The Other Side of Amazon: How my Self-Published Thriller got Downloaded 27,452 Times in 3 Days

photo by Judit Klein

photo by Judit Klein

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.

Guest Post on Change it Up Editing

I’m thrilled to be guest blogging today over at changeitupediting.com, where I reveal a few of my writing secrets, namely how I’ve wriggled out a few creative blocks. Come on over and check it out and share your own tales of creative inspiration. While you’re there, indulge yourself in the some wonderful writing insights of editor Candace Johnson. Here’s to a prolific 2014!

Writer Separation Anxiety: A Portrait

photo by Williac

photo by Williac

It’s time we admit that Writer Separation Anxiety is a bona fide disorder. I’m not ashamed to say I have it, maybe others will come forward. Remember, there is strength in numbers. It may not afflict the majority of writers, but that doesn’t make us freaks. Why do you think there are so many sequel writers?

It’s true that most writers are ecstatic to finish a manuscript. However, when I wrote The End of my novel, I was bereft.

What would become of Caroline, Andy, Lilly, all my characters? We’d been together for so long. I spent more time with them than my real family. What would I do now?

That first morning after The End was the hardest. Time to get reacquainted with my LBTB (Life Before the Book). During the manuscript’s third edit our kitchen became depleted of anything edible. Grocery shopping was now long overdue. A chore would be good. It would keep me busy. No time to pine.

At the store I strolled down the cookie aisle. Bad idea. There were Oreos everywhere. You can’t dodge a cookie with 17 varieties. I told myself to stop thinking about Andy, he’s not real. Oreos were his crutch food. The night he and Caroline got into a chandelier-trembling argument (Chapter 6) he ate 2 sleeves of Oreos with a quart of milk. Any other guy would’ve gone out and gotten bombed with his buddies. Not Andy; he plopped on the couch (which he’d later sleep on) and ate 28 cookies. I hated that night. I hated when they fought. A friend of mine accused me of being secretly in love with Andy. Which is complete hogwash. I’m married!

I spun the grocery cart around and headed to frozen foods. I’m far less emotional when I’m cold. My internal voice said, “Cheer up! Celebrate! You finished your first novel!” Right at that moment I found myself smack in front of the Carvel Cakes. A sign! Clearly, a celebration was in order. I felt better already. In fact, I started whistling−which I often do when I’m happy (or need a bathroom). Then I recognized the tune: My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music. I gasped. The very song Caroline hummed on that disastrous night (Chapter 10). If only I could’ve helped her.  

Grocery shopping was not going as planned.

I paid for the cake and pimentos and skulked to my car. My phone rang. It was my son. Thank God, a real person to focus on. “What’s the matter Mom, you sound awful.” I tried to stay light and breezy but I choked up. “Mom, it’s okay to miss them. You’ll be alright, remember when Caroline thought she was having a nervous breakdown−”

“Because she was!

“Oh god, that’s right. Jeez…”

Before I shifted the car in reverse my phone rang again. It was my husband reminding me of our neighbor’s party invitation. We declined because I thought I’d still be editing. “We should go,” he insisted. If I wasn’t having fun, at least I could eavesdrop and steal mannerisms and quirks from people to use for new characters. That sounded amusing!

It felt good to wear decent clothes and eye shadow for a change and rekindle with the neighbors−laughing, swapping stories, exchanging recipes. Was it wrong of me to give them a deviled egg recipe that Caroline’s mother, Elaine, kept secret (Chapter 14)? Somehow she’d never “remember” to tell people about the chili paste. That always made me laugh.

Boy was I out of touch with current (past) events of our town (world). A neighbor’s sister miraculously recovered from a near-fatal illness. Everyone reveled in this news−then mid-hoopla, their eyes, with scrunched brows, turned my way. Ripples of “Are you okay?” spilled over me.

I wasn’t okay. “It’s just that Caroline’s sister wasn’t so lucky−” I tried pulling myself together but instead became defensive and blubbered, “…she’s dead.

My sniffling intensified under a chorus of “Oh my gosh” and “I didn’t know” and an exchange of incredulous glances. Someone asked, “Who’s Caroline?”

My head shot up. I spurted like a broken carburetor, “My protagonist!

It was time for me to go. I insisted my husband stay. I needed to be alone.

At home I sat in the chair that supported me for all those months (years) it took to write my novel. I lifted the manuscript and inhaled deeply to smell the paper and ink. I thought about Caroline, Andy and Elaine, the kids. The triumphs and disasters. It was time they moved on without me. Me without them. They’d enriched my life in so many ways. I’d always have that. I put down the manuscript and picked up a box of Oreos.

Time to ponder a sequel.

The Books You’re Fated to Read

photo by Ipoh kia

photo by Ipoh kia

It is that very particular exhilarating feeling, when you find a book so scrumptious and exotic you open it with a whisper and close it with a sigh. You’ve found this book through no one’s urging or description or advertising. You wandered alone, woozy in towering aisles with books stacked up to another altitude, on a day when no one seems to have this same idea. All others are elsewhere and so it’s only the sound of your own quiet breathing and the buzz of the florescent lights that you hear. You are looking deliberately for something, a book of fiction about a man who is lonely in a house deserted, but you are half-hearted about this man and his house and this story. You’ve read it before. With a woman and a castle. And you’ve written it before that. So instead you turn and change direction. “I don’t know what I’m looking for,” you say to yourself and are left to ponder exactly what it is you mean.

When left uninspired, it is always wise to choose a classic. You crouch down in the Fs in a position only three-year-olds find comfortable; your knees crackle and you know this limb configuration will have a deadline. Without pause your fingers skip through the shelf, grazing each binding, searching for FI and then T. Your time is up; your knees tell you so. Your fingers must decide. They do and pull back the top of a book’s binding who’s dressed in black and white and in one fell swoop you clutch and stand. Fitch. No. Wrong book. Before slipping it back into place, without a conscious decision to do so, you turn the book over and read what’s been said about it.

“This is what you’re after when you’re browsing the shelves for something good to read.”

A silent gasp preempts your next breath. Your cheeks prickle with heat and you gulp the collected saliva before your eyes move cautiously to take in who and what is around you. How can this be? How did it know? You bring White Oleander home and feast on its beauty and barbed wire without manners or even a napkin to dot your lips. When you’re finished you imagine you have joined a secret book club of members who have also found this book this way. A book you never speak about to anyone, instead you keep its secrets and believe others will read it because it will be fated to them. Just as it was to you.