The week before the release of my first novel, the Hachette/Amazon debacle exploded. It was difficult to avoid the pleas from traditionally published authors to boycott Amazon. Harder still was it to escape articles about how Amazon’s passive/aggressive tactics were affecting writers’ careers. The timing couldn’t have been worse. This was one of the companies I’d chosen to publish and sell my book. Must this happen now?
I immediately empathized with the authors, many of whom I’m fans of. They’d toiled away at their craft, perhaps for years, doling out copious amounts of blood, sweat and metaphors. They’d finished their manuscript, queried agents, accepted representation, sold their book, released it, and now, after all those unquestionable triumphs, at the exact time they expected to celebrate, they were met with a brick wall from their biggest retailer.
Simultaneously and separately, I’d been anticipating the onset of euphoria. I was nearing a milestone of my own. I was days away from releasing my first book, after years of trying to secure a traditional publishing deal and sulking with rejection. But now, while every Hachette author was banding together in solidarity to voice their condemnation against Amazon, my excitement dwindled.
What about my own plea? The one I had planned to shout from the mountaintops: “Please, dear readers, buy my book! It’s on Amazon!” Would that get me ostracized faster than the dry-time of the autograph on my paperbacks?
I was in a serious conundrum. Should I postpone my release? I called a writer friend. “What’ll I do?” I asked her. If not on principle, who did I think would shop at Amazon now, anyway? It was like I’d planned to open a lemonade stand at the grocery store that stopped selling Oreos. Furthermore, “How could I do this to those authors? What about those publishers?”
“What about them?” she said. She went on to reiterate the cold hard facts. I had tried and failed at the traditional model. I’d queried literary agents for years and speed-pitched them at conferences; I courted them on Twitter, and followed them on Publishers Weekly. All of that led to some serious lukewarm interest which nearly culminated in a solid maybe from one of them. Two publishers read my manuscript, praised, and promptly rejected it. I was on my own. Let’s face it—it had never been my dream to self-publish. But how many versions of “this is not right for our list” should an author get before taking matters into her own hands? Isn’t it the best time to be an author because I could do just that? The only thing that kept my manuscript from crashing on my hard drive was Amazon.
While there are other options for self-publishers (in fact, I’ve published with more than one P.O.D publisher for maximum exposure) how could I not bring my book to the largest customer base? I knew that the moment the book was published my challenges were far from over. Chief among them was how not to slip into total obscurity. I needed visibility. It was time to fall back on a key marketing idea I’d learned while working at Estee Lauder. Sampling. This is the other reason I chose Amazon. If I sold my e-book exclusively with them for 90 days, I’d have the opportunity to offer it for free for up to 5 days within that time period.
So at the third week mark, after selling my e-book for $3.99, I dropped the price to “free” for three days. Honestly, I wasn’t convinced this was a good idea; who wants to give their book away for free? But I needed exposure. How many copies could I expect my aunt to buy?
I waited for some good reviews to amass, then publicized my promotion. My goal was to give 200 books away. Wouldn’t it be extraordinary if two hundred people (who were not blood relatives) saw my free e-book through the galaxies of books on Amazon, read the description, and chose to download it?!
When I woke up on the first day of the promotion and 726 books had already been downloaded, I stared at the screen with my mouth open for a long time. Long enough for the graph to spike up to 967 downloads. In fact, every fifteen minutes the graph ticked higher. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was in shock for three straight days, at the end of which a total of 27,452 Kindles of my book had been downloaded. I went to sleep that night wondering what book could’ve been downloaded more than that. Right? Seriously, by all accounts, isn’t that a big number for anyone? Since I couldn’t sleep I shuffled back to my computer to look at my book’s ranking. That’s when I saw the most extraordinary thing: #1 thriller The Memory Box.
The days that ensued were punctuated by emails and phone calls. Someone was stopped on a beach in Hawaii by a Californian who raved about it. Someone else spotted the book in Duck, N.C. and at the beach in Cape Cod. On an island in Greece, and a bus in Canada, in the mountains of Colorado, at a doctor’s office in New York, chosen by a book club in Portland, Oregon, and on a bench in Nice, France.
A month has passed since the promotion and my book’s ranking has stayed strong. I don’t kid myself about the work that’s ahead. I continue to be challenged by all that self-publishing involves: getting publicity, reviews, bookstore and library space, readers. These are good challenges to have, especially since I’d have none of them if my manuscript remained on my hard drive.
