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How To Sell 100,000 Novels Without (Really) Trying

April 17, 2014

Kathie Shoop has sold more than 100,000 copies of her self-published novels in romance and historical fiction – without even a blog or a mailing list. How did she do that? Most best-selling indie authors tell us, when asked for clues to their success 'I simply believed in myself '. And a thousand frustrated voices cry 'but what did you do?' In this exclusive interview with John Yeoman at Writers' Village, Kathie tells us exactly what she did. And her success challenges a lot of the 'how to' rules of indie publishing.

John: Why did you choose the genres of romance then historical fiction? Or did those genres choose you?

Kathie: I first wrote women’s fiction and it was with that type of book that I found an agent. She couldn’t sell that initial book and then I wrote more women’s fiction that she felt was too small and quiet to be a break out novel. It was then I started to really combine my love of history and research (my PhD and day job was in Education) with fiction.
John: Had you sold many novels previously through trade publishers? Why did you switch from the trade to the indie route?

Kathie: My agent was not successful in selling my work and felt that she didn’t see a market for my historical fiction. This was about the time the publishing world began to change and I met a woman at a conference who had (with the help of a publicist) sold 2000 novels. Everything just clicked for me then.

My novels were piling up and remaining unsold and I knew there was a market and that I could find the readers who wanted to immerse themselves in a world set in the Dakota Territory, 1887. And now that there was a mechanism to reach readers with POD and ebooks, I decided it was time to give it a try on my own. The Last Letter—the book whose market was so vague to agents and editors - has gone on to be my best seller.
John: What obstacles or setbacks did you meet when first self-publishing your work? Today, you have a full support team of editors and publicists but was it always thus?

Kathie: I approached self-publishing as though I was a publishing company. I saved money to invest in the cover, the editing, formatting, the promotion and marketing. Many, many independent authors do all of these things themselves and they do it very well and yield bestselling books like I did. But I know what my strengths are and I knew I wanted to hire out some of the work so that I could best mimic the traditional process of publishing.

Booksparks PR was central to partnering with me to create the branding that went with The Last Letter as well as the title, cover concept, marketing push and of course PR. It’s not easy to have traditional media pay attention to indie writers. They were very successful in getting me press and this past summer was reviewed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette very favorably. They also arranged my blog tour and gave the support I needed to make strong decisions.

The first launch was seamless and resulted in my spending many weeks in the paid Kindle top 100 list as well as bouncing back many times since. All my novels have been in the paid top 100 and I know how fortunate I’ve been to be able to say that.

It’s actually a lot harder now to move my books as more and more traditionally published authors - and publishers themselves - learn to market in a more “indie” way.  That is partly what brought me to write romance. The single best marketing tool is your next book. And part of that means being able to write fast. I can write first drafts lightning fast, but it’s the rest of it that I’m slow at doing (especially in historical fiction).

John: Did you start by doing the 'techie' stuff yourself eg. formatting your novels for Amazon, playing with KDP, category allocations, price promotions and the like, or did you outsource all that from the beginning? What advice can you give debut indies who might be daunted by the
learning curve at Amazon, Nook, etc?

Kathie: I still hire out all these tasks. Again, I knew it was going to be a business and knew what I was good at doing, so I set aside money for this. Again, others can do all of these things alone and that is wonderful for them! I handle all my marketing and pricing changes and uploads related to interior and cover files. That way I can change my prices for a promotion whenever I want. But, covers? Nope, can’t do them. I wish I could.

Formatting would send me over the edge and I have partnered with exceptionally skilled, but affordable people who easily do these tasks. It’s taken three years to yield a list of people I trust for each element of publishing, but the thing about the indie world is that everyone will help, will recommend, will support, and will advise on every step of the process. It’s an incredibly giving and generous community. Contact me for names!
John: How did you get 'traction' or attention for your first indie novels? Such as reviews? Amazon ratings? Is there a specific procedure you can recommend for moving out of the infamous '200 Club' - the point where indies have sold around 200 novels to their friends and Twitter followers then discover that their sales stall?

Kathie: I could do a separate post on each of these layers of “discoverability.” I think the most important thing to remember is that it requires a layering of different types of marketing and promotion to ensure continuous, solid sales. Right now I’m in the first real lull of my career in terms of sales. But I’m working on three books (in all phases) right now and, while I still do a lot of social media, I’ve scaled back on overt marketing and any sort of “push” to readers until I have the historical fiction and romance series ready to go.

There are people who sell enormous numbers of books who don’t worry at all about marketing. Luck is involved. But mostly, I’m convinced it’s the next book that matters and that’s where I put most of my time.
John: You mentioned in a press interview 'We lay out plans for blog tours, social network activities and advertising in various magazines'. Many indie gurus claim that blog tours, social networking and paid advertising are ineffective in selling indie books. Clearly, they have worked for you but what advice can you give authors to make those methods work?

Kathie: John Wanamaker said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.” I think that is absolutely true. It gets at the layering I talked about. Yes, you can run a Bookbub ad and it is fabulous, providing a long tail, but you can’t have a Bookbub ad every day. You need to layer in other ads, social networking, traditional media (this matters to some but not all) and of course your next great book. You never know which element will kick something in and result in your book shooting up.

