Deadly Dozen Hits The NY Times and USA Today Lists. Lessons Learned From The Box-Set

I’m extremely excited to announce that ‘Deadly Dozen,’ the thriller/mystery box-set I am part of, hit the New York Times Bestseller list as well as the USA Today Bestseller list for the second week running!

NYTimes Deadly Dozen130314It’s #13 for fiction E-book bestsellers and #19 for combined print and ebook, plus it’s also now ranking #42 on the USA Today list, up from last week. That’s a writing dream achieved!

I’m now a New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author, along with the other fantastic authors in The Twelve: Diane Capri, J. Carson Black, Joshua Graham, Cheryl Bradshaw, Allan Leverone, M.A. Comley, Aaron Patterson, Carol Davis Luce, Vincent Zandri, Linda S. Prather, and Michele Scott.

We also had a brilliant publishing partner in Phoenix Sullivan from Steel Magnolia Press who wrangled us into a team and USAToday 42 DeadlyDozen_130314coordinated the publishing side.

Thank you so much to everyone who bought the book and joined in the promotion. And if you’d like to read 12 bestselling mystery/thrillers for a great price, you can still buy the book from all ebook stores, or read more about it here.

Here are my lessons learned from the experience:

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Book Marketing: On Changing Book Covers

One of the main reasons for self-publishing is creative freedom and control.

remake desecrationMany of us regularly update book blurb/descriptions, as well as changing categories and keywords. I’ve also blogged before about making sure non-fiction book titles are based on keyword research.

Today I’m talking about changing book covers because within a few hours, you can completely change the look and emotional impact of your book. When authors like Polly Courtney have resigned over the cover branding for their books, this seems like the ultimate indie freedom.

Desecration Michael ConnellyI published Desecration, a crime thriller, in Nov 2013, and after it debuted on the bestseller list alongside Michael Connelly, it pretty much sank down the charts. I haven’t done any further promotion, and it hasn’t sold as well as my other books.

It gets brilliant reviews, so once people read it, they love it. But not enough people were trying it … sure, I haven’t done any specific promotion, but based on my other book sales, it should be doing better.

The ‘aha’ moment

Russell Blake, the author who has sold over 400,000 thrillers and now writes with Clive Cussler, wrote a post in Feb 2014 about tweaking his covers. Russell changes covers in order to “find one that resonates with my readership – as expressed in increased sales.”

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How To Love Book Marketing

I teach a lot of authors about book marketing and many start the workshops with dread, knowing they have to learn this stuff, but not really wanting to do it.

marketing is sharing what you loveMy aim is always to change their mindset to one of happily incorporating marketing into their daily lifestyle, and generally, by the end of the day, most authors are much happier! In today’s article, Bryan Cohen talks about his own marketing change of heart.

If you had fun marketing would you be looking for advice on a book marketing blog?

Probably not. I imagine most people search these blog posts for a magic bullet. A marketing solution that takes less time and energy. A tactic that leads to increased sales and more time for writing.

I’m not sure this post fits the bill, but I will tell you what I’ve done to make space in my life for publicizing my books.

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A Brain Scientist’s Take on Bad Reviews

We cannot please everyone with our work, so the 1 star review is inevitable, and yet still we fear it.

1 star reviewsIn today’s post, author and neuroscientist Livia Blackburne puts it all in perspective.

I’ve noticed a pattern in the blog posts of debut authors. Before the book comes out, there’s a flurry of activity about prelaunch preparations. Then there’s a celebration on launch day and a big promotional push. And  finally, after things have quieted down there’s a philosophical post about bad reviews. This is mine.

I released my novella Poison Dance last September and have been obsessively stalking goodreads, googling myself once an hour, attentively monitoring early reader response. A good review is a lovely thing to wake up to, but I’ve also been pleasantly surprised to find that bad reviews — while not exactly enjoyable to read — don’t bother me as my as I thought they would. I think this is due to my background as a psychologist and neuroscientist. When you look at stories through a psychologist’s point of view, bad reviews no longer seem as scary. Let me explain.

