Genre versus Author Platform? Which Matters More?

by | Dec 18, 2013

by C.S. Lakin (@CSLakin)

When my friend and colleague Susanna Lakin told me about her experiment in trying to find out exactly how important an author platform is for genre novelists, I was fascinated. Now, she’s written up the story of what she did, and what she’s found out. This is crucial reading for any novelists who are having trouble getting traction with their sales. Susanna, who has written more than a dozen critically-acclaimed novels, was the ideal person to run this “experiment” and I think you’ll be as fascinated as I by her results. Here’s her report.

Is it enough for an author to write a terrific book, then market it wisely, devoting a lot of energy and time to building an author platform? Will that ensure great sales? Most authors have precious little time to spend on building their platforms, yet most experts in publishing will agree that author platform is crucial.

But how crucial? Even if an author spends hours a week trying to get known—via social networking, blogging, listing their books on paid and free promotions, joining in on forums, offering sales—often all that effort shows little return in the way of sales, new readers, and buzz. A million writers are vying for attention, and many are putting out similar effort to build their author platform.

Authors can certainly benefit from engaging in all of the above activities; surely those efforts must help to some degree to get their name “out there” and be recognized. The aim of most authors is to get discovered, and to have name recognition (along with a great reputation for being a solid writer).

We’ve heard how crucial it is, particularly for nonfiction writers, to build that platform, which is so much easier than trying to build a platform for fiction. However, fiction writers are highly encouraged to do similarly using many of the same methods as nonfiction writers, such as blogging on timely topics that can tie in with their novel’s themes or setting.

Where Does Genre Fit In?

Without going into the strategies and methods for either fiction or nonfiction platform-building, I’d like to take a step back and ask this question:

How much does genre [for the novelists] have a bearing on success?

This is a question I did not want to ask myself, but after writing more than a dozen novels in various genres and spending years trying to market them, promote them, grow sales and readers, I kept coming back to this question.

Why? Because although my books were getting terrific reviews and winning awards, they were not strict genre novels—in fact many of my books are a bit experimental and can’t be easily categorized. My books just weren’t selling much.

With indie publishing, authors like me have been able to publish our “unusual” or “different” novels and find readers. But after I’d put out five novels as ebooks (and some also in print), and did extensive marketing and promotion (spending an outrageous amount of money on publicity, for example)—following to the letter all the sage advice I’d garnered on how to sell for success, nothing worked. My author friends were making easily five figures each month, often off one title, or they would release a book and it would hit the best-seller lists off the bat.

Maybe It’s Just Luck

I thought they were just luckier than me. I thought perhaps they were doing something special with their marketing and author platform that I wasn’t. But when I interviewed them all, I found out the truth. They were not. Many had little author platform. Some (yikes!) had none. I mean—no website, no social media, no previous novels out, no name, nada. Huh?

What I did see was that these hugely successful authors were writing to a specific genre, and often a niche genre. What do I mean by that? I mean a subgenre that has a particular readership—one that is very large and one that has few (compared to other main genres) books available for sale. What I was seeing was a manifestation of the old economics “supply and demand” rule.

But could that really be true? Could an unknown author write a novel with no author platform for one of these subgenres and sell big, with no additional effort other than putting her book up on Amazon, carefully using the same kind of description, cover, etc.?

I was dying to find out.

My Genre Experiment

So, here’s what I did, in a nutshell (I plan to write an entire ebook soon on this experiment/method called From Idea to Selling in Three Months, so others writers can do this too!):

  • I picked the subgenre I was told “sells itself” without any author platform.
  • I came up with a pen name so I would be an unknown, unpublished author.
  • I chose one novel to deconstruct. [NOTE PLEASE: I did not plagiarize or copy the plot, writing, or tried to mimic this author. I just deconstructed the structure. If you don’t know what that involves, buy my book when it comes out!]
  • After deconstructing the novel, I plotted and constructed mine.
  • I hired the same cover designer to brand my look for my series.
  • While writing the novel, I copied and pasted 30 Amazon descriptions of books in this genre in order to create my own in the same style and fashion. [NOTE: This was a genre I had never even read, so had no clue how this differed from the genres I already wrote in.]
  • I got a couple of well-known author friends and a reviewer for the Examiner to read in advance and write me reviews/endorsements, so I’d have something to put in the book and on the Amazon page.
  • I did set up tweets (not as my pen name but via my real Twitter account) to get some exposure.
  • I set up a Facebook page for the author, but did nothing to promote it. Even now it has maybe 25 likes. So no big influence there.
  • I hired an assistant to find bloggers and reviewers, but only had three people blog about the novel when it was released.

author platformSo, essentially, as far as author platform goes, I did almost nothing to build or prepare for this book release. I felt I should do a minimal amount of promoting, just as many of my successful author friends do when releasing a new book. And of course, their subsequent books sell very well too, since they have, inadvertently, build a bit of author platform just from the sales and buzz of the earlier novels released.

My Results

The novel has only been out a month. Within the first two weeks, the book jumped to paid #247 on Amazon, and hit the top ten genre lists: Historicals, Historical Westerns, Western Romance. My genre is Historical Western Romance (and more specifically sweet Western—meaning no sex or heat).

In those two weeks, the book sold more than 1,500 copies at full price ($3.99 US), while all the top twenty on the lists were sale priced. I wanted to start out the gate with the novel regularly priced and not discounted, based on Mark Coker’s research (Smashwords) that $3.99 sells better than any other price. I also wanted to imply “quality” because it is a long, rich, quality book.

My novel has been on the genre lists’ top 100 ever since, selling about 30-50 books a day. Way more than I ever made on any of my other dozen novels. Here’s the interesting thing. I made $3,600 or so in three weeks. I was told by writers of that specific subgenre that they make about $3k a month off each book. Which is what it looks like I’m making. Why? Supply and demand.

One author sold 80,000 copies of her first novel, with no Internet presence, website, or author platform. She still doesn’t have a website, and her books are all selling in the tens of thousands. Is she a terrific writer, better than anyone else out there? No. She writes good books for the genre, as do the others who are selling well.

Genre Isn’t the Only Factor

I can’t emphasize enough that first and foremost an author has to write a terrific book. And it now looks to me that a terrific book in one genre just may sell a whole lot more than a terrific book in another genre. Authors who lament that their “terrific” book (if it indeed is one) is not selling, may need to consider genre. Maybe they might even want to try their own genre experiment.

My novel has been getting mostly 5-star reviews, and what pleases me most is when reviewers say I wrote a book that perfectly reflects the genre. I did my homework and it paid off. The strict genres I’ve noted sell well in addition to romance, romance, and more romance are paranormal, thrillers, and mystery (and YA versions of all those).

I don’t read or particularly like romance, but the RWA (Romance Writers of America) recently noted that 40 percent of ALL ebooks sold are romance. And I actually had a blast writing this novel, with two more in the series slated to come out in 2014. I love Lonesome Dove and always wanted to try my hand at Westerns.

You Don’t Have to “Sell Out” to “Sell Big”

I don’t think writers should “sell out” and write something they don’t want to write just to make money, but hopefully I’ve given you food for thought. I find nothing wrong with writing to a specific audience for the sole reason of selling more books and making some money. It feels nice to pay the bills.

