Cozy Mystery Publishing, IWSG, Mollie McGhie Cozy Sailing Mysteries, Writing

Missing Deadlines & Eating Lots of Chocolate | IWSG

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) is a place to share and encourage, where writers can express their doubts and concerns without appearing foolish or weak. It’s a great place to mingle with like minded people each month during IWSG day.

Every month there’s an optional question which may prompt folks to share advice, insights, a personal experience or story. Some folks answer the question in their IWSG blog post or let it inspire them if they’re struggling with what to say.

This month’s question is:

The IWSG’s focus is on our writers. Each month, from all over the globe, we are a united group sharing our insecurities, our troubles, and our pain. So, in this time when our world is in crisis with the covid-19 pandemic, our optional question this month is: how are things in your world?

Check out how people have answered this month’s question, as well as the other insecurities and writing topics they may have shared by visiting the IWSG sign-up list HERE. You can see how I answered the question below.

So, how are you all doing in your neck of the woods? Feeling a little crazy? Stir crazy, perhaps?

I’m definitely feeling the crazy right now, especially the stir crazy. Do you remember my IWSG post from last month – the one where I said that by the time this month rolled around, I’d either be celebrating with chocolate for meeting my deadlines OR commiserating with chocolate because I didn’t meet them?

Well, I failed. I watched as the deadlines came and went while stuffing my face with some delicious dark chocolate Dove candies that a friend gave me. She knows me so well.

In my defense, we had a lot going on – selling our boat (done!), getting all our stuff of the boat (done!), moving the boat into storage for her new owner (done!), preparing our teeny-tiny camper to become our full-time home (done!), and temporarily moving our camper into the campground at the marina (done!).

We also were busy with something immensely more fun then dealing with campers and boats – we got to meet fellow IWSG member, Liesbet from Roaming About, along with her sweet hubby and their adorable dog! So much fun was had and we were super sad to see them leave.

We too had hoped to leave Indiantown Marina here in southern Florida and head out West, first with a stop at Disney Land. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. By the time we were ready to head out, it was apparent that COVID-19 was a pretty big deal. We couldn’t decide what to do – stay or go – so we kept ordering stuff from Amazon for our camper to delay having to make a decision.

Eventually, the pandemic made the decision for us, so here we sit at Indiantown Marina eating lots of chocolate.

In writing news, I obviously missed my deadline for finishing up my romantic comedy, Smitten with Ravioli, but I’m now back on track and hope to have it done this week.

In other news from the writing front, I had scheduled a bunch of price drop promos for Murder at the Marina, the first in my Mollie McGhie cozy mystery series, long before the pandemic. I wasn’t sure how it would go in this new reality of ours, but, so far, they’re going okay. I think people are looking for bargain books in the current economic climate. Whether they’ll go on to buy full-price books in the rest of the series remains to be seen. My guess is probably not so much given financial strains that folks are feeling. On a related note, I’ve been selling a bunch of my large print cozy mysteries – people sure are looking for something to do while cooped up inside.

Well, anyhoo, that’s how things are going here. We’re healthy, we have a place to stay, and we have lots of chocolate. It could be worse.

How are things going for you?

Murder at the Marina is on sale for 99c/99p! If you like quirky characters, adorable cats, and plenty of chocolate, you’ll love this cozy mystery! Grab your copy at:

Amazon (US) | Amazon (CA) | Amazon (UK) | Amazon (AU) | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Apple iBooks | Google Play

Cozy Mystery Publishing, Mollie McGhie Cozy Sailing Mysteries

2019 in Review | Writing & Publishing Cozy Mysteries

It’s time for my annual “year in review” post where I share how things went on my writing and publishing journey during the past year.

Hang on a minute. Talking about my annual review posts sounds so grand. Truth of the matter is that I’ve only posted one of these so far. And that’s because I published my first book only a year and a half ago. So much has happened since then! I’ve gained a few pounds and lots more gray hairs, but I’ve also written a few more books.

So in honor of all the extra weight around my tummy and my gray hair (which has a mind of its own), I thought I’d continue my new tradition and let you know how it went for me in 2019. If you’d like to read my 2018 review first, you can find it HERE. Otherwise, let’s get started, shall we?

Writing & Publishing Accomplishments in 2019

I published a prequel novella (Robbery the Roller Derby) and two full-length books—Poisoned by the Pier (book #3) and Dead in the Dinghy (book #4)—in my Mollie McGhie Cozy Sailing Mystery series, as well as a box set of the first three books in the series. This series is inspired by my own adventures and misadventures living aboard a sailboat with my husband. Fortunately, I haven’t run across any dead bodies, unlike Mollie. For some reason, she seems to keep stumbling across them.