In his book The Language Instinct, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker describes language as a way to shape thoughts in someone else’s brain.  As authors, when we package our words into a novel, we’re taking a story formed in our heads and transmitting them in a nice package for other people to experience.

Pretty cool huh? Like mental telepathy without the foil hats. But it’s imperfect mental telepathy. To understand why, let’s take a closer look at the storytelling process.

The Author’s Idea:

A story starts in the author’s imagination. It isn’t made of bare facts, but draws on the author’s life experience. Whether it’s an epic love story or an nail-biting thriller, the story is informed by everything from the writer’s worldview to her favorite hobbies.

From the Author’s Brain to the Page:

Once the story is there, the author puts the words to page. Again, the combination and style of the words used depends on the author’s individual understanding of language. Everything from the phrasing employed to the details mentioned are the author’s unique signature.

Sentence level decoding:

After the book is written, it enters the hands of the reader. And here, it passes through another set of filters. Just as everybody produces language differently, everybody understands language differently. This means that different readers will find different voices compelling. One reader might pay more attention to short distinct sentences,  while another might bask in lush descriptive prose.

Image level meaning:

By now the reader has decoded the sentences, which  tells her the bare bones of what happened —  a ball bounces on the pavement, a man punches a security guard. But does it matter that the ball bounces, and should we be shocked that the man punched the guard? What if it had been a nun who did the punching? Events and images must again be interpreted, and this  relies very much on the reader. For example, take a romance in which a man takes a woman’s hand. A reader who is very sensitive to physical touch might interpret this as a strong display of affection, while a more touchy-feely reader might not think this is a big deal at all and be completely surprised when the man declares his undying love a few chapters later.


After the broad events of the story is conveyed, there remains the larger message. What did the story mean? Was it happy or sad? Just or unjust? Again the story’s meaning is colored by a reader’s worldview. One reader’s Cinderella ending might be another reader’s objectification of women.

As you can see, the act of writing and reading a novel isn’t a simple straightforward thing. It’s more like an elaborate game of telephone involving the writer, the reader, and their various language processing modules. At every single step of the process, the story passes through filters that depend on the person, and this is how 10 different readers can wind up with 10 very different impressions of the story.

This not a bad thing. It’s part of the beauty of art.

But it does mean that if you write a book about a glass that’s half full, you might just get:

Reader 1:  What a wonderful tale about a half empty glass.

Reader 2:  Meh, a mediocre tale about a half full glass.

Reader 3:  That’s a funny looking flowerpot…
And because no blog post would be complete without graphs, let’s include some as a visual aid. As an author, it’s sometimes easy to think of a book’s quality as something like this.

The y axis represents a book’s quality, and the error bars represent subjective differences in opinion.
But instead, it might be better to think of story enjoyment like this.

Here, the Z axis represents how much someone enjoys a book, and the X and Y axes represent reader characteristics, anything from their favorite genre, their attention span, their worldview, the number of traumatic childhood experiences they’ve had involving killer pigeons, etc. All come into play when they read a story.

What do you think? How do you feel about bad reviews? Please leave a comment below.

If you’d like a more in depth look at the reading process, my essay From Words to Brain: A Guided Tour Through the Neuroscience of Reading, is currently on sale for 99 cents until February 17, 2014. (Regular price $2.99).

Buy the essay from: Amazon |Nook | Kobo | iBooks | Google Play


Livia Blackburne started writing her debut novel MIDNIGHT THIEF while conducting research on the neuroscience of reading at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Since then, she’s switched to full time writing, which also involves getting into peoples’ heads but without the help of a three tesla MRI scanner. She still blogs about the intersection of psychology, neuroscience, and writing at A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing.

How To Create Stronger Bonds With Readers Through Author Appearances

In my reflections on two years as an author-entrepreneur, I noted that relationships continue to be one of the most important things as an author.

handshakeMany of the friends I have now, I met first on Twitter and then our relationships progressed into the physical world. I have found events and conventions incredibly important for the serendipity that occurs when you actually make a physical connection.