The first time The Last Letter shot into the paid top 100 I didn’t have any ads running. It was like a clock running, the way the sales racked up. I had done marketing and PR before and that created a force that resulted in sustained sales over two years. If funds are limited it’s important to put most money into your editing and cover. Then push the book in all the ways that are free. It’s a juggling act.
John: Did you set up any kind of 'funnel' approach to encourage readers of book #1 to buy your subsequent books? How did you do that? And how important is your blog for your books sales? I notice you don't have a visible invitation at your blog for readers to join a mailing list. Was that omission deliberate?

In fact, I am just now updating my website and will start posting on my blog regularly again. For two years I’ve mostly been using that as a landing page and using Facebook as my blog. But, with all the changes to Facebook and who can actually see your posts, I’m rethinking my strategy and heading back to blogging.

I am at Square One with that and, yes, Square One stinks! But, I am so happy to have the chance to even play this publishing game. It’s a fabulous time for someone like me who had so much content - but no path to get it to readers until the past few years. I am grateful beyond words for that.
John: How long did it take you to reach 100,000 sales? And what does the future hold for you now?

Kathie: The first 70,000 sales came very fast, within seven or eight months of publishing. So, you can see the sales have slowed, but relatively speaking are still strong. I only write what I love, but for me, writing with a historical perspective, the story lines are endless. I love these characters and going back in time means I can put them in any number of compelling and “new to readers” experiences.

Thanks so much for having me at Writers’ Village, John. I really appreciate the chance to talk publishing with your readers but I feel as though I’ve glossed over a lot. If anyone has any questions, please post a comment here and I’ll try to answer them.

John: Thank you, Kathie. Now, gentle readers, it’s over to you! What questions or comments do you have for Kathie?

Bestselling author Kathleen Shoop holds a PhD in reading education. Her third novel, Love and Other Subjects, earned a Silver medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards and received an Honorable Mention from the San Francisco Book Festival. Her second novel, After the Fog (Silver IPPY), was a category finalist in the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Awards. Her debut novel, The Last Letter, is a multiple award-winner, including a Gold Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards. Recently, Kathleen released her first romance novella, Home Again (Book One).

Find Kathie at and follow her on Twitter @kathieshoop or Facebook.

How To Give Your Story Instant Reader Appeal

April 10, 2014

As Will Shakespeare might have asked “Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?” Or a novel by James Patterson sell as well under a different title?

That’s one of the great literary questions. It has plagued ink slingers since time immemorial. How much does the title of a book
really matter? This question was touched on by some of our fellow writers who commented on LD Sledge’s cracking article here last month on opening lines.

In this guest post, author Nigel da Silva asks...

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Six Mistakes New Authors Make When Dealing with Agents

April 4, 2014

Would debut authors be better off ignoring literary agents and self-publishing their work? In a previous post, I ranted at agents. With honorable exceptions, they treat new writers with disdain. Or so many first-time novelists have told me. Around 90% of the agents they approached did not even bother to acknowledge their submissions, they said.

Are agents 
really ‘institutionally unprofessional’, as my rant suggested? Or was I being unfair? What’s the agent’s side in this debate?

In this...

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Four Ways To Write More Productively: A Commuter’s Guide

March 20, 2014

If you’ve ever heard yourself saying ‘I don’t have time to write’, take a look at these four simple but practical ways to make more of the time we all waste – when traveling. Lawyer and blogger Kristin Gallagher makes good use of her subway journeys to write, research and brainstorm.

It’s so easy if you come prepared. Here’s how to do it:

If you live in or around a metropolitan area and commute to work, you probably have dead time that you do not use to your advantage. Do yo...

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How To Create The Ultimate Story Plot

March 13, 2014

Have you ever sought an easy way to plot your stories? Bought plotting software? Believed in gurus who sold you a patented Plot Generator program - plus the guarantee of a Hollywood blockbuster if you followed it?

Eschew them all. If any plotting system is complex it's superfluous.

In fact, there is only one winning plot, in all the stories of the world, and it’s very simple:
Boy meets hamster.
Boy loses hamster.
Boy is reunited with hamster (or not).
For ‘boy’ read any principal charact...
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How To Hook Your Reader In The First Line

March 6, 2014

"Hook your reader, play him, get him in your boat." It's the secret of every successful story. But how do we do that? In this guest post, veteran author L D Sledge gives us a simple, ready-to-use rule for crafting stories that keep the reader awake at night. Any author can use it, but how many of us do?

The sweetest five words to a fiction writer are “I couldn’t put your book down!”

Isn’t that what we write for? So how about the most valuable three words you can ever hear while te...

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A Wicked Way To Write A Novel In A Week

February 27, 2014

Is fiction writing a sport or a game? This distinction might not seem important. Indeed, you could escape my cunning trap by saying it’s neither. Is it? But that wouldn’t be playing the game. The question is important for bridge players because a UK tax tribunal has just ruled that the English Bridge Union must levy VAT (Value Added Tax) on its competition entry fees, increasing them by 20%.

Competitive sport does not attract VAT, the tribunal has decided, but bridge does. Why? It...

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John Yeoman

Dr John Yeoman, MA Oxon, MPhil, PhD Creative Writing, FSRS*  is a UK university tutor in the short story. He has 42 years experience as a successful commercial writer, newspaper editor and one-time chairman of a major PR consultancy.

He has published innumerable works of humour, some intended to be humorous.

* Founder, the Society for the Rehabilitation of the Semi-colon