In terms of other writing projects I worked on during 2019, I started drafting the fifth book in the Mollie McGhie series (Shooting by the Sea) and sketched out the final two books I have planned in this series—Overboard in the Ocean (a full-length book) and Murder Aboard the Mistletoe (a Christmas novella)—all of which I hope to publish in 2020.

Random side note: I originally wrote “intend to publish in 2020,” then changed it to “hope,” cause you know life doesn’t always go the way you want. “Hope” seems to have more wiggle room than “intend.”

Covers for the complete Mollie McGhie series. Books 1 & 2 published during 2018. Prequel novella and Books 3 & 4 published during 2019. Books 5 & 6 and a Christmas novella planned for 2020.

I also worked on a high-level outline for my next cozy mystery series (The Dewey Decimal Library Mysteries) which I’m planning to launch in 2021. And I toyed around with another bright, shiny idea—a Mollie McGhie spin-off series of novellas set on Destiny Key which will feature a psychic and her pet hamster.

Random side note #2: “Planning” is another vague term for something I “hope” might happen.

Covers for the Dewey Decimal Library Mystery series. Looking at them provided inspiration when I was working on the high-level series outline. They’re going to be set in North Dakota. Brr…I feel cold just thinking about the setting.

And if all that wasn’t enough, there’s the travel rom-com series I have a hankering to write. Sigh. . .too many ideas, not enough time.

But enough about what I hope/plan/intend to do in 2020. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty details and numbers from 2019. Please note that I won’t be sharing the actual number of sales I made over the course of the year. Yes, I know, that’s the number some of you are quite interested in and I’m sorry to disappoint, but I just don’t feel comfortable disclosing that. However, there are lots of other numbers you may find fascinating below.

Random side note #3: Not all percentages add up to 100% and some items show up as 0% in the charts below due to rounding. Isn’t math fascinating? I’m kidding. It really isn’t. At least not to me. Now cookies, those are fascinating. Math, not so much.

Sales & Revenue

The chart below shows the peaks and troughs of my sales and revenue over the year. Note that I used the term revenue, not income. Revenue is how much money has come in from the sales of your books. Income is what’s left over after you deduct expenses. You may see people post their earnings in various Facebook author groups and be in awe of how much they’re making, but don’t forget that the numbers they’re sharing may be before expenses which means they’re taking home less than you think (in some cases, a lot less).

As an independent author, I have a number of expenses including:

  • editors (one of my biggest expenses, but so worth it to me)
  • ISBNs (these don’t come cheap if you’re based in the States—$575 for 100 of them—which is one reason why not everyone uses these book identification numbers)
  • proof copies of paperbacks and large print editions from Amazon KDP and IngramSpark
  • paid email promotions
  • advertising (I primarily use AMS ads, but I have also dabbled with Facebook and Bookbub ads)
  • licenses for images used in marketing and book covers (DepositPhotos and Shutterstock)
  • author website hosting / domain fees
  • other system subscription fees such as BookFunnel (used for ebook distribution to my ARC team and for distribution of my reader magnets) and Mailerlite (used for newsletter)
  • printer ink and paper
  • books related to writing craft and marketing
  • membership in the Alliance for Independent Authors (the cost of membership is offset for me by the fact that I don’t have to pay fees for paperback uploads / changes on IngramSpark)

Okay, enough talk about revenue vs. income and expense, let’s get back to the chart. You’ll note that I show both the number of units sold (blue) and the income (red). I like doing this because I can get caught up in how many books I’ve sold but that doesn’t always correlate with how much I’m making.

See that peak in July? I did price drop promo of my first in series—Murder at the Marina—and sold a fair number of books. But because I was selling them for 99c (normally $3.99), I wasn’t making very much per sale (only 34c on Amazon). Contrast that with December. I sold less than half the number of books, but made more money because I was primarily selling full-price books.

Sales by Format

While the majority of my sales are ebooks (73%), I still sell a fair amount of large print (21%) and paperback (5%) editions. I’d be curious to know if this split between ebook and print books is the norm or not for indie-published cozy mysteries.

I have to confess that although I read mostly on my Kindle these days, I love the idea that people are out there reading my books the old-fashioned way by turning one paper page at a time.

I use both Amazon KDP and Ingram Spark print-on-demand services for my large print and paperbacks, but I sell way more books through Amazon then Ingram Spark. This is due in large part to the fact that I run AMS (Amazon Advertising) ads. They were particularly effective in the run-up to the holidays as print books make lovely presents.