So, does it matter whether you have an author platform or not? I suppose it depends on what genre you want to write in. As my pen name identity grows an author platform, I’m assuming it will help my sales. But it didn’t hurt at all to not have one when I published this novel.

Any thoughts? Let me know in the comments.

author platformC. S. Lakin is the author of fourteen novels and while she writes two novels a year, she works as a freelance writing coach and copyeditor, specializing in manuscript critiques. She offers deep, free instruction for writers on her award-winning blog Live Write Thrive and provides critique services via Critique My Manuscript. Her novel, Colorado Promise, is written under her pen name Charlene Whitman (nickname Charlie), and you can buy her “experiment” here!

Photo: Amazon links contain my affiliate code.



  1. Roland Denzel

    This was very interesting, no matter how you slice it.

    Thanks for the write up!


  2. Katy Pye

    Thanks Susanne and Joel. Great idea, post, and comments. I’ve read authors do better sticking to one genre, at least until we build a name, so I’m encouraged there may be other avenues. Thanks for the research tips, too.

    I deconstructed a couple of books as prep to writing my first novel, since I’d never written fiction over 15 pages. Loved doing that. The process helped me focus. I figured out what I liked or didn’t in the writing, characters, etc., in each book. When I finished, I understood more about the genre, myself as an author, and had a solid foundation for building my book.

    I agree with James on Robert McKee. David Corbett’s, The Art of Character, is another fabulous resource for digging into what makes characters tick.

    Thanks, again. I’ll be following your progress.

  3. Megaera

    Just one more comment before I turn “receive comments” off on this post.

    You might want to consider that any time you make a generalization like this, especially about a popular genre, you’re going to get pushback, and it will be deserved.

    Also, any time you make a generalization like this about self-publishing, just because something worked for you (even if it works for your friends, too), you’re going to get pushback, and it will be deserved.

    At first I thought your article was helpful. Until I started thinking about it and really considered what you were saying and how you conducted your experiment. Then I started reading your responses to me and to other commenters, and I realized how wrong I was to think this was helpful. You cherry pick your answers, for one thing. There are questions to you that I’ve repeated in both of my comments that you didn’t answer, and I think it’s because you know you can’t so you avoid them.

    I know no one has the “magic bullet” for successful self-publishing, but the way you wrote your original article makes it sound like picking the right micro-genre will automatically give you better results. This is not necessarily true. And your experiment was flawed. The Twitter posts under your own account about your “anonymous” book was a huge one.

    Anyway, I’m turning comments off now, so I will not see any reply you make. Call that a Parthian shot if you like, it won’t matter to me. But I needed to say this. There’s a heck of a lot of advice on self-publishing out there. I’m not sure any of it is of much use.

  4. Nissa Annakindt

    If only I could find a subgenre that would sell well without platform… I’m just not a romance sort of person. Though ‘sweet’ romance is at least something I’m able to read.

  5. deb smith

    “My novel has been on the genre lists’ top 100 ever since, selling about 30-50 books a day.”

    Hi. I don’t see how your current Kindle ranking of approximately 4,500 overall, with sub-cat rankings attached, could produce sales at the level you state. My estimate, based on years of experience as both a romance author and publisher, puts your sales at fewer than 10 copies a day, maybe 5. Competing for addition in the extremely small sub-cat of “sweet historical romance” was a smart decision, but telling other writers that making money in the romance genre is easy peazy is dubious advice. To say the least. Not to mention that a condescending attitude toward a genre of fiction always surfaces in the writing.

    • Susanne Lakin

      This week I’ve been averaging about 20-25 books a day. When I hit #247, I sold 500 in one day, and between 11-10 and 11-30 I sold about 1,500. But it’s been fluctuating, of course, since the number of books sold at any one moment on Amazon is going to vary. So you can’t just make blanket assumptions based on overall paid rankings.

      I never said making money selling romance was easy, nor I am being condescending about the genre. I just never had an interest in reading it or writing it, but I don’t mean to criticize it in any way and I’m sorry if it comes across that way. I worked very hard to create an excellent book. It wasn’t easy. And I know other authors in this genre also work hard to write great books.

    • Kristi

      Deb, I’ll say what others are thinking but won’t dare say: “Chillax. It ain’t that serious.”

      She’s only telling her experience and giving writers another idea to try.

  6. James Moushon


    Great post. The point is well taken. Genre does really matter if you want to sell your books.

    I love long posts. Joel has a thread going on that topic.


  7. Michael N. Marcus

    At the end of her posting, Susanne says, “I love Lonesome Dove and always wanted to try my hand at Westerns.”

    I hope that sentiment is not so deeply buried that it gets missed by other authors. I nearly missed it.

    Maybe I’m nuts, but I think a writer needs to have a passion for a book’s subject or genre instead of just analyzing, deconstructing, reconstructing, hyper-nicheing and mimicking. Without passion, a writer becomes a machine.

    Does the world really need more books about post-apocalyptic lesbian teenage vampires? I think not.

    Michael N. Marcus

    • Kristi

      Maybe the world doesn’t need it but readers are still buying them and smart writers, who aren’t trying to win a Pulitzer on every book they write, give the readers what they want and the readers reward them by buying their books again and again.

      Call me a sell-out but I’d rather make rent than win some writer’s award no one cares about but the people who hand them out.

  8. James Maynard Gelinas

    This is fantastic. Susanne, you promise a followup to character/plot teardowns in a forthcoming book. As an unsuccessful and flailing story-teller, one book I’ve found incredibly useful for teardowns and analysis has been Robert McKee’s “Story”. The book is geared to screenwriters, but the analytic method he proposes seems useful for fiction as well.

    He breaks story down from character interactions (beats), using character intent to build suspense by denying goals (the gap between an expected result and harsh story reality; what he calls a ‘turning point’ in a scene), the ladder of small success combined with continual failure scene by scene to propel plot, and how to handle divisions in acts with small, medium and finale climaxes that are properly paced. And then there’s a whole separate discussion on the difference between character and characterization. And a brilliant breakdown on the difference between upbeat, downbeat and combined upbeat and downbeat for ironic endings that’s simply fantastic – never discussed in any fiction writing uni class I’ve taken.

    Long ago, I was assigned Burroway’s “Writing Fiction”. Which is a good book. It has a fine treatment on the see-saw nature of plot, building character treatments, external versus inner conflict, etc. But while it presents a good ‘big picture’ treatment of storytelling, and uses many examples of excellent shorts to make particular stylistic points, it doesn’t provide a framework that explains the process from: interpersonal interactions, scene construction, sequence of scenes and subplots, whole acts, and then unifying this for an entire story from beginning to end.

    And every class I’ve taken has focused on literary writing, with professors disdaining any genre analysis at all. It’s as if academic writing programs want to teach students how to fail and stay hungry in the name of artistic purity. McKee argues for the importance of genre as a way to clue readers in on what to expect so they won’t get confused is crucial. That the artistry is in surprising the audience with novel character reactions to unexpected circumstance WITHIN FORM.

