrations.
And then she also did the book formatting and she used similar tools in her previous work, like Photoshop and so on. So the cost of producing a book was like significantly lower compared to probably in most of the authors. So because it was all in house, we had very little to actually spend on creating the book.
And so the financial input that was required was not a roadblock in publishing one. And also we were so excited at that time that we thought instead of just knocking on the doors of literary agents, publishers. We’d rather do it ourselves and then both of us had something to contribute. So it was exciting. And which is why we thought, let’s just self publish.
And yeah, that was a main try actually.
Laurie: Do you guys still like each other after?
Balachander: It’s actually very interesting to just work on this project. It’s a side project obviously. So we both have day jobs to do. But probably gives us how much time we spend on Netflix. So it’s more working collaborative with each other. And then my son is also very good at like user testing. He says, Hey, why don’t you add specks to this character?
And we’ve actually seen in real reviews as well on Amazon that somebody has told the specs on that elephant was really cute. So he, so it’s like a combined family project and it keeps us going. So we are happy to do that together.
Laurie: Oh, I love that. So much better than just watching Netflix. Cool. Do you want to talk a bit about your new book series? Just so people know that you’re still at it.
Bala’s Books and What’s Coming Next
Balachander: So we’ve published two books in the “Toddlers with Trunks” series.
So one was “The Elephants and the Chocolate Cake”, and then we did “The Elephants and the Leaking Tap”. So right now are working on the third book, which is a part of the new series called “Trevor Travels”.
So it’s about a caterpillar who’s actually hungry for travel. So he wants to see the world. He wants to go around the world. And then in the first book, it’s about him actually taking the effort. Moving out of his comfort zone and then going to London and watching all the glorious sights of London. And then we eventually want to follow it up with Trevor travels to New York and Chicago, Paris, and so on.
Why Bala Won’t Rush to Publish
But we’re very close to actually publishing it. But this time I will take some time to actually market it really well to give it the best launch pad possible. So I want to take a step back and obviously with me having published two more books, I’m not really in a rush to get it out of the way. I want to give it the best platform possible, so I’d probably take some time.
Although the book is ready to market and reach influencers and give it the best launch possible.
Laurie: I think that’s smart. Sometimes we get so excited. We just rushed into. I definitely, I do. I still do that with all my books. So did you, you had a BookBub experience, so were you trying to get the BookBub to market one of your first books?
Balachander: It was the second book, “The Elephants and the Leaking Tap”, so this was back in July last year.
Laurie: Okay. So share with us all about your BookBub experience.
BookBub: Feature Deal vs New Feature Release
Balachander: Sure, happy to do that. So before I dive into what my experience was. I just want to take a minute to talk about the main offerings that BookBub has. So one is a Feature Deal and one is a Featured New Release.
Okay. And then once I explained the differences, I can then dive into more about my experience. The firstly, BookBub has two different offerings. So one is the Feature Deal, which is what most of us know as the BookBub Deal, right? So it is essentially BookBub sending out an email every day to its huge reader base. Talking about highly curated list of either free books. Or heavily discounted books. So usually you’ll see that books are either free or 99 cents or $1.99 and the lower the cost of the book, the higher the number of sales. That’s how it works. That’s, I mean, commonly understood system. I don’t have real statistics there. So that’s the Feature Deal.
And what they have also introduced in the recent past. It’s a relatively new offering, is something called Featured New Release. So just going back to the Feature Deal again, sorry. To be eligible for the Feature Deal your book should have good track record of sales. Maybe some good number of reviews as well and and so on. But with Featured New Release obviously, BookBub understands that it’s a new book. I think you’re eligible for the book only if your book has been live for less than 30 days or so on.
So obviously BookBub, understand that you can’t really show like a track record of sales or a significant number of reviews. Which is why there is still some level of curation there. They probably look at your cover or your blog and so on, and then they can send out your book details on the weekly email.
So it’s a email that goes out every week. I get one every Tuesday. So that’s the fundamental difference. There’s one more significant difference, which is that unlike the Feature Deal where you have very heavy discount. Books sent via the Features New Release alert do not have to be discounted or even free.
They usually set at the same price. So if you’re selling for $4.99 it’s just the same price. So there is no discount on the Featured New Release. So these are the significant differences. Have I made myself clear, Laurie?
Laurie: Yes, that makes sense. If you wanted to discount the new release, could you?
Bala’s Experience with New Featured Release
Balachander: Yeah. I’m happy to go there. I just wanted to set like basic understanding and then talk about why. I talk about my own experience there. So I then went ahead with a Featured New Release back in July, 2019. So, and I think at that time there were probably very few children’s book authors. And again, this is a new offering who had actually gone for that.
So I asked around on Facebook groups, and the most common piece of advice that I bought was set a book for free on Amazon. Because what that then does is that a more number of downloads likely. And then your book reaches out a huge reader base and then also you’re probably going to see more reviews coming out of it.
So I went by that logic and then I set my book for free. But then like it’s happened with other BookBub like promotions or like Freebooksy or even FussyLibrarian. As soon as the email goes out. I keep refreshing my Amazon reports to see how many people are downloading it for fee. And it’s so exciting on that day.
An Unexpected Result
So with BookBub, I was expecting it to happen on a much larger scale because their database is like significantly higher than any of the competitors. So I think clicking and clicking after the emails went out. And I was just seeing something like 10 downloads, 20 downloads, 30 downloads. And even many hours later, it was still in the double digits and it really took me by surprise.
And then I think much later into the night, I think that almost the most part of the day gone. I was still like about 70 downloads and then I started thinking about it and what I saw was that on the Feature New Release email that goes up, there is no price mentioned there. That’s it.