Random side note #4: When e-readers first came out way back in the dark ages, my hubby wanted to get me one as a present. I poo-pooed the whole idea, swearing that I’d never be happy reading books electronically. My how times have changed – I can’t imagine life without my Kindle.

Sales by Book

Now that I have five books out, I’ve started to pay attention to what percentage of my sales come from each book. No surprise here, my series starter—Murder at the Marina—outsells the rest of my books (71% of sales). That’s because: (a) it’s been out the longest; (b) because I focus my advertising/marketing/promo efforts on it; and (c) after reading Murder at the Marina, some folks decide my cozies aren’t their cup of tea and don’t continue with the rest of the series.

Some of you are probably wondering what my sell-thru rate its. Others of you have no idea what a sell-thru rate is which is fair enough. I had no idea what it was until I got into this whole writing thing. Basically, you summon all your mathematical powers to figure out what percentage of readers go on from the first book in your series to buy the next book, and then the next book, and so on.

I’ve sliced and diced the sell-thru data in a variety of ways (by format and by retailer and by time span). Because the fourth book in my series—Dead in the Dinghy—was published mid-December 2020, I’m not paying much attention to the sell-thru rate from book #3 to book #4 right now, but I’m super interested in how many people go from book #1 to book #2 and book #2 to book #3.

Curious what I found out when I crunched the numbers? Here’s the sell-thru stats for my ebooks on Amazon for all of 2019—13% of readers went on from book #1 to book #2 and close to 100% went on from book #2 to book #3.

The 13% from book #1 to book #2 seems disappointing at first blush, but it’s not all that surprising given the big 99c promo campaign I did for my first in series in July/August 2019. Lots of people bought book #1 because it was a bargain. Who passes up a bargain?

So what happened with those bargain hunters? Some of those people probably never even read it (ask me how many unread 99c books I have on my Kindle), so of course they wouldn’t have gone onto the next one. Others might have started it but decided it wasn’t their cup of tea and gave the rest of the series a miss. And some folks might have read it and enjoyed it but didn’t love it enough to buy the next book in the series at full price.

As a writer you have to embrace the fact that not everyone is going to like what you write. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

It’s interesting to note that if I calculate sell-thru based solely on the last three months of 2019 (when Murder at the Marina was full price), around 40% went on from book #1 to book #2. The read-thru during that period for book #2 to book #3 remained consistent at close to 100%.

On a positive note, the nearly 100% read-thru from book #2 to book #3 is encouraging. Those are the folks who like my quirky sense of humor. Those people are my tribe. I just need to figure out how to find more of those types of readers and introduce them to Mollie McGhie.

Random side note #5: I love spreadsheets! It’s so much fun to track sales and then make groovy charts from the data. I know this makes me a big weirdo.

Ebook Sales by Retailer

I’m wide—and I’m not just talking about my hips. When I first started out I decided not to be exclusive to Amazon. Instead, I publish widely, i.e., on Amazon as well as on other retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books, and Google Play.

Given its market dominance, it really isn’t surprising that the majority of my ebook sales were on Amazon (57%). But I am pleased that I sold almost half as much on other retailers. This is a huge increase from last year when Amazon accounted for 86% of my ebook sales.

After Amazon, I did best on Barnes & Noble last year (31%), in large part due to a 99c promo they invited me to take part in. Kobo came in third (8%), followed by Apple Books (3%). I sold some books on Google Play, Scribd, Biblioteca, and Overdrive, but nothing to write home about.

Random side note #6: For those of you not in the know, Biblioteca and Overdrive are two systems libraries use for ebooks. I love seeing my books in libraries, both print and ebook editions! If you’d like to ask your library to acquire my books, you can find a handy-dandy info sheet HERE.

Well, I think that about sums it up. Overall, 2019 was a good year for me in terms of writing and publishing and I’m looking forward to more of the same in 2020!

How did 2019 go for you? What are you looking forward to in 2020?

Are you interested in learning more about my cozy mystery publishing journey? If so, check out these posts:

Cover Design | Draft #743 | Beta Readers | Traditional vs. Self-Publishing | Editing | Going Wide or Amazon Exclusive | Ebooks, Print, or Both | Book Formatting| Distribution Channels | Book Release in Numbers | Blog Tours | ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) | Large Print Books

Cozy Mystery Publishing

Thoughts on Writing Cozy Mystery Novellas

I recently wrote and published my first cozy mystery novella – Robbery at the Roller Derby. It’s a prequel to my Mollie McGhie Sailing Mystery series and is set about twelve years before the first book in the series – Murder at the Marina. After I had published three books in my series, I decided it was time to get more serious about marketing and promoting. One of the things I decided to focus on as part of this effort creating a reader magnet and that’s where my roller derby prequel novella came into play.

