A Major Peek Behind the Scenes of Book Girls’ Guide

In our 2023 Reader Survey, many of you indicated that you’d like to better understand why having our Buy Me a Coffee membership site is important. This encouraged us to write a transparent outline of why we do what we do, some of the work that goes into it, and why we couldn’t do it without your support.

As we plan ahead to the 2024 reading challenges, one thing on our mind has been the sustainability of Book Girls’ Guide. What started as a fun side-project between best friends has turned into two full-time jobs with one big problem that we’ve done our best to ignore – these full-time jobs barely provide a part-time income.

Meet the Book Girls: Why We Do What We Do

If you’re new to Book Girls’ Guide, that’s Angela on the left and Melissa on the right. We are the Book Girls and do all the things around here, from book research to tech support.

It would be reasonable to question why we’ve continued to sacrifice without a financial incentive, but we deeply believe in the importance of the site as a friendly respite on the internet with one huge goal – making the world a kinder place.

We want more people to enjoy the stress relief and mental health benefits of reading. If that means someone in a crazy season of life is getting light rom-com recommendations from us that make them laugh, it’s a huge win! We believe that people who are less stressed are more equipped to put kindness first, whether that’s being kind to themselves, their loved ones, or strangers.

Beyond that, we want to provide opportunities to help readers step into the shoes of others. In each challenge post, we strive to offer a wide range of great books and put the power in the individual reader’s hands to choose what they are drawn to each month. In our own lives and reading, we’ve learned that the more we take the time to understand someone’s point of view, the easier it is to lead with love in our thoughts, words, and actions.

As we heard from readers that different books from our lists really connected with them, we were inspired to continue improving everything we offered. And to continue to offer it at no cost because we never want finances to be a barrier to hearing about great books!

However, the reality is that there are only two reasons we’ve been able to build Book Girls’ Guide and the annual challenges. First, and most scary, we have relied on income from the decor and organizing websites we owned individually before starting Book Girls’ Guide. Because they were established, people still visit them from Pinterest and Google Search, and miraculously the ad revenue has remained just enough to enable us to keep working on Book Girls’ Guide without it producing an income. However, because we now spend all of our time on this book site, we haven’t been able to create new content on our old sites in a long time. As a result, we understand that it’s not feasible to continue relying on income from those sites. Our goal is to replace that income by the end of the year.

We also have to fully acknowledge that our husbands have both supported our mission, never questioning why we spend so many hours every week on something without a paycheck. As we formerly had other careers (Angela is an attorney, and Melissa is a project manager & data analyst), we miss being equal financial contributors to the households.

We do not take lightly how fortunate we are to be able to depend on them. But they also have dreams of more creative things they would love to be doing. Nothing would make us happier than taking back some of the financial load so that they can also spend more time pursuing the passions that bring them joy, and that allow them to bring joy to others.

How the Buy Me a Coffee Membership Came to Be

We never intended to have a member-supported site, but one day on Facebook, we mentioned some of our ongoing expenses. One of the members suggested starting a Buy Me a Coffee page, but we weren’t sure anyone would be interested. Then, several people jumped in and said they’d love to support us. So we set it up, and we’ve been amazed to see it slowly grow into something that has made a huge difference for us.

In fact, without the BFFs, we wouldn’t have the brand new Together Discussion Forum that launched two weeks ago, as it took both an immense amount of time and some financial resources to build. This is one of the improvements that our readers requested during the 2022 Reader Survey that we were able to implement this year.

Let’s look at some more specific FAQs about how we make money

You have ads. Doesn’t that bring income to the site?
YES! Our hope all along was to make enough ad revenue to support the site fully. However, we learned that ad income for book sites is actually quite a bit lower than we were used to with our decor sites. For 2023 so far, we have to generate 1000 visitors to bookgirlsguide.com to earn $30. Crazy, right?

Every book list we write is optimized to get as much traffic as we can, and we’ve grown every year. We’re on the right track, but the math doesn’t lie – it takes a lot to make a little.

That also means that with fees included, only 7 Buy Me a Coffee BFFs generate the same income to us as 1000 visitors/month. We hope being open with that math helps demonstrate why we appreciate our BMAC members SO MUCH!

Could you just sell something to increase income?
YES! We previously had an online store with t-shirts, sweatshirts, and tote bags, but it lost money every month because of the extra fees required to host the shop. We pivoted this year and began creating book club kits to sell on Etsy, which have done much better! Of course, it takes 10-15 hours (not including reading the book) to create each PDF book club kit, so we can’t produce them quickly on top of everything else. We also want them to be affordable to every book club, so they only cost $4.99, and around $1 of that goes to various fees.