A Possible Reason
You don’t see if it’s free. You don’t see if that is, if it’s heavily discounted. And again, that is because most books are not discounted there, and it is just a promotion talking about new books, which I understand from BookBub’s perspective. But my analysis of this is that BookBub readers are used to seeing books for free or at 99 cents.
And the cheaper it is, the more downloads you get, obviously. But then with the new release, what’s actually happened is that there is no mention of the price. You don’t see it really discounted and readers are probably just used to actually seeing books sold at the same price. So the incentive that they have been used to, which is getting books from much cheaper, is just not there with Feature New Deal.
Bala’s Conversation with BookBub
So I had an email conversation with BookBub. This is my analysis. This is what I think has happened. Could you share some numbers of the click through rates of books that have like 99 cents or that are available for one 99 or free? And I was telling them, I’m sure even without you sharing numbers with me, that the cheaper the book, the higher the number of downloads.
And what’s happened with my book is that although I’m paying the same place as a normal Feature Deal because users don’t want to probably spend at the same price. They are probably not going to do that. So I asked them for click through rates of different price bands and I also wanted to understand my own click through rate.
So if I’m not wrong, I think at that point in time, BookBub user basis, I think about 600,000 children’s book readers and I had about 70 or so downloads. So that was really, like really bad. And then I asked them for my click through data. So they said they can’t share the details of the click through rate of different tiers, price tiers, but they can tell me what my click through rate was.
And so off that 600,000 or how many were emails were delivered. There were only 144 clicks. And one could argue that, well, probably your color was not great or your blurb was not great. But then again, it goes through one level of curation there. So to see just 144 clicks from emails and then 70 downloads.
So I think it’s still fair between how many downloaded to how many went there, because there could be somebody who has a seven year old child, for whom the book is not applicable. So that sounds okay, but just the fact that I pay the same place, which is $130. But then I get only 73 downloads. It doesn’t look like a good deal, and it’s just not what I expected out of BookBub.
Bala’s New Featured Deal Opinion
So I know the Feature Deal is fantastic. Everybody knows about it. It’s a great service and it puts your book out in front of so many people, but then, yeah, this was a bit of a disappointment.
Laurie: That makes a lot of sense. That if they don’t know what the price is, they assume that it’s full price and so they just don’t bother.
It’s just really unfortunate. I can picture you, refresh, refresh, refresh.
Balachander: Yeah, exactly. So it was a bit disappointing and there was so much I could have done with that $130 I could have got Amazon ads and then got a lot of books so I could have generated half a million impressions on Amazon. I could have done a lot of other promotions for my book.
So yeah, it’s a lesson learned. I would still probably try for the Feature Deal, but I would never want to invest back in a Feature New Release Deal.
BookBub Results Recap
Laurie: And so when you were talking to them afterwards, try to analyze what happened. Did they, cause you said this was fairly new this program? Did they say anything like, sorry, or that’s just how it is. That’s how it’s going to be like? Have they changed anything since July?
Balachander: So firstly, I had asked for a refund because the numbers spoke out so loudly, but they said that the only occasion where they would ever issue a refund if there was a technical issue. So let’s say if there are no emails going out. They can give you a refund, but then if your mail has gone out to their reader base, they would not give you a refund regardless of how bad it was.
Listing Author Priorities
So firstly, no refund. They did say they wanted to take my feedback seriously. They did acknowledge that it’s a new product, so it’s probably not perfect. And they did share the click through rates as well, so they could see that. So yeah. So it was again, them trying to understand what went wrong. What my priorities were. They’d told me that sales is not the only thing authors look for. So we want to understand what you’re looking for.
But then I explained to them that ultimately every author wants to make sales. It could be firstly, getting reviews, which leads to sales. It could be getting downloads or visibility, which is leading to sales. But ultimately sales is something that everybody wants to get.
So, and I think that each of these parameters, each of them. It didn’t work for me. I didn’t get any of that. So then they could take into consideration. I could see that they were probably discussing it with their own team. They mentioned they were talk to their team and then come back, but that policy doesn’t allow for a refund. And I think this was a learning experience, both for me as well as for them.
Laurie: Did you get any reviews, did you notice, from those 70 downloads? Any page reads?
Balachander: No, not really
Laurie: Any positive?
Balachander: No it’s hard to think of any positive that came out of it.
Laurie: Well that’s unfortunate. I’m sorry that happened, but I’m really appreciative that you come and share that with everybody. It might look like a great deal, you know?
Balachander: Exactly. I’m more than happy to do that. So I always wanted to, so as you can see, it takes a bit of explanation. It’s not hard to convey all the perspectives that I had on this.
So I’ve always delayed writing that long post on Facebook, and it’s just by chance that you were looking for somebody to talk about BookBub. And I thought it’s a great platform to talk about it.
Laurie: It worked out really well. Thank you. And I think you’re always up against the different levels of experience when you do a big Facebook post like that too. So you get a lot of, What’s BookBub? So I appreciate you explaining it in the beginning so that people have a good understanding. And I’m going to do a bit of a summary as well, just for people who want to read and look at stuff.
Thank you so much. Where can people find you if they want to look up your books?
Balachander: Okay, so I’ve not been very active on social media. I know I signed up for your course as well, and that’s something I did want to take out of it. But yeah, hopefully with the new book and me trying to focus on marketing, I’ll be a bit more active, but on Instagram they can find me on write.illustrate.repeat
Laurie: That’s fun. I’ll have to find you too. And then your books are the “Toddlers with Trunks” series.
Well, thank you again. I hope everybody goes and checks out your books. Get some downloads. Best of luck with your new series.
Balachander: Thank you so much
Laurie: Oh you’re welcome. Thank you. Bye Bala.
Balachander: Bye Bye.
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