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How Sue London’s First Novel Became an Amazon Bestseller in a Couple of Weeks

| Posted in Interviews / Success Stories |

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Is it still possible to hit it big with a first novel? To toss that puppy out there and see it rocket to the tops of the Amazon sales charts? Well, if you’ve been following the blog, you know the answer is yes, since I recently interviewed Leeland Artra who’s been having great success with his first fantasy novel. Today we have another success story.

Sue London, one of the first people I followed on Twitter (she complimented my Goblin Brothers stories, so naturally I liked her right away), released her first novel a few weeks ago and asked me to retweet one of her announcements. I did so and bought a copy (hey, it was only 99 cents). Through Twitter, I’m aware of a lot of new authors who are publishing first novels and, frankly, not much happens for most of them. Imagine my surprise when I checked Sue’s Amazon sales ranking a week or two later and her book was in the 300s. As I write this introduction, it’s sitting at 123 and has this nifty tag that shows up in a search: sue-london-historical-romance-amazon
#1 Best Seller in Historical Romance. Not bad, eh?

But how did she do it? Sue’s agreed to spill the beans for us today, so let’s get this interview started!

A few weeks after release, you’re rocking the Amazon sales charts with your first novel, Trials of Artemis. What did you do to get the ball rolling in the first place?

First off, thanks so much for having me come on your site for an interview. Your blog has been my “go to” source for self-publishing information and it’s very exciting to be able to contribute. Also, don’t forget that I’m still waiting for more Goblin Brothers books! Just wanted to put that out there.

This is all pretty unexpected so I can’t provide advice as much as express gratitude. This is one case where I can say “It’s not me, it’s you.” It’s Twitter buddies, Facebook buddies, and readers who were willing to give me a chance. But let me tell you my story in the hopes that there’s a pony for you in all this mess somewhere.

suelondon_trialsofartemis

It all started with an idea for a Regency romance series about three girls who formed a “boys club” growing up, because they thought boys have more fun. They named their club (and therefore the series) The Haberdashers. There are twelve books scoped out for the series at this point. My original intention was to wait until at least book three before doing my big promotional push. I know how series readers are because I am one. We go very quickly from “I LOVE YOU, I WANT TO READ ALL THE BOOKS!” to “Who are you again?” when there has been a gap. So let me tell you what I didn’t do – engage a PR group, do any press releases, schedule a blog tour, intensely research what in the heck I should be doing to release a book. My plan was to do all that for the release of “Fates for Apate.” Sure, I’ve been picking up tricks over the years since I always intended to publish (specifically self-publish), but didn’t put any extra effort into “mastering the book release” prior to releasing book one.

All that aside, my first degree is in marketing so I couldn’t help doing a leeetle bit of it. I mean, no one wants their first book to bomb. But I was going to be delighted if I broke even on the expenses within the first couple of months (i.e., selling about 650 copies). Honestly, I thought my goals were insanely high and unrealistic. Heck, I’d gotten one of the major tenants of the industry “wrong.” I’d just spent ten years building a brand identity on the web of being a sci-fi geek (is it a brand when it’s really who you are?) and here I was publishing a Regency romance. People got whiplash doing a double-take. No one in my circles could believe I’d written a romance, in real life or online. Not exactly the best launching pad. Apparently you can get a lot “wrong” and still get it “right.”

To answer your question, though, what did I do to get the ball rolling?

  1. Set up websites specifically for Author and Series a few months in advance. I already have a lot of blogs and websites, and I wanted something that was specific to publishing so that people didn’t have to wade through ten years of me pontificating (main blog), or stacks of my short stories and writing samples (writing blog), just to get to what they really wanted – to purchase my books or read about the series.
  2. Purchased a rockin’ book cover a few months in advance. Seriously, this may have been the most important thing that I did. It is by Kim Killion at the aptly named Hot Damn Designs. The cost was about $135 and worth every penny. THANK YOU, KIM! Now I need to get a spine and back because this puppy is going to paper.
  3. Purchased 100 “cover cards” from VistaPrint (large postcard size) a few months in advance and offered them autographed as an incentive for pre-purchases. Also handed them out to anyone who would stand still and left stacks of them around the Virginia Festival of the Book. They aren’t cheap, about 40 cents each. Adding envelopes and postage makes this about a $55 investment. But they are shiny and pretty and made everything more “real.”
  4. Set up a Twitter account for the series at @haberdashersfic.
  5. Pestered my twitter buddies (I tweet at @cmdrsue) about the fact that my book was coming out soon and they should consider pre-purchasing a copy.
  6. Remembered that I have a Facebook page and posted some updates (which also auto-post to Twitter).
  7. Remembered I have a writing blog and made some posts about finishing a book and getting it to publication. Those automatically posted to Twitter and G+.