In today’s article, YA author Natalie Wright talks about how you can do the same with readers. 

You are a regular here at The Creative Penn, so you know how valuable social media is when it comes to marketing your work. You Tweet, you post to Facebook and you socialize on Goodreads. You pin your heart out on Pinterest, tumble on Tumblr, and plus this and that on Google+.

But is it enough?

If all of your interactions with readers are virtual ones, are you missing out on a powerful, “old-fashioned” marketing interaction?

Are in-person engagements with readers, fans and potential readers worth the time and effort?

I began my adventures in social media about three years ago. When my first book, Emily’s House, launched, I had a small gathering of friends and family. It was the one and only in-person interaction I had with readers until March 2013. Instead of pursuing speaking engagements, I spent my time focusing on writing books and interacting on social media.

But I began to ask the above questions after I had a vendor booth at the 2013 Tucson Festival of Books (TFOB). It was the first time I had the opportunity to meet, in-person, my actual target audience of girls ages 11-18. Two significant things happened.

First, I sold out of books, thus making the event financially successful.

Second, and more importantly, I got to talk story and hang out with readers for two whole days. I saw the eyes of tween girls light up when I told them what my story was about, and I watched as they walked away from my booth, hugging the book to them.

There is not a single virtual interaction that has come even close to energizing me – thrilling me – as much as the “real” world interaction I had with readers over those two days.

And it got me thinking that maybe we authors should not be so quick to ignore the old-fashioned “dog and pony show” that authors have used for years to build their audience.

Having a grand total of two author meet-and-greets under my belt, I’m a novice in the author appearance category. In order to get a better handle on my questions, I reached out to a few authors with far more experience than myself.

First I spoke with Kevin Hearne, author of The Iron Druid Chronicles (and a heck of a nice guy).

Why did I reach out to Kevin?

Although I’d heard of Kevin through my meanderings around the Internet, I didn’t become a fan of his until I heard him speak at a fantasy world-building panel at the TFOB in 2012. I was an insta-fan. He was funny, smart and down-to-Earth. I left the meeting room, bought his book and found him on social media. Meeting Kevin in person moved me to make a connection (and buy his book) when I had not been so moved merely by seeing covers of his books or hearing mention of him on the Internet. Who better to talk to than someone that I had discovered because of an author appearance?

Kevin was generous with his time as we chatted about the topics of in-person interactions with readers and how to get the word about your work out to readers. Here are two tips that I distilled from my conversations with Kevin:

1.     With In-Person Appearances, It’s About Quality, not Quantity

Kevin said,

“My first three books came out bam-bam-bam in 2011, and the biggest event I did that year was San Diego Comic Con. I paid my own travel and hotel…. My publisher gave out free copies of the first book and put me in front of a lot of readers. That grew my readership significantly …” Kevin added, “Something that hasn’t worked for me (but may work for others) is small cons, less than 2000 people. I’ve found very few people interested in trying new authors at such events, and the youth is almost entirely absent.”

Kevin’s experience comports with my own experience at the TFOB 2013. Despite cold, rainy weather, the outdoor event was attended by over 70,000 people of all ages. That’s a huge number of potential readers. Kevin adds, “Large events have thus far produced better return on my investment of time and money, so that might be something new authors should consider.”

Is there a well-attended book festival, book fair or comic con near you?

If so, you may be able to pay to have a vendor booth or table. Better yet, look into the application process to be a speaker on a panel or submit a proposal for a topic you’d like to present. Perhaps start with your local area so that you can leverage your personal connections to get family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances to attend the event. If you are new to speaking, it may help you to have a few friendly faces in the audience.