Now that Robbery at the Roller Derby has been out in the world for about a month, I thought I would share some of my thoughts about writing novellas. This isn’t meant to be advice or a prescriptive formula about how you should do things. Instead, it’s just some random stuff that popped into my head while sipping on my morning coffee.

1 – How long is a novella anyway?

I had always defined novellas quite simply – something shorter than a novel and longer than a short story. But exactly how long are novels, novellas, and short stories? This probably won’t come as a surprise to you, but not everyone agrees on a single definition. Some people say that full-length novels need to be at least 60,000 words, others put the cut-off at 40,000 words, and I’ve also seen some folks say that the magic number is 80,000.

The same confusion flows down when determining word count criteria for novellas and short stories. And to add more fun to the equation, there’s even something called a novelette (the term always makes me thing of omelettes for some reason) which is longer than a short story and shorter than a novella.

I think it comes down to genre conventions and reader expectations. In terms of novels, fantasy readers expect a big fat tome that can double as a door stop. Cozy mystery readers are happy with much shorter novels.

In the end, I went with the following definitions:

  • Novel – 40,000 words or more
  • Novella – at least 17,500 and less than 40,000 words
  • Novelette – at least 7,500 and less than 17,500 words
  • Short Story – less than 7,500 words

When it came to writing my novella, I aimed for something between 20,000 – 30,000 words. It ended up being 22k. For comparison, my full-length novels have been between 62-72k to date.

2 – Books don’t have to be long to be good.

Some of our beloved classics are novella length. Hemmingway’s Old Man and the Sea was 26k. Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was 29k. Conrad’s Into the Heart of Darkness was 38k. And Camus’ The Stranger was 36k.

Okay, there’s no way Robbery at the Roller Derby is ever going to be considered a classic, but the point is that you can tell a complete, compelling story in a shorter form. And many people like a quick read. Folks lead busy lives. Sometimes, it’s nice to be able to gobble up an entire book in one evening with a cup of cocoa and a plate of cookies.

I read something somewhere (sorry to be so vague, but I have the world’s worst memory – anyone know where I left my glasses?) that you should think about novellas not just in terms of word count but in terms of target audience. Some readers deliberately seek out shorter books, just like some people prefer box sets, and others like to read big, chunky novels.

3 – Keep it simple.

Check your complex plots and your huge cast of characters at the door. When you have a limited number of words to work with, you have to keep things focused. In my full-length cozies, I have a main plot (the mystery), a few sub-plots, and a whole bunch of characters (recurring folks who show up throughout the series and ones specific to that particular mystery).

In my prequel novella, I kept it simple. One main plot (the robbery) and a minor romantic sub-plot and a limited number of characters. I’ll tell you what, it made things so simple. So much less to keep track of and weave together.

4 – How much is your novella worth?

Pricing your books is such a thorny subject. You pour your heart and soul into something, invest your hard-earned money into covers, editing, formatting, marketing, promotions etc. Isn’t it at least worth the price of a latte?

To be honest, I don’t know the right answer to this. I price my full-length cozies based on the other comparable indie published wide cozy authors. (The “wide” point is important. Pricing strategies probably differ if you’re exclusive to Kindle Select More on the HERE.) When it came to this particular novella, I wanted to use it initially as a reader magnet, i.e., folks can get it for free if they sign up for my newsletter. But because I know that not everyone wants to get newsletters and would prefer to purchase it, I also currently offer it for 99c/99p on all retailers. My thinking was that if someone bought it, then found out later they could have had it for free, they wouldn’t be too annoyed as it cost them less than a buck.

5 – Writing novellas is fun!

I have a blast writing this prequel novella, in part due to the fact that it has a roller derby setting (way cool!) and in part due to the fact that it had a shorter word count and simpler plot. It was quite refreshing to be able to bang it out in a relatively short period of time. My full-length cozies take me forever to write.

Okay, my coffee cup is empty, so I’ll have to put an end to my random novella writing thoughts. I’d love to know what you think. Leave a comment and share your thoughts on reading and writing novellas.

Cozy Mystery Publishing

Paid Email Promotions for Cozy Mysteries

After I published the third book in my cozy mystery series, I decided it was time to start getting more serious about promoting and advertising my books. While I’ve been running Amazon ads for a while now (they work well for my paperback and large print editions, less so for my ebooks), participate in Kobo promotions (the results are okay, not stellar), and tried Facebook ads (dismal results), I hadn’t given much though to paid email promotions until recently.