Then late on the night of May 12, 2013 I clicked publish on Amazon.com. And waited for the book to hit the store. And then I bought a copy. At that point I thought it and my five pre-sales (thank God for friends and family, right?) might be the extent of my publishing story. By the end of day one (May 13th) I’d sold 31 copies in the Amazon store and another one on my website. It had begun.

Marketing efforts in that first week included:

  1. Setting up my Amazon author page.
  2. Setting up my Goodreads author page.
  3. Pestering my friends on Twitter some more.
  4. Sending a Trials of Artemis mug to the first person to do a review. (She had no idea that I’d even been talking about giving out a prize because she’s not in my Twitter circles, so it was interesting to have the first person be someone completely unknown to me.)
  5. Posting announcements for my “fans” on Facebook (most of whom are STILL waiting for a sci-fi book).
  6. Posting announcements on a bunch of my blogs and having Blogger push those to my G+ circles. Made sure to include the blog that has a Page Rank of 4 from Google.
  7. Going to the follower lists for some of my favorite historical romance authors and having @haberdashersfic follow those followers.
  8. Reached out to some other writers asking for a retweet. Since I’ve been a good citizen for awhile (interviewing writers at Writing Insight, retweets, etc.) I got that love back – including retweets from yourself plus top romance authors Diane Farr, Danelle Harmon, and Lauren Royal.
  9. Taking a page from Amanda Hocking and reaching out to some romance readers with a polite direct tweet (you can’t do this too much or you’ll get blocked):
  10. Taking the opportunity (whenever it looked like it would fit) to post a link to my book as a response to super-popular people on Twitter. I know at least one sale came from responding to Jen Yates (@cakewrecks) when she asked her followers what was up. I said my book was up <link> and got one sale and follower that I know of. Maybe more.
  11. Asking @erinscafe to livetweet the novel because she had done that to hilarious effect on some other romance novels. I knew it would be a snarkfest and wanted it to be. Ended up getting props from her followers because I joined in on making fun of the book. Sales jumped by almost 100% that night. Some of Erin’s tweets:
    • Our story begins in London, 1815. Our heroine: Jacqueline Walters, but you can call her Jack. #haberdashers
    • Jack decides to ditch the ball, and sneaks into the host’s library. I’m pretty sure this is trespassing. Very least, it’s rude. #haberdashers
    • An arm slips around her from behind in the darkened library. “What are you reading?” Someone’s asking for a knee to the groin. #haberdashers
    • “Who in the bloody hell are you?” Ah, the stranger in the library is NOT a rapist, just a guy who grabbed the wrong boob. #haberdashers
    • We’re at another ball, because in 1815 there was no Twitter and people were bored. Jack’s dance card is empty. #haberdashers
    • I would 100% be playing cards and smoking cigars in the stables in 1815, reputation be damned.#haberdashers
    • Jack points out that she’d really rather not have a husband who grabs strangers’ boobs in libraries. Good call, Jack. #haberdashers
    • Gideon and Jack almost kiss while dancing the waltz. That Footloose town had it right; dancing is a gateway sin. #haberdashers
    • Giddy was just described as a “thoroughgoing rogue,” and I’m pretty sure that’s going to be the name of my next band. #haberdashers

And that pretty much describes my big marketing “push.” The only other thing I’ve done since then is join some romance groups on Facebook. Oh, and struck a chord with another group by making my first gratitude post about Trixie Belden. They have invited me to their Clubhouse. As a huge Trixie Belden nerd I think this is awesome.

At the moment “Trials of Artemis” is selling about 600 copies a day. The only explanation I have for that is… people seem to like it. Not the most insightful analysis but there it is.

I’m always hoping to find new advertising venues that actually work out (i.e. authors make as much from sales as they paid for the ad). Did you do any advertising or has this all been word of mouth?

Nope, no paid advertising for this beyond purchasing the postcards from VistaPrint. I’ll probably try some of these when “Fates for Apate” comes out. My research will undoubtedly include reading through your website so I wish I had some really good advice to give myself right here. I have used GoogleAds for my CafePress site and that was usually somewhere around a break-even.

99-cent novels have fallen out of favor with some folks in the indie community of late (possibly because, last year, Amazon supposedly started weighting the popularity charts to favor higher priced titles). Why did you choose that price point, and how much of an impact do you think it’s had on sales?

I chose 99-cents because I’m a 99-cent novel person. I read voraciously and there’s no way I could do that with typical list-price books. So I look for 99-cent and free ebooks because there are a lot of great writers I’ve never heard of, and even a lot of big houses/authors have sales to convince us to try them. It stretches my reading budget. For me as a reader I have to LOVE your books in order to spend more than 99-cents. But if I do love your writing then I get in this weird “PRICE IS NO OBJECT!” place. Seriously, someone could probably price the first one at 99-cents and the rest at a thousand dollars and I’d be like “THAT’S FINE, I’LL GET ANOTHER JOB, I NEED ALL THE BOOKS.” You know, if they really resonated for me. Some sort of modern-day G.K. Chesterton or something.

