Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Secret to My Success

Since my book made the New York Times best seller list, I've had a lot of people prodding me to tell them the secret. How can they have success with their own book? Which, of course, made me ponder. What is the secret? Here's what I came up with.

First of all, in order to have a best seller you have to write a best seller. Duh, you say. That's a given. But it's amazing how many people come to me and ask me for help to create the same phenomenon with their own book, when they've written one titled "The Joy of Raising Naked Mole Rats." Sure, there's probably a small market for that, but it's never going to become a best seller. (Sorry if I sound harsh.) If you've written for a niche market, that's fine, but don't feel bad when sales are slow.

If your book is not aimed at a niche market, you're already a step ahead. However, to become a best seller, your book needs to appeal to the masses. There's a reason why books that don't have a clear genre have a hard time finding an agent or publisher. That's because in order to appeal to the masses your book needs to be well defined. That's not to say that a contemporary-western-mystery-romance-fantasy can't sell. There are people out there willing to give cross genre books a chance. But it won't appeal to the masses unless it's got a clear genre.

To write a best seller you also have to craft a good story. To do this you have to get outside opinion on your work. If you've skipped this step, remedy it right away. Join a critique group. Trade chocolate for beta reading. If all you get is praise from your outside opinion givers, it's time to seek other opinions. You need some people who are going to tear your story apart and make it better. The best critics are other writers who have been down the road a few times, have had success finding an audience and who preferably write in your own genre. And don't try to edit your own book. You'll miss stuff.

The next thing on my list is having an eye catching cover. Not only eye catching, but it needs to communicate the genre at a glance. If it's a romance, don't put an apple and a pencil on the cover, even if your main character is a teacher. Now, I'm not going to tell all authors they have to hire a cover designer. Why? Because I've seen some great covers created by the authors themselves. And I'd be a hypocrite because I designed my own covers. I will stress how important it is to get outside opinion on your cover. Again, seek opinions from other authors who have been down the road a few times and have found success in your genre. ( is a great place to find such people.)

If you try and can't create a good looking cover, don't settle. Pay a professional. Sure, it can be expensive. So can replacing your stove when it breaks. But who eats raw chicken each night because they can't afford a new stove? Not you I hope. You scrape together the money. Don't expect people to buy your book if the cover doesn't look professional. You're offering them raw chicken. Not a lot of people are going to bite. Scrape together the money and pay for a professional looking cover.

The last thing I think needs to be done to have a best seller is to make people aware of your book. I did giveaways, joined forums, posted on facebook, tweeted, blogged, and paid for a couple of ads. But what really helped spread the word was lowering my price to 99 cents. I had already created a buzz about my book before I lowered the price. After lowering it other people started announcing the price change. Blogs that feature low cost books announced the price change. This got me an initial flood of sales. Then Amazon's algorithms kicked in and they started marketing for me. My low price made it an impulse buy. If you don't want to price at 99 cents you can still become a best seller, you'll just need to work more on the marketing to make people aware of your book. Come up with some creative things to do.

And don't expect your book to become a best seller overnight. It takes time. Most people I know who have sold thousands of books have had a slow build. The ones that didn't had means to spread the word to a lot of people right away.

Finally I'd like to say I'm not advocating changing the way you write just to become a best seller. If you're passionate about writing contemporary-western-mystery-romance-fantasy novels, by all means keep writing them. If you write an engaging story, it will find an audience.



  1. Plus you need to write well. Which you do. Congrats on your continued success, Vicki!


  2. Oh no! I guess it is time to shelve my treatise on naked mole rats. Shoot! LOL You are so funny. I always love your blog!

    Your success is well deserved and thank you for the wonderful insights. I'm going back to the drawing board as we speak. :)

  3. Huge congrats on your success, Victorine! :-) You deserve it. I love, love, love "Not What She Seems." It's a great page-turner for sure. I didn't know you created your own book cover. It's awesome! Very eye-catching. I also did my own cover for my new romance. Wishing you continued success.
    All the best,

  4. All very true and valid. My novel is at $2.99 and hasn't been out long, but I do think in the future I may lower it to $.99 and see what happens.

  5. It seems there is an element of luck involved as well. Did you notice at anytime that you suddenly found that there were reviews, or someone else was plugging your book because they enjoyed it.

    From what you have posted, it sounds like Amazon's marketing algorithms were the luck part of having a best seller.

  6. I've noticed a few experienced authors say something recently to the effect that aspiring authors should get critiques from experienced authors. I wish it were as easy as people make it sound! I've joined a professional writer's org (RWA) and done critique trading and beta reading and in my experience, the more experienced/successful the author, then the less likely they are to participate in that type of thing. Which is totally understandable, they're busy and usually already have an established critique circle in place (oftentimes of other successful authors). But that means critiques received are usually from someone just as inexperienced as I am.

    I honestly don't know if that's a good thing or not.

  7. Great post Victorine and great advice!


  8. Great post! I love it because it doesn't say "I don't know what I did, it just happened".
    I know that question ("What's your SECRET?!") must wear thin after a while, but you answered it perfectly; telling people to be smart about it.
    That's the secret.

    Congratulations and here's to many more bestsellers!


  9. Hi. I'm a fellow artist turned indie author with my cross genre book. So far my best was in the 10k range as far as sales rank goes. The up and down of those little numbers will drive you crazy if you let them.

    I'm always baffled by how many people have a "write it and they will come" mindset.

    Three tips I've always lived by are:

    1. Read a lot, write a lot.
    2. Write what you like, not necessarily what you know.
    3. Have a basic understanding of marketing.

    Great post!


  10. Yes, I feel like I am jumping in the deep end! My first indie novel comes out in September and I am overwhelmed by all that needs to be done and worrying I may be missing a beat, especially since I am totally new to the social networking scene and have like two followers on Twitter lol. Thanks for the advice. I am so excited to see your success!

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