Paid email promotions are pretty self-explanatory. You give someone money and they promote your book in their email. Of course, I’m not talking about slipping your little sister a five dollar bill and having her spam her friends’ inboxes with ‘Buy my sister’s book!’

What I’m referring to are those organizations who send out daily newsletters to avid readers highlighting free and/or bargain books. For a fee (and if you meet their selection criteria), they’ll include your book. And, in return, you (hopefully) get lots and lots of people downloading your book, loving it pieces, and rushing off to buy the rest in the series. At least, that’s the theory.

I decided to put this theory to the test. In July, I dropped the price of the first book in my series (Murder at the Marina) from $3.99 to 99c and scheduled five paid email promotions. I supplemented this with newsletter swaps with other cozy mystery authors and spread the work on social media. The experiment cost me $206. I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot of money. Just think of all of the Oreo cookies you could buy with that wad of cash!

So, I bet you’re dying to know whether I made my investment back. Stick around to the end and I’ll let you know.

Let’s get into some nitty-gritty about the promos I did. But a few things to note before we dive in:

  • I’m wide, meaning that I distribute my books on all retailers (Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and Google Play). I am not exclusive to Amazon and part of Kindle Unlimited. I was particularly interested in seeing if I could gain more traction on non-Amazon platforms through these promos.
  • To assess the effectiveness of each promo, I tallied up sales on the day of the promo and the day after (not everyone opens emails the day they receive them) and did some magic with my calculator to figure out cost per unit sold (cost of promo / number of sales). I was interested not just in the number of sales, but how much each sale cost me. Keep in mind you’re making peanuts for each sale at a 99c price point – between 35-45c depending on retailer.
  • I did apply for a BookBub, the Holy Grail of paid email promos, and was unsuccessful. No surprise there. They’re pretty hard to get.
  • These are just my results. Don’t take anything I say as gospel. Your mileage may vary.

Robin Reads

Robin Reads cost me $65. They only target Amazon and Barnes & Noble. This was my least effective promo and I probably wouldn’t use them again. I know other people have great success with them though.

Ereader News Today (ENT)

ENT cost me $55. They target all retailers and I did see some sales on non-Amazon storefronts. Not a lot, but some. I’m on the fence about whether I’d used them again given the cost.

Bargain Booksy

Bargain Booksy cost me $55. They target all retailers. This one was the best at getting non-Amazon sales, including quite a few Barnes & Noble sales which worked to my advantage (more on that below). I’d probably use them again.

Book Adrenaline

Book Adrenaline cost me $15. They target everyone except Google Play. This one worked well for Barnes & Noble. This was one of my effective promo (in terms of cost of sale) and I’d definitely use them again.

Fussy Librarian

Fussy Librarian cost me $16 (I believe their prices have gone up since I booked). They target all retailers. This was my most effective promo and I’d definitely use them again.

So, did you make any money?

Yes, I hear you. You want to know about the money. Should I have bought Oreo cookies instead?

The cold hard truth is that none of the promos paid for themselves based on sales the day of and sales the day after. To be honest, I didn’t expect them to. It’s all about the read-through, or so they say. When I looked at my sales numbers for July and into the first week of August to see if people went on to buy the next two books in the series (or bought the box set), I came out ahead. Barely, but I did come out ahead. But, keep in mind that I did newsletter swaps during this period, so some of my sales and read-through could be attributed to those, rather than my paid promos.

Something unexpected did happen as a result of my July promo month. Barnes & Noble contacted me and asked if I would be interested in participating in a 99c cozy mystery promo the following month. I think this only happened because I came onto their radar due to the number of sales I had on their platform that month, sales that I wouldn’t have had without the promos. I did relatively well during that cozy mystery promo in August, getting the bestseller tag on and off throughout the week which raised my visibility and in turn generated more sales.

All in all, it was a good experiment. I didn’t lost my shirt financially and my pants still fit because I didn’t eat $206 worth of Oreo cookies.

What about you? Readers – Do you subscribe to any paid email promo newsletters? Do you buy books that they advertise? Authors – Have you tried paid email promos? How did they work for you?

cozy mystery, Cozy Mystery Publishing, Reading, Writing

Cozy Mystery Podcasts & YouTube Videos

Poisoned by the Pier Graphics(4)

I have something to confess. Just give me a moment while I gather up my courage. Here we go . . . I’m a procrastinator.