Regarding my own sales, I have to assume that the 99-cent price point didn’t hurt. In this particular genre (Regency) there are still a lot of 99-cent books and the top ten list for Regency is usually full of them. So 99-cents is probably just a ticket to get into the show. Because I can’t contact readers from Amazon directly I’m not sure if the price point made a difference to them. (Now you can really tell I studied marketing. Without the datapoint we can’t really draw a conclusion.)

It was always my intention to price the first one in this series at 99-cents and the rest at 2.99. (The next two are already available for pre-order at that price, plus if you pre-order you get an autographed cover card!) The first one for all of my series will probably be 99-cents but I’m not sure. (Yes, there are many other series, trilogies, and books planned. Some of them will be sci-fi and fantasy.) As I walk around and talk to more people about pricing it amazes me how many readers say they don’t mind when books are $8+. Thank God for them, someone needs to keep the major publishing industry going. But I don’t want to pay that for the majority of my reading, and by my little own lonesome I don’t need that margin for what I charge. Volume can often trump margin anyway.

Did you find that once you sold X number of books, Amazon’s algorithms kicked in and have helped you rise to the top (and stick there)? Or are you still doing a lot of promotion?

I know that you’ve written about the algorithms but here’s where I admit that… I haven’t really been paying attention. I can’t explain the rise to the top, but I’m sure that once I achieved the top ten it became a phenomenon of “success breeds success.” Since I read on the Kindle app I know that they constantly push the best-sellers at you. That means all the Regency readers started seeing my book pushed in their face every time they turned their Kindle or app on. Again, the cover was a great investment because at the very least it looks professional. At best it signals “This book is HOT. And brainy.” (They ARE in a library after all.)

I am not doing a lot of promotion. I blog, I tweet, I Facebook. I do interviews if asked. But if what you’re really getting at is “how did you manage to be so successful with your first book?” my honest answer is “I have no clue. If I did then I would do it over and over again. And teach others how to as well.” Seriously, I would take you with me on that magic carpet ride, but if there is an answer in all of this I don’t know what it is. Maybe the stars aligned. Maybe I had some karma points to redeem. Maybe, just maybe, it’s the power of nice. But I can’t point to anything and say “Yep, that’s it right there. That’s the answer.”

Something is working, though. It keeps creeping up the bestsellers lists. Currently at #130 for all of Amazon so it’s possible that “Trials of Artemis” will break the Top 100 before it’s done. Back on May 19th when I was #52 in Regency and #3,392 overall (and feeling pretty good about myself for those numbers) I was smack-talking Dan Brown on my Facebook page because it was funny to act like I could take the #1 spot. Now it’s moved from funny to intriguing…

All of the reviews have certainly been helpful, too. I don’t know how you get those other than wait. Ok, you could ASK for them, but is that really the same? Only one of them is from someone I know because I *didn’t* want to ask people I knew to review it. Right now there are 15 on Amazon.com (average 4.9), 2 on Amazon.co.uk (average 4.5), and 5 ratings/2 reviews on Goodreads (average 4.0).

Do you have any parting tips you’d like to offer to new authors who will be launching a book soon?

My biggest fear is beginning to believe that because this turned out well that I know something. I don’t. I’m grateful that so many people have helped me out in ways both large in small. A retweet here, a nice review there. Someone trying out a new and unknown author for the first time. But there are some things that are common pointers in the profession so I can reiterate them.