    I want to figure out how to tell a story people are willing to pay for. I recognize I’m only partway down that path. Toward that end I’ve been reading stuff my wife finds downright strange. For example, I read Daniel Steele’s ‘Big Girl’ and ‘Wanderlust’. I read Jackie Collins’ ‘Hollywood Wives.’ Stephanie Meyer’s ‘Twilight’ and James’ ’50 Shades’. This is not material I would have chosen for pleasure reading. My question in reading these books was: what elements of fantasy are common throughout and what does that say about audience aspirations of that market?

    It’s like reading Tom Clancy and asking who buys this stuff and what unfulfilled dreams does reading his work tap into for his audience? Teenage boys who hope to enlist, enlisted soldiers and ex-soldiers who wish they might have been chosen for top spots among the military elite, middle-aged men who would vicariously enjoy the thrill of being a CIA agent.

    Steele is particularly interesting. Her use of 3rd Person omniscient, near total absence of mise-en-scene character interactions, and over-reliance on cliche phrasing suggests she should fail. At least, that’s what my fiction teachers would have said. Yet she’s sold millions of books. What do her readers get out of them? Well, I think she combines the reality of family adversity and perceptions of self-doubt with a fantasy of transformation to independence and ultimately finding a fulfilling relationship. And then there’s a contrary depiction of the beautiful as vain and ultimately unhappy, making choices based on how others perceive them rather than achieving who they want to become. And this is the chord that’s striking with her readership. Her readers fight through terrible prose and just about every broken rule of fiction authorship taught in uni in order to read what amounts to a character treatment with a full arc lifestory – a woman who they want to become. Not a Mary Sue, but a round character with the types of flaws they see in themselves but who ultimately perceives and overcomes adversity. While those who have it easy get a deserved comeuppance that’s not cruel but ‘just’ based on the path they’ve chosen.

    I think this overcoming-self-doubt theme is also crucial to the successses of Twilight and 50 Shades, though those stories don’t offer desirable moral lessons for readers. But did they ever sell.

    With Collins there’s this carnival-esque display of the foibles of the rich and famous. There’s always one good female character to identify with and a slew of bad women and men to laugh at or hate. Characterization is flat, plots thin, and structure stolen straight out of film cliches. She’s selling schadenfreude.

    Anyway, I think I’ve rambled enough. McKee’s book Story has been immensely useful for me at this stage in the learning process. Reading genre to understand the readers of genre also crucial. And your blog post was most insightful. Thank you. -M

    • Greg Strandberg

      Wow, that’s a whole post within a post. Thanks for the detailed analysis!

    • Susanne Lakin

      Thanks for sharing all that! I should read that book. I critique about 200 manuscripts a year (partial and full) in my work–all different genres with clients all over the world, so I examine a lot of story structure and teach it as well. Deconstructing a book for structure is a great way to learn how to write a similar book.

  9. Blythe Gifford

    As a long time writer of historical romance (traditionally published) who has just self-published for the first time, I want to make a couple of comments. First, yes, romance (all kinds) is probably the top selling genre. Romance readers were also early embracers of e-books and self-publishing, so there is an audience out there. However, though I’m sure this was not your intention, someone might take away from this post that all you have to do is write a good romance in a particular (TBD) sub-genre and voila! The truth is that self-published results for romance writers have varied widely, even within a niche. Does genre matter? Definitely. Is it a guarantee? No. The entertainment business is, I’m afraid, inherently unpredictable.
    By the way, for those who are interested in writing a romance, I do recommend Romance Writers of America. The organization teaches the writing business, as well as the writing craft, to newbies as well as established writers.

    • Susanne Lakin

      Blythe, thanks so much for saying that! A very important point. Maybe there aren’t a ton of these kinds of genres. I do know, though, by watching many of my beginning novelist clients hit big sales out the gate in certain genres that there is truth to this whole supply and demand principle. And it may change week to week. Maybe next year a trend will influence what sells. We saw what Fifty Shades of … did to the romance market, and RWA did report it caused a heavy surge in romance book sales and stats. RWA is a terrific resource and I joined it right away! I hope no one got the idea from my post that sales are guaranteed. I just told what I did and what happened. It proved to me that genre matters. That’s pretty much my “message.”

      • Sandra Schwab

        To put the record straight, the romance genre was doing very fine indeed even before Fifty Shades. It’s been the bestselling genre in the US for more than a decade.

  10. M.M Justus

    I should say that the cover in the article is not the current cover of the book in question. I did not know what I was doing back then. I have since redone it, and it looks like what’s on this page now:

  11. Lorraine Reguly

    I think what you have done is fantastic! This is an all-encompassing statement, too.

    Do you have any advice for memoirists?

  12. M.M. Justus

    So I am not a serious author because I cannot afford to pay for reviews (Kirkus) or for covers. You might want to rethink your phrasing unless that’s precisely what you meant. I did take classes on how to do the technical work to create my own covers, and I’m competent at that, but the hardest part is learning what kind of art/fonts/etc., will attract the reader who would want to read the book. If that’s what I’d be paying for, then I don’t see why I can’t be taught that so I can do it for myself. But that seems to be some sort of proprietary secret (and no, looking at covers doesn’t help if you don’t know what the font names are or what specifically to look for in the art).

    Who’s your Examiner person? I will be glad to send this person one of my books for a review. I did get a good review from a local paper ( when one of my books came out about a year ago. It sold me maybe a dozen books. I have used pull quotes from the article in promo material, to little effect.

    I’m nothing if not writing in a boutique category. Time travel in the Old West. I suspect there is a good niche market for it, but I don’t know how to find the readers.

    Anyway, this seems to have become a more antagonistic discussion than I ever intended it to be.

    All I was trying to say is that your experience is not universal, even though it seems to you that it ought to be, and that your experiment was contaminated in ways that you apparently don’t believe it was. A simple, you may have a point from you might have defused that.

    • linrobinson

      I agree completely.
      I also laughed at the whole “serious authors pay big bucks up front on their books rather than learning how to DIY” thing.
      And paying for Kirkus reivews is, to me, a HUGE badge that says “Dilettante”.
      BTW, you can definitely learn to do covers. The way you learn what readers in your area like is to study books in that same area.

      And yes, this was not really an “experiment”. Want to see an experiment of interest to indie writers, google “Cory Doctorow experiment”. Many ramifications on pricing and just what’s going on with indie writers.

    • Susanne Lakin

      I’m not speaking about you specifically, just talking in general. The Midwest Book Review is free. If you want them to review an ARC, it’s $50, but if you send them two release print copies of a novel (I just did this with two of mine), it’s free. And if you want newspapers or others to review your book, just ask them. They are usually looking for something to review! I called the Greeley CO Tribune to see if they’d run an article about me and my novel because it’s set in Greeley. The editor said sure. So you just have to take time and be innovative and research. I’ve found there are lots of reviewers out there. You can post on Facebook or Twitter with hashtags of your genre asking for reviews. You’ll get some.

      I will say that putting out a great book as a superior product usually takes money, just like creating anything else of value. My successful clients, even though some can little afford it, pay for professional editing, a good cover designer (I paid $100), etc. Some use a credit card or deferred PayPal payments. But I think it’s worth investing some money into publishing your book. I think with Colorado Promise I spent $100 on the cover design and $500 on my interior designer, but I have used her before and she does all the work I don’t want to do, like put the book up on Create Space–which is something you or any author could do for free on their own. So I really didn’t have to pay that. And I did all my own editing, so saved money there :). So I could have done it all for free if I wanted to make my own cover (which I did with my daughter for a few of my other indie novels). So just something to think about … I’m trying to help and give ideas here. No antagonism on my part and I wish you success and joy in your writing journey!