Wait – don’t you get money from the Amazon links to books on your list?
YES! However, it’s a very small %. Plus, if you’ve bought a book through one of our links in the past, future purchases are often not counted. Plus, we don’t like to depend on this because we also support public libraries and independent bookstores, and we know that’s where many of you prefer to get your books as well. We appreciate that it is an option, and every dollar counts, but it’s more like a week of groceries most months.

Another way book websites either save or make money is by working with publishers. However, we have chosen to remain totally independent, so our impressions of books aren’t accidentally skewed. While we very rarely read preview copies of books we’re very excited about, we purchase 99% of our books (or get them from the library). We pay out of pocket for the full price of our Book of the Month, Kindle Unlimited, Audible, and Scribd subscriptions. On this year’s reader survey, some readers mentioned they would like us to provide a discount on books as a BMAC perk – and frankly, we wish that was within our power. We would also love a discount on books!

That covers how we make money, but that’s only one side of the equation.

For the first 2.5 years, we spent every single dollar back into the business to make it better. Last year, we each began taking a very small income that has continued this year – less than the federal minimum wage. This isn’t a complaint, just a vulnerable disclosure to help explain why our Buy Me a Coffee members are important. They are called our BFFs (Best Friends Forever) for good reason!

Some of the things we have to pay for:
Website Hosting
Website Plug-Ins
Newsletter Subscription Service (to send our weekly emails)
Social Media Scheduling Software
Tax Software
Search Engine Optimization Research Software
Advertising (to get the word out about our challenges and our website)

What we’re investing in:
We set aside money year-round in order to be able to run ads for the new challenges each December & January, which has been the best way to find new readers and increase our income over time. In fact, it’s likely how some of you came to hear about us.

Last month we made an investment in building the Together discussion forum, and this month we made a huge decision to invest our business savings (and more) into an updated website (which will launch around September).

The new website will make it easier to find what you need AND allow us to link to Bookshop.org, in addition to Amazon, for those who love to support local bookstores. We hope this fundraising drive will help refill the coffers in the short term, while also making the site sustainable for us long term.

Isn’t the fun of learning about so many books worth it?
Absolutely, but the fun doesn’t come in a silo. This is essentially a 24/7 job with endless tasks happening behind the scenes. Even when we spend extra time working ahead on book lists and newsletters so we can take a break, other work, like answering emails from readers and providing tech support, never stops. The first night we were together recently for a fun weekend at Angela’s house, the entire drive to and from dinner with our families was spent trying to assist someone who was struggling to download an Etsy file. She wasn’t being kind and was a major distraction to our yummy dinner.

So here’s the direct ask that we’ve avoided for years

IF our book lists or reading challenges have provided value to your life, and IF you’re in a position to become a member for $5/month or $50/year, we would appreciate your support. We all have different seasons and challenges, so if $5/month isn’t feasible, we’re still so glad you’re reading with us!

We do provide extra perks to our BMAC members as a thank you, but we really see the members as our VIP supporters who make the book lists, reading challenges, and discussion groups possible for everyone. We hope you love the printables and bonus book recommendations, but we also really appreciate all the members who join and say that even though they don’t use any printables, they still want to help.

As an alternative, if you don’t want to become a member, but are interested in one-time support, that is also an option. You can toggle the signup form from Membership to Support and select an amount in $3 increments.

We also want to be clear – while we need this for the business to survive long-term, we’re also both good. This is not a request to meet our food and shelter needs, nor is it any kind of threat that the site will disappear anytime soon if we don’t hit our goals. We feel super awkward even asking, but we’d LOVE to move from feeling like we’re volunteering at a non-profit 24/7 to being on the paid staff of a non-profit. It’s a bit like a PBS annual telethon to help us figure out budgets and what programming we’ll be able to offer. 🙂

If you’re already a member, THANK YOU! If you’re signing up today, THANK YOU! And if you’re reading this but not signing up, THANK YOU for being a part of our community!

Non-Financial Ways to Help

If this is a terrible time for a financial commitment, or you just don’t want to give strangers on the internet money, but you still love the site, we have plenty of non-financial suggestions!

Word of Mouth
When we spot one of you recommending us to other readers on Facebook or Instagram, we get so excited that you thought of us and shared us. If you see someone asking about something you know we can help with, drop our name or a link when applicable.

For example, if someone asks for books set in every state, mention the challenge, or even better, share a link to the challenge on our website. We don’t ever want you to break any group rules or go too wild bringing us up constantly, but it really does help.

Share Our Emails
Forward our emails to book-loving friends when they contain a book list they might enjoy. Word of mouth is the best advertising!