  1. Be nice. And remember that part of being nice is not always looking for something for yourself. When I started retweeting links for my favorite romance authors it wasn’t with the thought “because in three years I WILL WRITE A ROMANCE BOOK AND I WANT YOU TO RETWEET ME.” I was just being nice because I liked them. And being nice also means that when you step over a boundary and someone calls you on it that you graciously apologize. It doesn’t have to be a boundary that you expected to encounter or even deem worthy. Would you rather be proven right or sell books? The answer is sell books. When in doubt, be nice.
  2. Be professional. Get a great cover. Get great editing. Meet your obligations. And from a behavior standpoint, being professional is actually just being nice in a business suit. (Not an actual business suit but, like, emotionally.)
  3. Be clever. Think about what could be a fun or funny promotion. I have no idea what the ultimate impact of @erinscafe’s livetweet was but it was clever and fun. People enjoyed that I was laughing along with them. I can’t find the tweet right now but someone commented “more authors should be like you!” I also think Amanda Hocking’s direct marketing approach of contact on Twitter was clever. I still remember when I received the tweet because it was nice enough (see? nice?) that I was like “sure, I’ll check that out” and clicked on the link. Turned out it wasn’t for me and I didn’t buy it, but obviously a lot of people did. (Yes, I’m talking about this happening before she got famous.) Please note, however, that it wasn’t just that she asked me to check out her book, it was HOW she asked that made me click at the time and remember it later. For that one girl who made me click there have been hundreds if not thousands of solicitations that I’ve ignored. (See? I don’t even remember how many, much less who they were.)
  4. Be yourself. (Or at least the nicest, most professional version of you.) Your book is a product and I hope that it is AWESOME. But people want to connect with people at some point, especially if you are planning to have an ongoing writing career. Sharing something of yourself is a big challenge but people appreciate the little things that make you you. If you share enough little tidbits then everyone can find something they connect to. Some people advise authors to “brand themselves” and “sell themselves” but I’m definitely not in favor of that. I want to brand my books and sell my books, but be myself. That’s how I can get away with being a big sci-fi nerd and write a best-selling Regency romance novel. And you know what? I’ve discovered that a lot of other romance writers are big ole nerds, too.
  5. Bonus tip from Sue: Positive thinking. If there is any magic afoot in any of this it’s the fact that I spend at least 10 minutes every day focused on positive mantras. My inspiration comes from writers like Martha Beck (Finding Your Own North Star) and Barbara Sher (Live the Life You Love). In case you’d like to read those books, too, I set up an Amazon store of the books that motivate me.

Other than that just listen to Lindsay. She’s got the best advice around for self-published authors.

 

Awesome, thank you for your time, Sue!

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Comments (60)

AWESOME! Thanks for sharing!

Thanks!

Very nice! I will definitely keep some of those marketing tips in mind. This is something that I myself will need to do very soon for my first epic fantasy novel.

Thanks and good luck! When will we be seeing your book? (I loooove fantasy almost as much as science fiction.)

Thanks Sue! My first novel “Ethereal Daydreams: Rebellion of the Princess” is with currently with my editor Shelley Holloway and I have booked Streetlight Graphics for ebook/print cover design and ebook formatting. I anticipate the release to be September this year. These last few stages before publication gives me the most suspense for some reason, haha!

Sue, can you talk a bit about how your pre-ordering process works? I see the links on your website through paypal, so it doesn’t look like something native to Amazon? I think preordering sounds great, and I want to know how to do it :)

Hi Bonnie! Amazon doesn’t allow self-publishers to do pre-orders (although Courtney Milan just managed to find a way around that, maybe she’ll show us all the path), so all of my pre-orders are manual via Paypal. I keep a spreadsheet of who orders what format and document it when I send the cover cards and files.

I was hoping there was a more automated way to make it happen! Pre-orders are a great idea, though, sort of mini-mini-kickstarter. You’re selling well enough, I bet you could kickstart sales for the later books, but I don’t have any idea if the backend for sending out files as kickstarter prizes would be any better than your current system!

Thanks for sharing your success story, even if it is bewildering. I got my copy, and will look forward to reading it!

Bewildering. Good word!

I’ll ask Matt Forbeck about the kickstarter idea. He did great things with his “12 for ’12” campaign. Which reminds me I need to write up my review for his book…

Thanks for picking up Trials of Artemis. Hope you find it fun! :)

Just thought I’d point out that Kobo is allowing this, so maybe we’ll see more of the stores offering the option. :)

Congrats, Sue! Always great to hear about another indie success. Fantastic marketing tips, too–good stuff to add to my arsenal. Good luck with the series going forward!

Thanks!

Thanks again, Sue, and for stopping by to answer questions too. You had me giggling at some of your responses.

I hadn’t started reading the book yet when I made up the questions, but now I’m thinking, too, that it was an interesting choice to introduce the love interest right away and give us some physical… activity, however mistaken the identities, right up front in the sample pages. I’m not an expert at romances, especially historical ones, but it seems like you usually have to wait a little longer for that sort of thing. I don’t know if it matters though, if that many people try sample pages on a 99-cent purchase, but I bet it made for a good hook. :)

You’re welcome Lindsay, thanks for having me by!

It’s always good to have a hook, right? In book one it was a lurid interlude and in book two it’s… wait, I should make you read the sample to find out. Here’s chapter one to get you started (also at the back of Trials of Artemis): http://haberdashersfic.blogspot.com/p/athenas-ordeal-sample.html. The free sample when posted to Amazon should be a little longer.

And I learned the hard way to sample not only 99-cent books but even FREE ones. My time is worth more than my money and I will feel a little more commited to reading the book if I already have the full, whereas I can delete the sample with impunity. The ones that make me angry are when they are pretty good up until the sample ends. DID YOU PLAN TO SUCK AFTER THE JUMP? ARE YOU SADISTIC? I just don’t even understand those.