    • Liana Mir

      She said ‘most’. Her phrasing was correct as anecdotally, most do.

    • DWF

      Thank you, M.M., for pursuing this line of thought. I thought of the same things before seeing the comments, and I have written my own take here, but you have done everyone a service by playing devil’s advocate and by doing more than that, showing the complexity of writing and selling books. Brava!

  13. M.M. Justus

    Most newbie indie writers do not know the right kind of people to get the kind of reviews you had for you “anonymous” book. I certainly don’t.

    And a good many newbie indie writers don’t have the money to hire cover designers, etc. I sure don’t. I have to make the sales to pay for the cover. My books have to pay their own way, unfortunately.

    Also, you said that you used your own Twitter account to announce your book. That gave Charlene Whitman away as you. People will put two and two together, especially if you’re an author they already like and want more books by you.

    I’m not saying your methods don’t work for you. I’m saying that you have methods that you used even with your “anonymous” book that are most likely not available to a newbie indie writer.

    I really would like to learn the answers to my questions in my original comment, too:

    One is how do you find out which sub-genres sell sans platform? You say you were told. By whom? How would a newbie get this information? The Google strategy you mentioned above does not work well (having tried it several times). Besides, if someone told you, can’t you tell us? Two, you say you had two well-known author friends blurb your book for you. How do I get well-known author friends to blurb my book?

    • Susanne Lakin

      M. M., I still disagree. People did not know I was Charlene Whitman. She did not have an author platform when the book was released and started hitting the top lists. Most serious new authors DO pay for a cover designer, editor, etc. That has nothing to do with establishing an author platform, so you are talking about two different things.

      A new unknown author can send their book off to get reviews, such as The Midwest Book Review and Kirkus. Anyone can get some good reviews before publishing if they write a good book. In fact, you could write that Examiner reviewer and ask her to review your book and she probably would. I don’t think what I did made a huge difference. The genre did.

      I learned about this one genre because of a blog post I read by that author on how she had friends writing that genre and making money. So that gave me the idea.

      By doing a Google search online for the top 100 ranking Amazon authors and the top-ranking Kindle books, you can see what genres sell. Then click on the book and see the product page and notice what “best-selling lists” the book is in. If you check out a number of books in a genre you think you’d like to write in, and emulate (deconstruct) a few top-selling books in the top-ranking genres, you should probably have similar results. I would not go with a general genre since tons of people write in mysteries or thrillers, but then again, those genres have huge audiences so if you jump in there and write to fit that genre and put out covers that fit as well, no reason you shouldn’t do well. I know many authors writing thrillers, paranormal, etc., that sell big by doing that and not by finding a boutique subgenre like this one I did.

      And just FYI, a lot of my editing clients–first-time authors with NO platform–sell big with their first ebook right out the gate. A lot of them just put their book out, maybe do a baby blog tour and get friends to write reviews, have NO endorsements, etc., and they start selling 200+ books and hit the top lists right away. I see this a lot. They often come to me with pretty awful books but by the time we’re done and they put their book online, they do great. The genres I can think of off the top of my head are suspense, YA suspense, African American urban romance, paranormal thriller, legal thriller, and political thriller. So, I do see this working due to genre. They wrote great books that fit their genre, with no online presence yet, no platform, no name. Their subsequent books are selling well too now. They write me as soon as their books get published to tell me they’ve hit numerous top lists. And that makes me very happy!~ They didn’t do this as an experiment, but it proves the point I’m making, right?

  14. M.M Justus

    I do have a couple of comments. I don’t think I’ve ever commented here before, so I may be out of line with my criticisms, but here goes, anyway.

    1) Where you started with this book was not where a complete unknown would start — two of your points stand out as something a newbie wouldn’t have a clue to know how to do (heck, I’ve self-published five books and I don’t know how to do them). One is how do you find out which sub-genres sell sans platform? You say you were told. By whom? How would a newbie get this information? Two, you say you had two well-known author friends blurb your book for you. That’s great for those of you well known enough yourself to have well-known author friends. But that gave you a leg up that newbies don’t have.

    Also, you had the funds and know-how to purchase a cover by a designer who knows your genre, as well as hire an assistant to help you find reviewers and bloggers.

    All of these things marked your “anonymous” book as not anonymous at all, IMHO.

    Would you be willing to re-try your experiment without them? And do you think you would have succeeded as well?

    • Linton Robinson

      You are so right, MM. I refrained from saying that, but since you bring it up.
      It points out some of the reasons that so much “expert advice” for new and indie writers is actually fairly useless. Most of the “experts” have only written a book or two–about publishing and/or selling books.

      I haven’t read Guy Kawasaki’s book, but the first reaction I had to all the fanfare for it was… “he’s already there… got a big platform, just has to kick a book out” The average writer doesn’t have that, and despite all the “go build a platform” advice you can’t really just suddenly become Sarah Palin or Cory Doctorow because you want to sell books.
      TONS of this advice is of the “research keywords and write your book to fit them” ilk, useless to anybody but mindless hustlers.
      The scenarios these people describe are just not realistic for people without pre-esisting readersship, money/support, and connections.
      The ways you CAN boost up using amazon tools are never mentioned by the experts.. shockingly. Ways to get readers by writing what you want, not some stupid SEO drivel, ways to leverage up free and discount days on Select, etc. It’s really weird… I’ve never seen another field like this.

    • Rose Mary Boehm

      Yes to all your points. I mean, they are my points too now that you’ve made them.

    • Susanne Lakin

      I disagree, M.M. A lot of unknown authors with no platform will hire a cover designer, editor, get someone to write a review. They are still anonymous and do not have an author platform. No one bought the book because they knew who Charlene Whitman was and would find no presence of here online, for the most part.

  15. Bruce Arthurs

    I’m making a note to dig up an old screenplay (from when I was trying to sell movie scripts in the 1990’s) set in 1856 “Bleeding Kansas” with a romantic subplot, and consider if it might be rewritten into a novel.

    My usual preferred genre is fantasy/science-fiction, with an occasional foray into mystery/detective, but I do like to try and stretch myself on occasion. My work tends towards the dark, grim and action-oriented, so for my current project I’m trying my hand at a comic romance (with superheroes, because, hey, everything goes better with superheroes). If nothing else, I’ve been having fun.

    (That last is important. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: I don’t want my writing to be a job. Work yes, a career maybe, but not a goddamned job. I have one of those already, thanks.)

    • Greg Strandberg

      You can’t go wrong with some Civil War tie-ins – lots of people eat that up.

    • Linton Robinson

      I’d suggest you take that screenplay “reverse adaptation” idea seriously, Bruce. I’ve done several of them, and they are pretty cool books that people really like. A couple are short, but two of them grew into fairly long novels.
      It’s SO much easier way to write a novel, frankly. You’ve already done all the story line, just need to add in descriptions and whatever else seems fun–a whole different thing from lopping off things you like to make a script out of it.

  16. Rose Mary Boehm

    I can imagine how your experimental approach works in today’s ‘specialization’ environment where no-one seems to have time for experiments. They don’t read Playboy for the interviews :) any longer.