I know what Amazon did for one writer’s career, it gave her one.
The absolute greatest indulgence in the world for an author is to have an opportunity to connect with her readers. It is a thrill unlike anything else, and so far, in these last 64 days, I have heard from readers in a variety of ways.
Some people have called me. These readers, of course, are friends and family. As it turns out, this is as thrilling for them as it is for me because, typically, they aren’t able to finish reading a book, then pick up the phone to call the author with a question. Other readers have been in touch by reviewing the book on Amazon or Goodreads or Barnes and Noble. Some readers have asked me questions on my Goodreads page or started to follow my blog and have left comments there.
That’s where I recently heard from a reader from Portland, Oregon. She had chosen THE MEMORY BOX for her book club and the meeting was going to be in a few days and she was eager to find discussion questions. If you read the book, you’re probably thinking what I was thinking. She hadn’t finished it yet. This actually reminded me of myself. I’m always reading the book club book the weekend before the meeting. Anyway, she was relieved to hear that the suggested questions were listed in the back of the book. (We had a good laugh about this later!) I also told her that her group was the first book club to read THE MEMORY BOX and that I’d love to join their discussion of the book. This flipped her out. They never had an author join them at a book club meeting. Who has? But I can tell you, this was a mutual treat! She decided this was so exciting that she wasn’t going to tell any of the members beforehand. She wanted it to be a surprise for the night they were discussing the book. Since I appeared via Face Time, I wasn’t able to hear her tell everyone before I was “live,” but I can tell you I was as ecstatic as they were.
In retrospect, it makes complete sense to me that people love to hear the back story of the story. How did you come up with the idea? Why did Caroline make certain decisions? What is your writing process? Why didn’t so-and-so tell the police about so-and-so? (Sorry, can’t reveal that specific question, but it was a good one! In fact, I hadn’t ever thought about it before — they really stumped me.) And they asked the question that I seem to be getting a lot these days, will there be a sequel? If you had asked me that question 65 days ago, I would have said no. But now, I just might reconsider. More on that to come.
Apart from meeting some fabulous, intelligent, fun, inquisitive, fun (did I say that already? well, they were really fun!) women, the other really interesting thing for me was that I got to know my characters even more than I did already. They asked me such thought provoking questions that I had to dig deep and really think about these characters I’ve come to know over the years since I started writing the book. I understood on another level their motivations for their actions. I can’t explain how incredible it was to still have these “aha moments” and think to myself, “Oh, that’s why she did that!”
Thank you, Dunthorpe Book Junkies! I am so lucky to have you as readers. By the way, that’s a photo of them above. For everyone else out there in the world, if you choose THE MEMORY BOX for your book club, please let me know. I’ve heard from many of you who have scheduled it for your September, October and November (you peeps are good planners!) meetings. So, thank you! And, absolutely send me a photo of your group with the book and I’d love to post it here. If I’m available to chat with you and your group via Face Time or Skype, if you’d like, I’ll make every effort. But if I can’t, do let me know about your meeting, I’d love to hear from you!
Forget about Matt Lauer and Flat Stanley, where in the world is THE MEMORY BOX?
There’s nothing more exciting for an author than to see her book popping up in places outside of her home town (okay, her home…). All authors have a not-so-secret fantasy of seeing someone on a subway or train or plane reading their book. I’m definitely one of them! So in recent weeks, you can imagine my excitement to hear of THE MEMORY BOX being spotted in or taken to the far flung reaches of the globe. You know who you are: Sue Ann in Greece, Katia in Belgium, Jane in Michigan, Sydney in Hawaii, Stacey in Myrtle Beach, Kim in Portugal, Judee in Canada, Aileen in California, Anthe in Greece, Annette in Florida, Hope in Long Island, Renee in New York, Pat in his kitchen. Inspired by your posts, I thought it would be fun to track the book’s location on a virtual map. Help me, please! If you’re reading THE MEMORY BOX or see someone else reading it, tell me where! Leave a comment below telling me the location and better yet, include a photo! Or post them on Facebook and tag me! I love seeing MEMORY BOX selfies!
I was beyond flipped out to see this completely engrossed reader, (photo above) with THE MEMORY BOX on a New Jersey beach recently. Thanks, Elizabeth, for making my day! (Okay, year.)