I haven’t heard of Trixie Beldon in ages! Loved and reread that series. Where is this, on Facebook? I hope it’s somewhere else cause I’m not there yet.

I see that I crucially missed step #1 – be on the internet for 10 years. Because I just signed up for Google+, as in *this* week. Seriously, that bit of info along with the rest does help.

Hey there! Who know if my tenure online helps? I have some followers on my blogs but they are diverse enough that probably less than half would be remotely interested in a romance book. Probably less than a quarter. Let’s say… four or five people. Maybe. If I asked pretty.

As for Trixie, you can find the link to the Clubhouse in the comments of my post, plus some other fun stuff they shared. http://bysuelondon.blogspot.com/2013/05/thank-you-trixie-belden.html

Thanks for that extra analysis of how being on-line may/may not have helped. Including *everything* that might have had an effect is really helpful for someone starting from scratch, like me. Also helps us keep things in perspective.

The blog post sounds interesting! Hopping over now. :)

Just to let you know. I bought the book. Mainly cause I trust Lindsey and at that price point it’s totally an easy decision.

I found Lindsey thru my book group thread and as her first EE was free, again, an easy decision. I got books 2 & 3 in audio and all the others on ebook.

As a general rule I listen or read about 4 to 5 books a week and I’m lucky to have a large reading budget BUT I like finding a new author without making a huge $$ risk. Once I like an author I don’t mind spending the money for new books.

Isn’t it nice when there’s an easy decision? Purchasing from some authors it’s always easy (“well, it’s Jim Butcher so I *know* I’m going to like it…”), but finding news stuff is so hit or miss.

As for audio books, I’m trying to convince my husband to record it. I’ve always liked romances but having him read it to me? Oh. My. God. Hopefully I can get that goodness recorded to share. (Yes, he’s one of those people who does accents and voices and I think we just found a home for it.)

Your husband could read a romance novel to you without cracking up at certain parts? Impressive!

Made me think of this from an episode of Frasier (I tried to find a YouTube clip, but YT failed me, alas):

Martin: What did the doctor say?
Daphne: He says I’ve got… Oh, what was that medical term he used?
Oh, I remember; flu!
Martin: I’m really sorry I didn’t let you get that flu shot. Is
there anything at all that I can do for you?
Daphne: Well, when I was a little girl and got sick, Grammy Moon used
to read me to sleep. It’s a great comfort.
Martin: Oh. [picks up book] Is this what you’re reading?
Daphne: Yeah.
Martin: “The Rose And The Rapier”?!
Daphne: Well, if you’re not in the mood… [sneezes, coughs violently
and then sprays a breath freshener into her mouth] You don’t
have to.
Martin: No, no, I’ll do it.
Daphne: The bookmark’s where I left off.

[Daphne relaxes on the sofa.]
[N.B. “The Rose & the Rapier” is the novel written by Deirdre Sauvage,
the romance novelist from “The Adventures of Bad Boy and Dirty Girl.”]

Martin: All right. Okay. [reads] “With a gasp of dismay, she ran to
him, her amethyst eyes wide with alarm. ‘You fool,’ she
hissed, ‘Suppose someone saw you. The Duke’s men are
everywhere’.” [looks up] Hey, this isn’t so bad.
Daphne: I told you.
Martin: [reads] “‘You fool,’ she whispered again, ‘You sweet, brave,
wonderful fool. I should have died had you not found my
bedchamber.'” [suddenly embarrassed] Oh, Geez! [reads] “Then
she was in his arms and all her qualms forgotten as she…
[shifts in chair] …tore his tunic asunder and thrust her
eager lips against the sinews of his naked chest.”

[Martin looks over to Daphne who seems to be asleep. He turns some
pages.]

Martin: [reads] “The next morning…”
Daphne: You left out a section!
Martin: Okay, okay! [goes back, reads] “As his brazen fingers peeled
the silken fabric from her heaving… [coughs the word “bosum”
out as he turns red] …he beheld her quivering alabaster
mounds. [takes a huge gulp of his beer to wet his suddenly
dry throat] At that moment she felt the proof of his rampant
passion… [he sweeps his forehead of sweat] against her
milky thighs. His almost God-like beauty was marred only…

[Martin looks over to a sleeping Daphne.]

Martin: …by the fact that he was…” [closes book] cross-eyed,
three feet tall and had breath like owl droppings!

[Martin looks over to Daphne who is obviously dead to the world, he
looks content.]

Bwha-ha-ha! I remember that scene now! :)

I love The Rose and the Rapier episode.