    What I am not sure how I can ‘genre’ my novels. I am not prepared yet to give up on them but shall try and go for chic-lit and new covers.

  17. David Kudler

    Fascinating and insightful — if a little depressing for those of us whose tendency is to write away from the genre bulls-eye.

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience!

  18. Libbie Hawker

    I’ve been thinking for a long time about moving into the (potentially) lucrative world of historical romance. This article gave me some great ideas on how to maximize my success when I make that move. Thanks, Susanne!

  19. Dale Mayer

    How does one find other subgenres that sell themselves???

    Fascinating concept. I should try a hand at deconstruction!

  20. Bruce Arrington

    Another point to consider might be why adult genres sell more, especially in light of e-readers. From what I have observed, not a lot of young readers yet have access to e-books simply because of the expense. It’s easier for them to pick up a paper copy of the book, and cheaper too, than the upfront cost of an e-reader. Unless I have a large readership, that will be hard to change. Yet perhaps in the future this could. Do you have any data on young readers vs adults, and if my theory holds water, or if it’s full of holes?

    • Linton Robinson

      Interseting, Bruce. Many seem to think that ereaders are mostly young people. But I’d say if you look around you’ll see a LOT of kids with tablets and fancy phones… both or which are eReaders with the addition of free apps. I don’t know about expense being a barrier… but ebooks are cheaper than new books. And a lot of stuff is not available in used book stores. Especially work by new and indie writers.

    • Shawn Bird

      My YA books sell 3:1 iTunes to Kindle. The kids read them using the iBook app on their iPhones. No e-reader required.

  21. Kelly Miller

    What a great article. For authors who can change genres it’s great to experiment, but for me I’m only passionate about writing mystery/suspense.

  22. Connie Brentford

    Well done! I’m so glad this paid off for you. This experiment has answered another question many self-published authors ask. “Should I write books in a genre that makes money?” Writers with low sales lament about this because they want to be full-time writers but somehow feel if they switch to a better paying genre they’ve sold out and sacrificed their art. As you’ve explained, you’ll be writing in this genre now, for money, but will still continue with your other books. It’s not either/or and I hope authors will give themselves permission to try something different because of your experiment. Thank you!

    • Susanne Lakin

      Thanks, Connie, I’ve always been an experimenter. A lot of my books cross genres a lot and they were so fun to write. But it made it very hard to sell to traditional publishers as well as sell indie. But I do believe over time even an author writing as diversely as I do can do well. Just look at the range of genres Michael Crichton wrote in!

  23. Frances Caballo

    My last comment is this: Sharon Hamilton, a Realtor, started writing romance novels a couple of years ago. Then she wrote some erotica. When the Navy Seals captured Osama Bin Laden (her son is a Navy Seal too), she wrote a Navy Seal romance. Then she wrote Zombie romance books. The end result is that in a matter of a couple of years she’s no longer selling houses; she’s supporting herself on the proceeded of her books. She tapped into a genre, and changing trends, and has done really well. I’m told that her books are well written too. She really worked on her platform too, especially her blogging community. So I guess the lesson here is that tapping into popular genres while building an author platform can really turn into large sales.

    Thanks to Joel and Susanne for getting this conversation started!

  24. Ciara Ballintyne

    I’ve suspected this for some time. My genre (high/epic fantasy) isn’t one of the ones that sells like hotcakes. There’s a solid audience for it, but also a lot of competition. I won’t change what I write (I’ve little interest in other genres) but I am adapting my approach. What I have noticed is that paranormal fans seem to be enjoying my debut novella, even though it’s technically fantasy, and only has a light romance plot, so I’m trying to pick up that market, and I’m planning to market the next book as a fantasy romance. It is, but I wouldn’t normally have marketed that way.

  25. Jay Chastain

    First of all, awesome expirement! I love this stuff… Now, I have to ask these 3 things, did you do any FREE promo at all to launch the book? Was it in Kindle Select or did you put it on all platforms? And if it wasn’t FREE ever, how did people find it? THANKS!

    • Susanne Lakin

      NO! No free. Bad! Free really only attracts people who want free stuff. Usually they are not your readers, and so if inclined will write bad reviews (since they would never have bought your book). The point I made is that for each genre, there is a group of readers–some big, some small. When a reader loves a genre, they often buy everything they can find in that genre (this particularly applies to Romance, and I’ve noticed they read a lot and fast!). So if there are few books in that subgenre they love, they will keep looking for new books. The moment a book hits the”shelf,” they buy it. Supply and demand. I put the book up on Smashwords but I’ve only sold two copies, compared to about 2,000 on Amazon in the last few weeks.

      • Jay Chastain

        This kind of blows my mind a little bot then LOL. Nearly ALL self publishing advice deals with FREE if you are an unknown (due to a lack of exposure otherwise).

        But here, it seems like if you write in a big genre, have a good description, good cover, and readers can tell you write well by the sample, it will sell. (and in your case, A LOT of copies)

        If that’s what you are saying, my mind is completely blown. haha

        • Liana Mir

          Of course, this is exactly what Dean Wesley Smith has been saying from the beginning. Stay out of the bargain bin, write a good book, give it a great cover and summary, publish it, and repeat. Over and over and over.

          • Linton Robinson

            Well… first of all, not adaptable by all people. Nor is the “just write the kind of book genre slices want, not what you want” thing.
            What so many miss is that it’s not a matter of just downpricing or giving freebies–it’s what you do with those tools.

            I recently completed a promotion that knocked the price for one of mine down to $.99 for a few days. This is a book that has already been bought by many, and given away at some point. It got about 100 sales in a day or two, and was in the top half dozen rated in its category.

            I am currently doing a freebie promo for My Funny Major Medical, a themed humor anthology. This book is a little different becaus the main goal isn’t making money, but promoting the contributors. But still… over 12,000 downloads since Tuesday really does effect things. It’s too early to see if it generated sales or the ebook (or more likely the paperback as a stocking-stuffer, or the books of the various contributors, but that’s an awful lot of books out there in people’s hands with my name, the company, name, the contributors’ names, and links to their books and ours.
            This cost no money, took about 4 hours work for me to plug into into people seeing it. Ask Wesley if he thinks that’s a bad way to go, and I’ll bet you he says it makes sense.

          • Liana Mir

            I was responding to Jay. A lot of people seem shocked that pricing is not the only indie strategy when it was NEVER the only one.

            He does suggest loss leaders. If you have only one book, that’s not a loss leader.

        • Linton Robinson

          Actually, Liana… you CAN use loss-leaders when you only have one book. Because you have an infinite supply of them, and unlimited time.
          If McDonalds gives coupons or discounts or twofers on burgers this week, they are hoping it will come back to them in the form of word of mouth, repeat business, etc. Major difference–ebooks don’t cost you anything.
          You could have, as one instance, an “ad” in the back of your book to sign up for announcements of your next book.

          I don’t think anybody ever thought pricing is the ONLY indie strategy… but it’s something to use. Works best is used smart.

          • Liana Mir

            I wouldn’t have thought anyone believed that if they weren’t saying left and right that they’ve never seen indie marketing NOT be about pricing or that indies solely compete on price or that writing a good book and publishing it is somehow a new entrant into the discussion.