Not with everything, mind you. When it comes to eating chocolate chip cookies, I don’t  procrastinate that particular activity at all. But when it comes to things like preparing our taxes or doing laundry, that’s when my talent for putting things off for yet another day come into play.

One of my favorite ways to procrastinate is by watching YouTube videos and listening to podcasts. I figure if they’re related to cozy mysteries than it really isn’t procrastination, it’s research, right?

What does your To Do List look like today? Are there a few things on there that you’d rather not do? If so, check out the links below and avoid those unpleasant tasks for a little while longer.

Self-Publishing Authors Podcast

This podcast is hosted by four indie Kiwi authors who share tips, resources, and honest advice. I lived in New Zealand for five years, so I love hearing these ladies’ accents. Takes me right back to my days sipping on flat white coffee and exploring this wonderful country from the water on our sailboat.

You’ll want to check out this interview with Sara Rosett, author of several cozy series, as well as the non-fiction book, How to Outline a Cozy Mystery.

Plum Deluxe Teas Podcast

Seeing as Plum Deluxe sells teas, it’s no surprise that they have a podcast interview with Laura Childs, author of the Cozy Tea Shop Mysteries.

It’s a Mystery Podcast

Alexandra Amor features interviews with mystery writers, including some cozy authors such as Elizabeth Spann Craig, Ellen Byron, and Vicki Vass.

Reedsy Bestseller Podcast

Reedsy’s podcast is targeted at aspiring authors with the aim of demystifying the process of writing and self-publishing a book. The second season features cozy mystery author, Bella Falls who shares the writerly journey behind her Southern Charms series.

Courtagonist

Courtny is the cheerful, upbeat host of this YouTube channel which features all things cozy mystery including book reviews, book hauls, read-a-thons, and unboxings. You also get a peek at her daily life through her vlogs.

Create a Story You Love

On her YouTube channel, Lorna Faith shares author interviews and inspiration to help writers write, self-publish and market their fiction and non-fiction books. You’ll want to check out her interview on how to write cozy mystery novels with Elizabeth Spann Craig.

Diane Vallere

Cozy mystery author, Diane Vallere, shares info on writing cozy mysteries, her books, as well as a look at what goes on behind the scenes on her YouTube channel. I was particularly interested in this video, where she talks about the writing process behind The Pajama Frame, one of the books in her Madison Night Mystery series.

Ellie Alexander (aka Kate Dyer-Seeley)

Ellie Alexander’s You Tube channel features videos on her series and the research behind her books, as well as her fun 5 Things Friday videos. I laughed out loud during this video when she reads some of the worst reviews she’s received.

Meet the Thriller Author

Alan Peterson hosts the Meet the Thriller Author podcast featuring interviews with thriller, mystery, and suspense writers, including cozy mystery authors including CeeCee James and Carolyn L. Dean.

Comfy Cozy Podcast

Cozy novelist, Etta Welk, and her skeptical mom, Deb, explore cozy books, series, authors, origins, culture, and tropes in their weekly podcast.

Do you like to watch YouTube videos and listen to podcasts? Please share any cozy mystery related links in the comments below, and I’ll add them to the list.

Cozy Mystery Publishing, Mollie McGhie Cozy Sailing Mysteries

Writing Update: The Science of Legwarmers & Poisoned by the Pier

Poisoned by the Pier - Legwarmers

It’s time for a glass of wine. Or some cookies. Or some wine and some cookies.

I’ve finally finished writing the third book in my cozy mystery series—Poisoned by the Pier! It’s off to beta readers, then to the editor, with the aim of publishing it sometime this summer assuming all goes well.

Writing this one was a bit of a hard slog. I ended up deleting pretty much everything I had written in my first draft, then started rewriting from scratch. I envy those folks who are fast writers and can churn out a new cozy mystery every month or two. My process takes quite a bit longer.

I’m really liking how things have taken shape in my latest draft. I find myself chuckling out loud when I read certain sections. I know that talking to yourself isn’t a good sign. Does that hold true for laughing to yourself as well?

Mollie is up to her usual tricks in this latest installment—discovering dead bodies and sticking her nose in where it doesn’t belong. Mrs. Moto is also along for the ride as well. After all, she’s the best clue-finding cat in the business. And Scooter. . .well, let’s just say he has another hare-brained scheme in the works, one that involves legwarmers.

When we got to the main stage, there were hardly any chairs left. Wow, maybe Scooter had been right and marine products really were scintillating stuff. We snagged the last two seats, sitting next to Louise in the back row.

She was wearing a Trixie Tremblay inspired outfit. “Aren’t you hot in those legwarmers?” I asked. It was an unseasonably warm day for March and I was already regretting wearing jeans.