Thanks Lindsay and Sue for the insightful interview! It’s rewarding to see that first-time authors can hit it big :) I’m still working on “Nihier” and haven’t found the sweet spot to promote it. I’m also on the mindset to only start promoting it for real when at least the second book, “Seeders” is up, so that’s that. All the best to you!
@sinsanih

Thanks! I wish you best of luck on your launch. So many things are hard to predict. At least if you do what makes you happy then you have that. :)

Excellent insights! I just bought your first book. Can’t wait to read it, especially because it’s a favorite genre and love your premise. Are you doing anything to encourage more readers to leave reviews?

Btw – love your cover and author font. Can’t believe you only paid $135!!

The only thing I’ve done to encourage reviews beyond what is posted above is to send out a few free copies to reviewers. But that hasn’t yielded anything yet. Are you hinting that you would like an incentive? 😉

Kim is both awesome AND fast. It amazed me how quickly it came together. I assume that she will soon be overwhelmed with demand and it will take longer and cost more.

“Other than that just listen to Lindsay. She’s got the best advice around for self-published authors.” I couldn’t agree more. Out of all of the blogs that I have subscribed to and then left by the way side weeks or months after saying, “This looks interesting.” CLICK! This blog is the one I keep coming back to. It is fresh, interesting, relevant, informative, and inspiring.

Aw, thanks, Digerbop. Now I’ll feel the pressure to keep the site useful though. 😛

Cooool, that’s awesome Sue! Congrats on the success! 😀

Thank you also for the tips. It was really cool to read about your marketing efforts—in that a lot of it functions as marketing, but in practice is really just you being in general a kind and awesome person to interact with. Twitter, Facebook, blogs, other communities…for a lot of authors, success seems to come down to how you treat people and get involved. Contribute, be a cool person, be giving, and the communities you’re a part of will respond in kind!

Excellent point!

Everyone pay attention to Tally. “Success seems to come down to how you treat people and get involved.” That.

Wow. That is really an amazing journey. But you did all the right stuff before you published your book with your blogs and social networks. So it was all in place. Congratulations. I’ve never read any Regency (or any romance for that matter – sci fi and fantasy geek here) but I couldn’t resist that price point.

Thanks! It’s true that I did have a platform, even if not one optimized for this particular book. Now I’m collecting new followers on my Facebook page who are into historical romance.

Congrats, Sue. I’m impressed with your success (and very jealous, too).

Interesting to hear your take on the 99 cent price point. I decided on an exorbitantly high ($4.99) price for my debut novel largely because of what Leeland Artra had to say about pricing in his interview on this blog a few months back–especially his idea that free books get lots of downloads but not necessarily lots of actual reads. His idea made a lot of sense to me because I’ve given certain novelettes away for free, and gotten hundreds of downloads, and then had absolutely no comments or greater-than-normal sales once the book went back to a pay-to-own status. (But in the end, pricing my book on the higher side hasn’t really paid off for me, either.)

Still, I’m wondering if the 99 cent price point is actually a key part of your success. I sort of figure that the cheap price isn’t the main thing that’s making people hungry for Trials of Artemis, and I wonder if you would have had similar success even if you’d priced the book higher. Or, if you decided to raise the price now, would it seriously reduce the number you’re selling? Seems to me that you’ve written a book that people want to read, and I’m guessing they’d be willing to shell out three bucks instead of one, which wouldn’t make that much of a difference to them, but would be a significant difference for you.

I wouldn’t want you to change things around and risk messing up your mojo, but Leeland’s interview had me thinking one thing, and yours has me thinking another. In the end I’m wondering if price isn’t really as big a part of a book’s success as I’d thought it was, before.

I struggle with which path makes the best sense too (probably everyone here has and will have those angsts). That’s why I was pondering an extra push or creative mktg slant to encourage comments after the download (and presumed read).

Lindsay or Sue – any kind of stats from industry or peers for what is a decent ratio of downloads to comments left?

Hi Myka! On Amazon.com I’m getting about 1 review per 300 downloads. If there are industry numbers I’m not aware of them.

I’ve heard everything from 1 in 100 to 1 in 1000 for reviews (is that what you mean by comments?). In my early books (EE1 and FG1), I actually asked folks to help me out and leave a review if they liked the story, and I’ve gotten a lot more reviews than on the other books. Makes sense, I’m sure, but it’s hard to know if it’s entirely a result of the asking because those books have also been long-time freebies and have had more downloads than the non-free ones.

I think, too, if you do a series and are lucky enough to have a core group of readers who want to support you and know reviews help, you’ll get a lot more than the industry average.

With two of the titles I’ve published, I included a note to the readers (after the book’s text) asking them to leave a review if they liked the book. It was a short, simple, and polite note, something like: “Thanks for reading the book. I hope you liked it. If you did, please consider posting a review.” So far, it hasn’t resulted in any greater number of reviews than what my other titles have received.