            “A loss leader (also leader)[1] is a pricing strategy where a product sold at a price below its market cost[2] to stimulate other sales of more profitable goods or services.” Wikipedia

            If there is no other product, it is a sale or a sample or exposure, etc., but not by definition a loss leader.

          • Linton Robinson

            Liana, I don’t want to get into a big semantic quibble here, but I don’t understand what you are saying with all the double-negatives. I don’t think you understood me, either.
            There are many ways to sell books other than pricing.
            One definition (especially of something like that) isn’t really enough to contradict on. And it’s worth mentioning because it’s about strategy. MANY loss leaders are applied to the same product… or a coming product. Like airline flights, sandwiches, etc. Think about what a one-cent sale is.
            Hopefully we can agree that there a lot of ways to skin the cat and it’s a good idea to select and prove the ones that seem likely and seem to work for you.

          • Liana Mir

            You are right that you misunderstood me.

            You said no one believes indies and indie success is all about price. I said I disagreed for obvious reasons: many people, including Jay, are saying just that, that that is all they have heard and read. From the beginning, this was not the case, and I told Jay so.

            You stated not everyone can stay out of the bargain bin (or at least appeared to contest my reiteration of Dean that we should), and I disagreed. Loss leaders are not the bargain bin and are a good idea, that is the specific practice of putting one book or title on sale or free to promote the sales of OTHER BOOKS. If you have no other books, it’s not a loss leader. It’s either a sale or the bargain bin.

      • William Ockham

        Your opinions about free are not backed by the data. There is some important context about free. In genres where the reader graphs are smaller, but tighter, making the first book in a series free is a really valuable strategy. For non-mathematically inclined, think about fantasy as a genre. Much smaller total numbers than romance, they read fewer books on average, and they are not as tight-knit a community (of course, that’s true of every other genre). Fantasy readers tend to be loyal to series, worlds, and particular writers. There’s lots of competition to acquire those fans and it typically takes reading an entire novel to discover whether or not you like the world. If you, as a writer, want to cultivate fans, you need to get them to invest their time in your world. Making the first book in a series free (after you have a few books in the series out) is a valuable strategy for developing a fan base that will keep coming back for each new story in the series.

        One of the things I liked most about your article is that you put in the time and effort to understand a particular genre and what worked in it. Everyone should be careful about making blanket statements about different strategies. Almost every writer I’ve talked to has a set of beliefs that are really no more than superstitions. One of these days I’m going to figure out how to explain directed graph networks to writers. Your article actually got me a little closer to that goal.

        • Susanne Lakin

          Sorry, William! i guess my humor didn’t come across correctly. I really was joking. There are times free is great, especially when releasing a new book in a series and putting the first book(s) free. I’ve put a novel up for months free on Amazon and got tens of thousands of copies picked up. Did anyone ever read it? Wish I knew. Probably a few. But, truthfully, the “free” shoppers often never read your book. Whereas I’m guessing most people who actually pay something for a book intend to read it.

          • Linton Robinson

            Glad to learn you were joking. It’s hard to tell.
            Actually the use of free Kindle books out of Select is an excellent way to build, and it’s a little more sophisticated that your image of it, there.
            Without getting into the whole ball of wax, let me just say that there is no way of telling if somebody reads a book they acquire, or what their reaction is. But when people speak of “platform”… what could be a better plank for a discoverability platform than a reader HAVING ONE OF YOUR BOOKS IN THEIR POSESSION?

          • Gyula

            “But, truthfully, the “free” shoppers often never read your book.”
            You nailed the point, Susanne. I have a dozen or so books on my Kindle I downloaded for free, I’m just keeping them for “later read”. When that would be? Cannot say. As a reader I see it more effective if I download a sample, read the first chapter, and immediately decide whether I buy the book or delete the sample.

      • Denise Grover Swank

        Wow. I whole-heartedly disagree with this statement. I’ve boosted the sales of several series by using free. It’s just another of my many sales tools. Sure the ratio of follow through of free downloads to sales of the second book is small, but I’m not going to scoff at 7000+ sales per month of a book versus 150 the previous month, with about 5000 follow through sales of the third book in the same month. And that’s one month.

        There is no absolute right way to do something. What works for me might not work for you, but in my opinion, blanket statements are short-sighted. The results are the proof if something works or not.

        • Selena Laurence

          Thank you, Denise! As a new author, I trudged along with my first SP book until I put the first in series on free for five days immediately preceding the release of the second in series. That was what jumpstarted my readership. I’ve had steady improvements in my sales since. I specifically wrote a novella to go with the series and have now placed it on permafree. I timed it to lead into the release of the third in series. It has worked for me. Sure, there are plenty of people who only want free books, but I’ve gained a whole loyal readership off of that first free offer I did.

          As for reviews, I’ve heard the complaints about reviews after a free offer, but I’ve not had that happen. I’ve gotten new reviews for several weeks after the free offer, and they’ve all been 4/5 star. Maybe I’m just lucky, I don’t know, but if I hadn’t gotten tens of thousands of copies of my book out there, no one would have found me. Now that they have, they keep buying and I keep writing! :)

  26. Erica

    This is fascinating – I’m in the process of writing my first ebook, so I’ll be interested to read your ebook about how you went through the process.

  27. Robyn LaRue

    My takeaway might be a little different from others. I am so glad someone has said writing genre and other books harder to define are both okay! I’ll keep writing the “books of my heart,” but I also have a lively interest in several genres. No need to limit myself, especially if one can help pay bills while the other finds an audience. Thanks!

  28. Anne R. Allen

    This is so fascinating, Susanne! Thanks so much for sharing your process and insight with us. I know other authors with very little platform who seem to know how to place themselves in the right Amazon categories to keep themselves on bestseller lists. This is such a valuable post. Thanks to Joel and Susanne for bringing it to us!

    • Susanne Lakin

      Thanks, Anne. I learned a lot from it and now know what genre I’ll be writing for the next few years … I decided it was time to make some money for a change :) And of course, I will still write wonderful literary fiction and other genres that call to me. But it’s nice knowing I can earn some rent money, which gives me more time to write the hard-to-sell novels.

  29. Linton Robinson

    The question is not “real”. “Genre” refers mostly to fiction books. Nobody calls “how to” or “military history” a “genre”, really. “Platform”, as properly used and understood, refers to non-fiction.
    “Platform” isn’t something you go out and build. That would be “fan base”, “recognition”, “author brand”, “readership”, etc. A platform is what you are. It’s a pre-existing position that suggests that people will buy your book… and will be aware of your book. You’re a seminar speaker, a radio evangelist, a famous athlete, bimbo who blows presidents, celebrity, expert, etc.
    Most of the “platform building” advice given by “experts” (blog all the time, write articles for SEO sites, etc.) isn’t really very effective. It LOOKS effective when the experts show you their results–but it’s almost always because they had a “platform” before they started blogging. (And they are generally “experts” at selling books about selling books or self-publishing)
    Actually, a fiction writer might not even NEED a “platform”. Might be better off working other means of achieving “discovery”. Than, oh, posting about how to write when they’ve never sold any writing, for instance. There are things you can do, but I have NEVER seen an “expert” mention them: ways to get readers by writing what YOU like writing. Ways to promote your book beyond personal relationships.

