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February 2016

(How to Get a) #1 Best-Seller!

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 9.10.02 AM

My first novel, Cat in the Flock, hit the #1 spot in two major categories on Amazon this morning:

Kindle ebooks>Mystery, Thriller & Suspense>Mystery>Private Investigators


Kindle ebooks>Mystery, Thriller & Suspense>Mystery>Paranormal

I made it my personal goal a couple of weeks ago to dominate the second category, Paranormal. So today when I saw that I'd secured the #1 spot in that one as well as Private Investigators, I had to do a double-take. There are a lot of private investigator books out there, so getting the dreamslippers to rise to #1 is no small feat.

Let me take a breath here.

Not two minutes after I announced this on Facebook, I had a message from an author who wants advice on whether or not to indie-publish. "You seem to have this figured out," he said.

I'm not sure that I do. And this isn't me minimizing my achievement; it's that a lot of the time it feels like we're all out here, every one of us, including all the indies like me as well as the traditionally published authors, we're all just pulling our careers together with sweat and duct tape. Anyone who promises you the moon doesn't have the moon, because the moon is a far away, tiny thing in the sky. We're all standing down here, trying to see it in the clouds.

But I did some things right that are worth noting. For example, I:

  • Put that first book through its paces with BETA readers for feedback and several editing passes.
  • Hired good editors. (Yes, I will give you their names: Elisa Mader and Jim Thomsen.)
  • Had literally worked on HUNDREDS of game narratives in the mystery genre before I'd even sat down to write it.
  • Had watched probably thousands of mystery TV shows and movies, if not hundreds of thousands.
  • Had read deeply in the genre and even interviewed top mystery authors, including two in the paranormal category.
  • Earned an MFA in creative writing and worked hard on my craft for 25 years, including teaching other people how to write and editing other people's copy.
  • Served as a BETA reader/early draft editor for an Edgar Award-winning author years ago before "BETA reader" was even a thing.
  • Reached out to Mary Daheim and Jon Talton, two established mystery authors, for their blurbs. I already had professional relationships with both of them (I interviewed Daheim once for Seattle Woman; I brought Talton's great writing to Crosscut when I was an editor there).
  • Paid for a review from Kirkus to give some added legitimacy since there is still a stigma against indies. Fortunately, they praised the book, but there's no guarantee they'll do that, and this was not a 'starred review.' They are known to be tough on genre writers.
  • Paid for a professional cover. This was after initially launching with my own creation, which turned out to be a huge problem as the book was erroneously plopped into the 'pet noir' category by Amazon regardless of the categories I'd chosen.
  • Tried to undo the damage of being erroneously placed in the 'pet noir' category on Amazon.
  • Tortured my husband with formatting changes. (Hat-tip to my husband/personal book formatter.)
  • Created a robust online presence and schooled myself on marketing.
  • Learned to think of marketing as another form of storytelling.
  • Formed an LLC and publishing company.
  • Gave print copies away to people at my own cost.
  • Held my own hand and babysat myself through the dust bowl days. OK, my husband must have been holding a foot. Probably both feet.
  • Profusely thanked and did return favors and thanked again anyone who helped me in any way.
  • Worked for a year and a half to promote the book, slowly racking up 40 reviews on Amazon. It's currently trending at 4.5 stars.
  • Tried to do everything with grace and integrity, or at least not come off as a book-hawking douche.

Still, none of this was enough to get to the #1 spot. That didn't happen until I'd done all of the above, put the second book out as well to critical acclaim, and THEN set the first book on ebook for FREE, and exclusively through Amazon. Mind you it's not enough to slap a book together and stick it on Amazon for free. I had to do all of the above and THEN offer it for free. It's a tough, tough business! I'm playing a long game here.

So there you have it. How to get to #1 spots on Amazon, with sweat and duct tape. To the author who asked me whether he should indie-publish or try to get an agent, I'd say you have to do almost all of the above whether you publish as an indie or with someone else. (Or maybe you'll get superstar lucky and win the book lotto, but I'm not one of those people, and I don't know anyone who is.)

Publishers save you from decision-making and hiring people yourself, so if you'd rather not do those things, don't be an indie. There is also the book store thing. Despite trying valiantly, I am only in a handful of book stores because most of them won't work with indies. So if you're attached to that, don't be an indie. The vast majority of my sales are on ebook, and I get to keep a far greater percentage of my royalties than any traditionally published author does. Say what you want about the return of print, but ebooks are totally here to stay.

Hey, I'm not there yet. Not by any stretch. I'm just getting started.

But for now, let me enjoy this victory. My friend and fellow author Chris Patchell congratulated me on Facebook, to which I replied, "It's a tough biz!" She wrote back: "Indeed it is, and we need to celebrate every victory. This is a great one for you."

It really is.

What I'm Reading: The Retreat: A Kind of Lesbian Romance

The Retreat: A Kind of Lesbian RomanceThe Retreat: A Kind of Lesbian Romance by Jane Retzig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Maybe my reading tastes have been far too sheltered, but this is the first "lesbian romance" I've ever read, and I learned something interesting: Even if you flatline on the woman/woman love thing, if you enjoy a well-written romance, it doesn't matter what the sexual orientation of the characters is. Retzig is a highly skilled storyteller whose characters are well developed and compelling. She stays away from formula for the most part here, and the flashback style used to tell the story of this love triangle - or quadrangle? - works remarkably well. The Retreat is a moving account of the price of denial but what isn't thankfully denied is a satisfying happy ending.

View all my reviews