Hi Marcos! As you can imagine, it’s a temptation to raise the price but I’m sticking to my guns because that was my original marketing plan – low introductory price, higher price for the rest of the series. But I have the “luxury” of knowing that I’m setting up a series for success. All sorts of factors would make me take a different approach. Stand-alone book in SFF to slowly but surely build up enthusiasm for? $4.99 makes sense. At that point I would focus more on getting substantial recommendations from respected leaders in my niche. (A “leader” can include a reader that everyone trusts.)

Think about how you purchase books as a reader. Ask everyone you can meet in your genre how they purchase books. Linger at your genre shelves in the bookstore if you must. Chat with the booksellers (most stores have employees that “specialize” in particular genres because it’s their favorite and they can tell you what they’ve seen happen with buying patters).

That being said, price has a psychological component. When someone is reading a book they are comparing cost to value. I’ve certainly read (or partially read) plenty of free books that made me say “Well, you get what you pay for…” But free and 99-cent can also feel like hitting the jackpot.

At the end of the day, though, you have to do what feels right to *you.* That’s why the universe gave you these two examples that conflict. What feels right?

Thanks for your feedback, Sue!

Romance and Fantasy are different markets and pricing won’t necessarily work the same in both. Romance is more competitive so lower prices may be a bigger thing. Fantasy seems to support higher prices fairly well.

Counting free downloads from when I was in Select last year, I average about 1:500 for reviews. But I write younger YA and I think that has an affect.

That was awesome how she had such a success on her book. As soon as I read the plot premise I was wondering where my wallet was, and I usually don’t read historicals anymore. Sadly, I must wait for pay day, but it is on my to-buy list now :)

I have a off shoot question. I have recently started setting up a blog for book reviews, and saw mentioned in the article about someone (@erinscafe) who was live tweeting her reactions to what was happening as she read the book. Since I recently discovered the awesomeness that is twitter, and read way to much (and not having anyone to talk to about my book obsessions), I was wondering how live tweeting a book works. I would love to do this for myself but am also worried about the legalities since it is based on someone else’s work. Also, would it be a spoiler thing for other people who have not read the book? Mind you I would never tweet a blow by blow of the plot, mostly my reactions to it.

Hi Ana! On twitter the whole “livetweeting” thing is a lot of fun. One friend used to livetweet bad movies (slogan “I watch bad movies so you don’t have to”) and we hope she goes back to it. People tweet movies, tv shows and, on rare occasion, books. @erinscafe does lots of different things, primarily focusing on sports lately, and has only done this with books a few times. (If you go to https://twitter.com/search/realtime?q=%23haberdashers&src=typd and scroll down to May 18th you can see the #Haberdashers tweets from Erin & co.) The big thing with livetweeting is the observational comedy aspect of it. And based on the response to Erin’s livetweet even a few “spoilers” won’t keep people from buying the books.

Another, similar thing that I’ve seen is Liz Borino did a series of blog posts as journal/diary entries for the characters from her trilogy. It was AWESOME. If I ever get extra time I will totally be doing that for my characters.

I’ve had readers do this just because they love sharing on Twitter. You’re making me think I better come up with a cool hashtag for my next series and make it easier to connect things for people who might be curious to watch. 😉

That’s a great idea. I would love to twitter EE7 too. It’s on my most anticipated summer release list.

Glad to hear it, Ana! Hmm, I should try to organize something fun around the release. Twitter *is* my favorite social media spot to hang out, after all. 😉

Wow, I love that cover! Amazing.

It sounds like you wrote a very, very good book that just naturally picked up word of mouth. Bravo!

I love hearing stories like yours. I love to hear about nice, talented people becoming successful. Makes me feel like the world is as it should be. :-)

Thanks Margaret! :)

What a brilliantly executed game plan! So glad this post was pimped on August McLaughlin’s blog celebrating her 200th blog post anniversary. :-)

Thanks for popping over to check out the blog, Kitt!

Thanks Kitt! :)

Lindsay, Lindsay, Lindsay!

Terrific post, terrific blog! Where I go for useful info and inspiration. Your knack for brevity and keen insights makes these visits to your site not only worthwhile, but loads of fun. Am becoming more and more addicted to your way of laying the line down. Ryan Casey, out of Great Britain, is another blogger/writer who possesses a similar style and approach. The only thing that keeps me from buying your books is the fact I don’t read SF or Fantasy.
Some writers I’ve read over the years and like would have to include Jack Ketchum (horror), Charles Bukowski, Dan Fante (Chump Change), Mark SaFranko (No Strings), Knut Hamsun (Hunger), Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer), Brit crime writer Derek Raymond (I Was Dora Suarez), Sylvia Plath (The Bell Jar), Jack Kerouak (On the Road), James M. Cain (Double Indeminity), Simon Winchester (A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary), Jack Clark (Nobody’s Angel), Plez Gehman (short stories), Staci Layne Wilson, et al. Just to give you some idea.
Should you ever write anything outside of “your genre,” I’ll be the first to pony up the bread.
Thank you for all the insightful info and hard work and incredible amounts of time that must go into researching and posting these priceless blogs.
Best,
Kirk Alex
author Lustmord: Anatomy of a Serial Butcher

Wow, this is, like, the awesomest blog post ever!