Remember That We’re Just Two Book Girls
Give us grace & remember that there are only two of us doing all the things. While you may be shocked to hear this because there’s probably a typo somewhere in this post, we hate typos too. We’d love to have a full-time editor and time to finish posts far enough in advance to hand them off to an editor. But the truth is that many of your 5 AM Friday emails are finalized after midnight Thursday night. We never mind kind emails that let us know something could be fixed, but we don’t need hateful or condescending lectures in our inbox. In our 40s, we have embraced that we are very human, and every human makes mistakes.

Books Are Better Together
Participate in the month-end discussions if you enjoy talking about books. Many reading challenges don’t have a group interactive component, and we love connecting you with other readers. However, when someone new goes to a discussion group and all they see is the starter question we asked, it’s disappointing to them and not a compelling reason to stick around. Jump in and post your own questions when you can.

Help Us Help You
Read our full description before picking your challenge book. We spend a lot of extra time writing our book descriptions and notes instead of just copy-pasting the publisher’s description in full. Our biggest pet peeve is when a book gets low ratings in our book logs, and the reason given is something we disclosed in our description. We want you to enjoy your picks, so read those descriptions!

We Value Your Feedback
Let us know when the books we’ve recommended have a positive impact. And, when you don’t like a book on a list, share your feedback with kindness and specificity. We are constantly removing and adding books from our challenge lists based on reader feedback, but it is SUPER frustrating to see a terrible rating on a book with no comments at all, or worse, just a phrase like “hated it.” However, when you provide specific feedback on the book logs, it makes our decisions much easier, saves us a ton of research, and allows us to provide better recommendations in the future.

Your Words Mean More Than You Know!
Be encouraging when you have the opportunity. Last December, during Challenge Week, as we rolled out the 2023 challenges, we joked that we were fueled entirely by caffeine and compliments, but it was actually true. Working 12-16 hour days that week was ONLY worth it because the enthusiasm was contagious.

We NEVER get tired of hearing why you love being part of Book Girls Guide. Positive reader emails or comments make every minute of work worthwhile. Our brains know how important financial contributions are, but our hearts prefer knowing we’re making a difference!


Comments on: A Major Peek Behind the Scenes of Book Girls' Guide

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  1. Christina says:

    As someone who runs her own book blog and does it all on her own, in addition to a full-time paid job, I totally get it! And I just wanted to take a moment to let you know how much I appreciate your reading challenges and the descriptions you write about each book. I find them VERY helpful in choosing what I’ll read!

  2. Weezie Fitzhugh says:

    Thank you for sharing, and thank you for being such great reading facilitators. The depth and breadth of your research is far and above any other book group I’ve seen. And I love your “voices” – your writing is so positive and affirming, really furthering your stated goal of spreading kindness. Your recommendations are so terrific – you are my first point of research when I’m deciding on a new book. So grateful for you!

  3. Susan Reive says:

    As a former small business owner, I totally understand your issues. Thank you for hanging in there. I just discovered your site in January when I was determined to finally get back into reading for pleasure. It has helped so much to use your recommendations. Your descriptions have allowed me to pick books I enjoyed so much and may never have picked without this site. I will definitely check out Buy me a Coffee.

  4. I am so appreciative of all you two do! I hope you can get enough support to ease the financial burden. I have been a buy me a coffee member for maybe 6 months. I don’t even use the perks. Just want to do something for all the joy and fun you have given to me!

  5. I am a retired librarian and am so glad I found this site. I understand the time, money and commitment for you and really appreciate everything you do. I have found so many good books thru your guide that I would not have found
    otherwise. I know you have to keep all ages and interests in mind so hang in there. Enjoying reading your comments this week about how everything works and thank you from a homebound person who loves to read.

  6. First off, thank you SO MUCH for all you do for us. It’s truly amazing to get all this information and the fun, well thought out challenges. I eagerly await the 20th of the month for new lists!
    I have been considering being a member. Your explanations here are so transparent, kind and not pushy in any way. I’m in!
    I already share your lists and info with reading friends but now will be a true BFF with you! Ha! Thank you to your families. How beautiful that they support your passion and dream.
    Thank you sincerely,

  7. Alice Fine says:

    I knew this club required a lot of work, but had no idea how much! Thanks for the insight. I absolutely love this site and have been explored so many genres that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Reading is my passion and stress reducer. I appreciate all you do!

  8. Wow! Thanks so much for sharing! It is amazing to find two kindred spirits so committed to keeping books in people’s lives. Since I joined last January, I have stepped out of my comfort zone and enjoyed dozens of books I would never have found without your book.
    Thank you so much for all your hard work.

  9. Kathy Coaker says:

    Thank you for explaining how it all works behind the scenes. I have often wondered how you manage to do everything you do for us. I am so grateful for all you do to enrich my reading experiences! I have read so many amazing books and learned so much since I joined and I can’t thank you enough for that!