  30. Kathryn Guare

    An excellent post and a fascinating, valuable experiment! I sort of half-suspected this was the case with some of the sub-genres on Amazon. There are not many “cat sleuth” books on the market, so the ones that exist probably go like gangbusters. My question is, how does a sub-genre get established on Amazon? And why can’t there be one that I fit into for the books I’m already writing?! Something, for instance, under the “Suspense” category called “Irish heroes”?!

    • Bill Peschel

      Interesting question. Amazon allows you two categories, but has bestseller lists for far more categories. For example, they have best-seller lists for mysteries –> series and mysteries –> cozy, but I can’t figure out how to categorize my books to hit those marks.

      • Susanne Lakin

        What my big-selling author friend told me is it’s based on how someone finds your books. I see all kinds of categories pop up, like “Frontier and Pioneer.” Well, that really isn’t a genre or a category, but these are keywords typed in. I see this issue with the path too. I am on two Romance-Western lists. But one is via Kindle Store and the other Books. So people are looking first at books (or typing in the search words in the books menu) then going to the book, then clicking on the Kindle version, then buying it. Make sense?

        That’s just a little bit of explanation there. You can easily top a “list” if there are only five books on it, but I’m guessing Amazon doesn’t show it as a list (Under the Amazon Best-Seller Rank section on your product page), unless there are plenty of books that fit in that list. Yet, I’ve seen weird things, like a romance novel top the best-seller list for Nonfiction-Theater/Drama. When the book has absolutely nothing to do with that topic (and is not nonfiction!). So go figure.

        Anyone else know about this?

        • Greg Strandberg

          I’ve seen this in the non-fiction Tarot category. It’s a small category, and it only takes a rank of about 30,000 to be #1 in it. I’ve seen some thriller-style novels show up there for a day or two, perhaps trying to get some easy traction and visibility.

          So I followed suit. I put my new Tarot serial killer murder mystery in that category, hoping a few sales will give me that visibility, whereas a second thriller category would just take forever to show up in (or at least a whole lot more sales).

          Now is this ethical? Amazon allows it, and I figure I’m related to the genre in some way. If you’re not related to the genre, well, I guess you have to think quite a bit on that.

          • Susanne Lakin

            Greg, is there really a “tarot” category you can choose for one of the two categories KDP offers you to select. If so, I’m surprised! But it’s a great strategy.

            I did the opposite. I made sure to do the very main, specific categories, then did the very important search thing: made sure all those categories and keywords were all over my product page in every field, including the reviews. The keywords are essential and weighted, so when someone typed in “Sweet Western Romance,” even on the first day I put up my book, using the “released in the last 30 days” tab, my book came up high on the lists immediately, because I have that phrase many times on the page.

          • Susanne Lakin

            Does Amazon really offer Tarot as a category choice in those drop-down menus? I would be surprised. But good strategy. The point is to make sure the keywords are what people will use to search for a book like yours and to use them many times in many places on the product page. Will a person be specifically looking for a thriller about tarot? Probably not. Maybe occult, paranormal. Think how you might search in general for a book like yours. Those are the keywords you want. Of course, then, if there aren’t a lot of books in that tarot category, your book will show on that list once enough books sell. Will that give you more visibility to be on that list? Not sure. It will show, at least, it’s an “Amazon Best Seller” on that list, so that may sway readers to buy.

          • Linton Robinson

            Greg, it’s not so much a question of ethics as of effectiveness. If people are hot on Tarot and look at or download your book because it was in that category, then find out it’s not about that, they are going to be unhappy. And that’s the last thing you want.

        • Nancy Beck

          Fantastic post. :-) As to categories on Amazon, I admit I’ve been perplexed on where exactly to put my books. According to M. Louisa Locke (she writes Victorian era mysteries based in San Francisco), the keywords you use can help get your books into the correct categories and subcategories. KDP actually has documents on how to go about it, but who knew (besides Ms. Locke) that they were there? Not me!

          She talks about it here:

  31. Frances Caballo

    Oops! I did not mean to appear anonymous (empty avatar). I recently changed my picture on Gravatar but I guess it didn’t “take.” It should appear now. Sorry, Joel!

    • Susanne Lakin

      lol Frances, you weren’t nameless–just another faceless person in the crowd!

  32. Frances Caballo

    Susanne, I’m certain a huge factor in your success is your writing. You’re already an accomplished writer and editor and those skills must have served you well in tackling this new project. I still believe that having an author platform is essential for writers and yet I can’t deny your success with this book. My opinion is that you write a terrific book because you are a gifted writer, did a tremendous amount of research (hired the same cover designer, took the time to deconstruct this genre, etc.), solicited reviews in advance, and researched sub-genres. This research really paid off for you! What I really love about this post is that other writers can learn from your example. By following your steps, writers who love to write genres can have as much success as you did simply by following the steps you outline in this great post! You are a shining example of a hard-working, talented writer. Kudos to you. And thank you for showing writers how they can climb Amazon’s charts too.

    • Susanne Lakin

      Thank you, France. Listen, folks. I can’t emphasize enough how important author platform really is. My experiment was not meant to prove you can toss that out. The point was to see if some genres might sell a bit on their own without it.

      But we live in a social world in which being authors means interacting with our tribes and engaging with our readers–which is the “funnest” part about being an author! And every bit of platform building helps, no doubt. So do not misunderstand my “message.”

      And, you all MUST BUY Frances’s AMAZING book on building your social media presence (and be SURE to watch for Avoiding Social Media time Suck, coming out soon!):

  33. William Ockham

    I think this might just be the most important article of the year for indie authors. I hope folks don’t assume that the takeaway is to write sweet western historical romance, but rather to understand the nature of their market.

    Genre is a linking factor in a directed graph network of potential customers. The readers who are part of that network have an indirectly expressed set of requirements for a particular form of narrative fiction. Writers who can meet those requirements effectively will succeed.

    One cautionary note. You are far better off looking at the prices of other successful books in the genre than paying attention to Coker’s “research” which is, unfortunately, total nonsense. For an explanation, see my comment here:

    • Susanne Lakin

      Thanks, William! I hear you on the pricing issue. It’s a never-ending debate. But since I’m happy with my daily sales at this rate, I don’t want to price to the genre. Most are 99 cents to 2.99, and I feel that’s fine when releasing another book in the series and discounting the prior books, but I do agree with Mark Coker that when you sell something cheap, it gives a lot of people the impression the book is only worth that much. Or that it’s short. My book is 125k words, so feel it “deserves” a higher price. If you look at Russell Blake’s posts on this, he sells at a higher price because he has a following and rep and his readers will pay anything. So at some point, those factors all come into play.

      Thanks, too, for making the point that writers shouldn’t go off and write in the genre I wrote in (please don’t–I want my bigger market share!). No, seriously, you have to write things you enjoy writing about. I lived in CO, raised horses for years, love Westerns, love history. It was a perfect choice for me.

      • Bill Peschel

        “I do agree with Mark Coker that when you sell something cheap, it gives a lot of people the impression the book is only worth that much.”