“Well, a little,” Louise admitted. “But, you can speed up your metabolism if you keep your ankles warm. It has something to do with the detoxification of your energy follicles. I don’t really understand how it all works, but science was never my strong suit.”

Wow, the science of legwarmers. And I thought I had heard everything.

I’ll keep you posted on when Poisoned by the Pier will be out. In the meantime, make sure to wear your legwarmers and keep your energy follicles detoxified.

 

Cozy Mystery Publishing

Cozy Mystery Cover Design: Interview with Mariah Sinclair

10 Reasons(20)

Today, I’m featuring an interview with book cover designer, Mariah Sinclair. If you’re a fan of cozy mysteries, chances are that you’ve read a book with a cover designed by Mariah.

Cover design is such a critical element when it comes to marketing and selling your books.  I’m always amazed at how cover designers, like Mariah, can take images, fonts, colors, and other design elements, sprinkle their magic on them, and transform them into pieces of artwork that draw potential readers in.

Mariah offers custom designs and pre-made covers. I’ve also seen some cozy cover makeovers she’s done recently. It’s been interesting to see how she’s taken the original covers and design concepts and transformed them into something that really captures the fun, quirky nature of the cozy mystery genre. When it comes time to makeover my own covers, I’ll definitely be touching base with Mariah.

You can find out more about Mariah and see her portfolio on her website, check out her pre-made covers at The Cover Vault, join her Facebook group, or connect with her on Pinterest and Instagram.

But before you check out all of those links above, have a read below and find out what Mariah has to say about designing book covers, penguins, and cookies. She’s got some fun answers!

Interview with Mariah

Mariah Sinclair Covers
Some cozy mystery book covers designed by Mariah Sinclair.

1 – What inspired you to become a book cover designer?

Desperation? LOL.

I was a graphic designer/art director for ad agencies and magazines during the 1990s and early aughts, but took a 10+ year hiatus from design. A few years ago, I was earning my income by being a voice over artist. (Listen to an example of my voice over work here.)

Relocating from New Orleans to the Arizona desert dried out my voice  so I couldn’t do that type of work. I had to come up with another income—and quick. I hadn’t truly designed in a decade, but started playing around with digital art on deviant art. Stock sites (not as prevalent when I was a designer long ago), made designing so much easier!

I spent 6 months designing book covers on 99Designs to test the waters. While I DO NOT recommend contest sites for authors, it gave me a way to test my abilities, and research the market. When I learned over 3000 new titles are published on amazon daily, I decided it was a healthy market to jump into (and doesn’t require a sexy voice!)

2 – What’s your favorite thing about cozy mysteries? 

The titles. I didn’t know cozies existed before I started designing book covers. The word play of the quirky, punny titles drew me in and I *had*  to design those covers. Without examples of cozies in my portfolio, I couldn’t attract any custom cozy work. I started creating cozy premades which meant I could add my own quirky titles! Cozies have become a sprinkling of joy in my business and I’m so thankful I discovered them.

3 – What do you like the most about being a book cover designer? What do you like the least?

I love that I am helping individual creatives achieve their dreams of publishing (and hopefully earning a full time income.) It’s wonderful helping indie authors reach success, instead of marketing corporate widgets. I also get to work from my couch with my cats sitting on my lap!

The hardest part is when an author requests changes that break graphic design rules. Many people don’t realize how many *rules* are involved with design— including many book cover designers because they were self-taught. As a traditionally trained designer, I know the rules. Sometimes an author request will require breaking design tenets which forces me to choose between customer service and good design. Customer service wins, but it’s sad when good design is sacrificed in the process. 

4 – What does a typical day look like for you?

I naturally wake up between 5:30-6:00. I’m thankful that I don’t have to wake-up with an alarm. I grab some coffee and settle into my spot on the couch to begin working. Facebook and some word games while I’m waiting for the caffeine to kick in. Then email and admin and then I start designing.

Lately I’ve been doing design sprints with fellow designer Sylvia Frost of The Book Brander. We work for fifty minutes and share our progress. It’s been so helpful when the procrastination/burn-out bug hits. I work in silence in the morning, but around 2pm, I take a tv break while I eat lunch. Then a hot bath. Sometimes I go back  to work in the evening depending on my work load. I’m in bed around 9-10pm every night. It’s a pretty boring life, but should get more exciting in the coming months, as I’m making some huge life changes. 

5 – What advice do you have for cozy mystery authors when it comes to cover design? 