2.     Social Media Bridges the Gaps

Personal appearances are more time-consuming and costly for authors than social media. Kevin noted that most readers get a kick out of meeting authors in person and would prefer it, but it’s just not feasible. Kevin thus uses social media to keep the connections forged through his in-person appearances going. He mainly uses his blog, Facebook page and Twitter. (Kevin opines that his fictional Irish wolfhounds character Oberon (@IrishWolfhound) is more popular with Twitter followers than he is!)

As Kevin says,

“I personally enjoy both kinds of interaction – it’s all good for me because heck, I’m overjoyed anybody wants to say howdy, you know?”

I also had a discussion with veteran author Dan Gutman. Dan is most known for his books for elementary school children, and he currently has over 100 books in print. I heard Dan speak at a writer’s conference in 2012 and remembered being impressed by how hard Dan had worked to build his considerable audience. Dan and I spoke and he shared these tips for writers:

1.     If you want to succeed in the writer business, don’t give up.

“I had received hundreds of rejection letters before my first book was published,” Dan said (emphasis added).

From hundreds of rejections to over a hundred books in print, Dan is an example of staying the course and never giving up.

2.     Authors should make an effort to meet readers, in person, when they can.

“[T]here’s something special about meeting an author in person, hearing him or her speak, getting a book signed, a high five, or whatever. You form a connection, and there’s a good chance that a kid who meets you will become a fan, buy your future books, and tell their friends about the experience. Meeting readers virtually is also good, but nothing compares to the real thing. It’s sort of like the difference between hearing a live album and actually being at the same concert.”

But Dan also points out, “There are only so many personal appearances we can make. Travel is no fun at all.”

Sounds like Dan would agree with Kevin’s tips above. Meet as many readers as you can, but stay connected through social media.

3.     Write the best books you possibly can then work hard to promote them.

“[W]rite the best books you possibly can…. If your books are lousy, you’re probably not going to build an audience no matter what else you do.”

After you’ve focused on your craft and have a product you’re proud of, Dan has further tips for making the most of your in-person and other promotional efforts:

  • Create a fantastic presentation and deliver it at every school and library you can handle. Do it for free in the beginning. If you’re good, eventually, you’ll be able to do it for money.
  • Visit every bookstore you can. Introduce yourself to the owner and manager. Sign your books there. Send them information when your new books come out. And when you go on vacation, pop into every bookstore nearby.
  • Post all of your personal appearance in advance on your Facebook page, website, blog and any other place you reach your audience.
  • At book signings, be the nicest guy (or gal) in the world. Shake hands. Thank everybody for coming. Make eye contact. Never let ‘em know that you’re exhausted. Sign stock. Never complain. Make everyone happy.
  • Lastly, Dan said, “Bust your ass. Every day. Nobody ever got successful by sitting around doing nothing.”

Action Plan

Create a plan for this year that includes at least three in-person appearances where you can interact with your target audience. Continue to consistently use social media for daily interaction with readers.

What speaking engagements or author events can you set up for yourself this year? Get creative. Consider what value you bring to the table then deliver. Reach out.

If you’re worried about physical appearances or need more help on the mechanics of speaking, Joanna has a book out that may help, “Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives and Other Introverts.”

I’ll be doing an author appearance at a library this month, a book signing at a local indie bookstore next month, and I’ll be in the Author’s Pavilion at the TFOB in March. This is what I’ve lined up so far. I’m taking Dan Gutman’s advice and I’ll reach out to schools and libraries this year as well as other bookstores.

And I have a new mantra to print out and post prominently where I can see it every day:

Bust Your Ass Every Day

Have you had experience with meeting readers in-person? If so, do you think it was worthwhile? Do you plan to reach out to readers through in-person appearances this year? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

emilysheartNatalie Wright is the author of The Akasha Chronicles, a middle-grade through young adult paranormal fantasy trilogy. Her newest release, Emily’s Heart, released February 1, 2014.

Formerly a divorce attorney, Natalie now focuses her working-day time on writing fiction, being a paid beta reader, blogging, interacting with readers through social media, and writing guest post articles for a variety of blogs. You can connect with Natalie on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Wattpad

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons handshake by AK Rockefeller