        Mark echos what I remember from my advertising and marketing class back in the day. People do pay attention to price signals, and too low signifies cheap. A high price signifies expensive or deluxe, at least so far as wine and luxury items are concerned (not really books unless you’re doing a limited edition or an edition with a lot of extras).

        The trick is to find the price point that works for that book.

        • Susanne Lakin

          Yeah, and I worry about messing with the price a lot. I don’t want all those readers who spent 3.99 to see it at 99 cents a week later, then up to 2.99, etc. So I’m going to just leave it there for a long time except for any special one-day promo I might do with a big distribution outlet like Bookbub.

          • Linton Robinson

            This factor depends very greatly on where a writer is, in the writing career.
            Look at “has to be priced right for the book”… then ask yourself how that would be determined by a writer. The best answer is generally “experiement with price points”.
            The use of freebies and discounts to aid in sales and extablishing one’s self is pretty hard to deny. Though many try for some reason.

  34. Karen

    Woopsie! I misread the pen name – it is not a man’s name. LOL! Where’s the edit button on these posts! LOL!

    • Susanne Lakin

      Funny! Since I chose “Charlene” (I wanted a kind of girly romancy name), but husband has been calling me Charlie!

  35. Karen

    Many thanks! two questions – is there some sort of “master-list” of genres that might exist to use for research & comparison? And I’m curious why you chose the name of a man as your pen name?
    And a third question — when will you be releasing “From Idea to Selling in Three Months!”?

    • Susanne Lakin

      Thanks, Karen. I made a comment above how to search online for Amazon’s best-selling genres and top-ranking authors. As far as the new ebook goes, I have to first write the darn thing! I’m getting ready to release my handy grammar guide for fiction writers, so once I get that done, I’ll put together the genre book. I kept a journal of what I did, and I think the week-by-week task list will be super helpful. Subscribe to my blog and I’ll be posting about it. Hopefully by February? I still need to write two novels in the meantime!

  36. Karen

    FABULOUS post! Tremendous timing! My brother and I are ripping apart a few books, as you’ve described, to learn the structure of MG / YA fantasy. It was just a fun, learning project – but you’ve inspired me to challenge him / me / us to take that knowledge and write, based on what we learn. Can you give me a few hints on how to research the sub-genres of fantasy / paranormal MG? I’m off to the google rabbit hole – but would be ever so grateful for any info on what was most helpful when researching genre? I cannot wait for “From Idea to Selling in Three Months!” I am headed straight to your blog to sign up for updates. Many thanks for this great, lucid ad hugely inspiring post.

    • Susanne Lakin

      Do a Google search for the top-selling books on Amazon and/or Kindle in your genre. Then search for the top-selling authors in that genre, or use “top ranking” for the search words. Look at the Kindle top lists for those genres and subgenres and see which books are in the top ten. Then pick two or three that are similar to what you write, order the books, and deconstruct the structure. Have fun!

  37. Valorie Grace Hallinan

    This is one of the best articles of its kind I’ve read in a long while. Thank you for this. Writers need to make the most of their precious time and your experiment/wisdom can help us with that.

  38. Greg Strandberg

    I’ve been hearing you promote this article all week and I haven’t been disappointed with the results. I’ve thought about just what you’re talking about, taking apart a novel that’s working and putting it back together in your own way. I’m reminded of Jeff Bridges’ character in Sea Biscuit, sitting amongst all the automobile parts.

    It sounds like you didn’t read many of these romance-style books, but how long did you spend reading one novel, researching the categories, and then writing the thing? I’d think you’d have to respond to trends, which can change quickly, so having a book out in at least 3 to 4 months seems ideal.

    Seems like a worthy experiment to try.

    • Susanne Lakin

      As I mentioned, I went from idea to selling in three months. I write fast, and know how to plot out novels, so most writers probably won’t be able to do a thorough job in such a short time. As far as trends go, this has nothing to do with trends, which are more about topics like zombies. Genres are pretty established and have certain sizes of readership, which of course fluctuates a bit, but year after year certain genres sell big and others don’t.

  39. Simon Townley

    Fascinating article. But when I go to Amazon and use the ‘look inside’ feature on Colorado Promise, the whole book seems to be in italics. Why is that? Joel – do you have any views on that? Nitpicking I know, and it might just be a glitch. Look forward to seeing ‘From Idea to Selling in Three Months.’

    • Susanne Lakin

      This is new, and it’s happened with other books of mine. When I view the ebook using the KDP previewer, it looks fine. So it must be a problem with Amazon’s feature, which is bad. I sent them an email to ask to fix it. The actual ebook looks fine, but of course we want our previews to accurately show the interior of the book.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Ebooks are still in their infancy, Simon, and “glitches” like this are still all too common. I suspect, as Susanne says, that it’s a problem with the interpreter that Amazon is using for the “look inside” feature, but I’m sure they will straighten it out eventually.

      • Susanne Lakin

        I just had my designer make a pdf and run it all through her mobi gizmo to check it all. She said by uploading as a Word doc, Amazon can mess with it but not with the format she uses. I think from now on I will let her vet and upload my docs. She uploads a zip file made through her mobipocket creator and since it’s zipped, Amazon can’t ruin it. That’s about as techy as I get! In case anyone wants to hire her, she’s a great designer: Ellie at Joel, you too, of course, but you might be too busy!

        • Simon Townley

          Should have guessed it would be an Amazon glitch. At least you found a fix. I’m sure now you’ll sell even more books! I did find it confusing when I first opened up the book, as my brain (it’s a bit slow) told me I must be reading a letter as the opening to the book. Funny how formatting preconditions us.

          • Susanne Lakin

            Yeah I hate that! I hope they upload that fast. I don’t want people to see that! So now I’ve learned a good lesson. I format and upload books all the time for myself and my editing clients, but I think I will hire Ellie to do her magic as the last step on all of them.

      • Susanne Lakin

        Well, it took my designer and me a full day to get Amazon to fix their problem. They explained the LITB (Look Inside the Book) section is somehow connected to the reviews section, so if there is an unclosed italics tag ( without a to close it) in the review section (which there was, and didn’t cause a problem there), it carries over into the preview the book window. Which makes a whole lot of sense, right? Not. But they fixed it. Sheesh! Our files were just fine!

        • Karen

          With all due respect – as someone who codes – your files were not “just fine.” As you said: “there was an unclosed italics tag.” And THAT is the frustration and horror of code! That little missing tag, wreaked havoc with your entire book! And since “tone” is sometimes so difficult to parse in comments, I meant this with humor. I’ve loved this post and the tsunami of responses that only such a great post can provoke.

          • Liana Mir

            Her comment made it quite clear that her files were fine. She has no control over the reviews section.

          • Karen

            Liana, If one set of her files produced the error but the second set did not, then it would seem the first set was flawed.
            I am assuming (correct me if I’m mistaken) that Susanne is saying, sometimes – or for some formats – Amazon’s system forgives an unclosed tag, and sometimes, it does not. Nonetheless, the unclosed tag is a flaw. Did I misread it when she said, “there was an unclosed italic tag“?
            It’s a bit like talking on the cellphone while driving. You may not get a ticket – but you are breaking the law.

          • Roland Denzel

            She’s saying that there was an unclosed tag in a review/comment, somewhere, and when someone invoked the ‘look inside’ feature, that open tag caused it to be displayed incorrectly.


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