Here I was, thinking I was the only writer in the universe to cross genres between SFF and Regency Romance, and now I feel so much less alone! I mostly write fantasy, but I’m currently polishing off a 3rd draft of my first Regency/Georgian romance, which I hope to publish later this summer or in the fall. I’m still debating whether to do this as a self-publisher or whether to submit to an established trade publisher, and I’m leaning towards not self-publishing, but I’m still very much undecided.

Anyway, my big question for Sue has to do with “branding” (whatever that is) and author name recognition. What are your feelings on using the same name for both Regency romance and fantasy genres, when there’s not much reader crossover? I had planned to use a pen name for my romance writing, but having read this post, I’m reconsidering that idea.

I’m not planning a Regency series at the moment, but I do have a big fantasy series in the works.

Hi Amelia! Sorry I didn’t see your question before now. *Cues music* “You are not alone… I am here with youuuuu”

Many moons ago (or last year, whatever, time goes fast on the internet) I asked my Twitter buddies their feelings on pen names from a reader perspective. I was surprised by how many said they kinda resented writers using different pen names because IT’S LIKE THEY THINK WE DON’T LIKE DIFFERENT THINGS OR CAN’T FIGURE OUT THAT IT’S THEM. After backing a few feet away from the vehemence I thanked them kindly and did some thinking.

And realized that I thought they had a point.

I read anything and everything. If I really like a writer it’s not like I want them to “hide” their other books from me by putting them under a different name. The whole Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb thing kind of annoys me. Alrighty then. One name.

Then I started thinking about HOW ANGRY I would get when Jim Butcher would put out another Alera Codex novel. JESUS CHRIST, JIM, CAN’T YOU JUST FOCUS ON DRESDEN? WHY DO I HAVE TO WAIT THIS LONG FOR YOUR DRESDEN BOOKS? DEATH TO ALERA! DEATH TO ALERA!

On the other hand, the Codex Alera is actually really good and there’s no way I wouldn’t have picked it up if it weren’t for his name on it. (Fantasy, I just haven’t been that into you lately. It’s not you, it’s me.)

So, the idea circled around in my head a bit, but… I finally decided to stay with one name. I’m going to trust that my readers would rather know everything that I’m doing. And I can bear up under their criticism when I’m doing more than one series and not putting out the book that any particular reader wants right that moment. (For instance I am DYING to get my Rafalko Mysteries started but am committed to doing the first three Haberdashers novels first.)

I’m not sure if that helps you, but that’s the thought process that I went through. It still remains to be seen whether readers will connect with a writer who jumps around a whole bunch. Amazon probably isn’t clever enough to only email Regency releases to Regency fans – but then again maybe they are. The first time a Regency fan gets a promo for my near-future urban fantasy it will probably cause a little dissonance. On the other hand at least some portion of those readers will say “Oooh, cool, I didn’t know she wrote THIS stuff TOO!”

Thank you, and yes, it does help.

I am often slow to respond to things, so that’s fine. I remember the days of paper letters, when it was normal to wait weeks for a response!

Knowing your thought process does help, but of course I haven’t made up my mind. I’m thinking about my writing focus, and how the romance genre ties into that. I still kind of like the idea of using a pen name, though!

Thanks again!

Congratulations on your awesome success, Sue! It couldn’t happen to a nicer person! :-)

Thanks Lauren! It was really awesome of you to help me out with your retweets.

For anyone who loves romance, if you haven’t read Lauren’s books yet they are excellent. The Jewel Trilogy is probably still my favorite. Check her out at http://laurenroyal.com/3.0/bookshelf/books/

I know this is an older post, I found it after reading a newer one as I get them by email and while I always enjoy Lindsay’s posts this on really resonated for me as I’m about a month away from launching my first book. So much great info here and the cover is outstanding. But the book looks really fun too am off to buy now!

Thanks Pamela! Good luck with your book launch. Don’t forget to have fun! :)

Came by to say that book two, Athena’s Ordeal, came out yesterday and is doing well. It is “darker” than the first book, which has led to some interesting and mixed reviews. If you’d like to check it out it’s on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Athenas-Ordeal-Haberdashers-Book-ebook/dp/B00DJCFUS8/

Great interview!! Some really wonderful tips.

Sue, its great to see that you could cross over into HR. I’m actually more of a YA Urban fantasy writer (and that’s my platform) so it’s great to see that its not end of the world to write in another genre :)

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