Your cover doesn’t require a lot of tiny details. It’s better to catch the eye with a specific focal point and engaging title. In my opinion, the title is really important to cozies, more so than other genres, so show it off! Contrast creates readability. If you want a readable title, make sure the image behind the words is simple and even toned (I use the “sky” as the title background most often) and use a contrasting color/value for the title. 

6 – What’s your favorite cookie? If you don’t like cookies, what’s wrong with you? Oops, sorry, scratch that. My follow-up question was meant to be far more polite – “Why don’t you like cookies?”

Asking for my favorite cookie is like asking about my favorite color— I love them all!— but a rich buttery shortbread with a dollop of homemade lemon curd is sublime. 

7 – A penguin walks through your front door wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why did he come visit you?

Ha! My first thought was the penguin saying “Slide” (fans of Fight Club will understand that reference as seen on this YouTube clip).

 In the interest of not using a pop culture reference, my penguin would say, “Hey love, it’s time to travel the world.” 

8 – What else would you like us to know about you? 

I’m truly thankful for this opportunity to work with other creatives achieving our dreams. Being a part of the author community as been life-changing for me and I will be forever grateful. 

Thanks so much for being on the blog, Mariah! It was really interesting to find out that cover designers do sprints, just like we writers do. And shortbread is always a good cookie choice!

Cozy Mystery Publishing, Writing

2018 in Review | Launching a Cozy Mystery Series

uality(1)

2018 was a big year on the writing and publishing front for me. I launched my first cozy mystery series—The Mollie McGhie Sailing Mysteries—in June with the publication of my debut novel, Murder at the Marina. In November, I published the second book in the series, Bodies in the Boatyard. And, I made good progress on the third book, Poisoned by the Pier.

Now that the year has drawn to a close, I thought it would be interesting to share what my first year as a published author looked like in numbers. But, before we dive into that, if you haven’t already done so, you might want to check out this post where I talked about the launch of Murder at the Marina in numbers.

Please be aware that I won’t be sharing the number of sales I made over the course of the year. Yes, I know, that’s the number some of you are quite interested in and I’m sorry to disappoint, but I just don’t feel comfortable disclosing that. However, there are lots of other numbers you may find fascinating below.

{Note: Not all percentages add up to 100% and some items show up as 0% in the charts below due to rounding.}

Sales Peaks & Troughs

The chart below shows the peaks and troughs of my sales over the year. No surprise that I sold the greatest amount of books when I launched the first book in my series in June, followed by the second book in November.

After my initial release, sales slowed down quite a bit. I started to experiment with ads (more about that below) which led to a slight increase in sales. The release of my second book led to a spike in sales, but nowhere near the level of my debut book. That’s not all that surprising due to the fact that I didn’t do nearly as much marketing with the second book as I did with the first. I also assume that some people who bought the first book did so because they wanted to support me and not because they’re cozy mystery fans, then found that it really wasn’t their cup of tea and didn’t go on to buy the second.

I did have relatively strong sales during December which I think can be partially attributed to holiday gift buying (sales of large print books increased quite a bit during that period).

The other thing to note is that the majority of my sales are for my first book, Murder at the Marina, which isn’t really a surprise as it’s been out longer and I direct more advertising and promotional efforts toward it.

Sometimes people often focus on how many books they sold rather than how much they earned, which I think is an important distinction. Selling a lot of books at 99 cents may be less profitable than selling fewer books priced at $3.99. For example, although I sold more books in November than I did in December, my earnings were lower in November because I discounted Murder at the Marina as part of a promo.

2018 Review - Units Sales by Month Chart

Sales by Format

While the majority of my sales are in ebook format (67%), paperback and large print editions make up a substantial chunk of sales (21% of my sales are large print and 12% are paperback). I’m selling far more print books now than I did when I first launched Murder at the Marina due in a large part to Amazon ads. I’ve found that it’s definitely worth the extra time and expense involved in formatting and publishing print books and it’s something I’ll continue to do.

I use Amazon and Ingram Spark to distribute large print and paperback books, however the majority of print books that I sell is via Amazon.

2018 Review - Sales by Format Chart

Ebook Sales by Retailer

Because I decided to go wide rather than be exclusive to Amazon, I was quite interested in seeing what proportion of sales came from non-Amazon retailers over the year. While the bulk of sales were on Amazon (86%), I had some sales on Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Google Play, and Overdrive. I’d like to continue to see this percentage grow and will be focusing more efforts on advertising and promotions targeting non-Amazon retailers.

2018 Review - Ebook Sales by Retailer Chart

Ebook Sales by Geographic Region

It’s no surprise that I sell most of my ebooks in the States (81%), but it’s nice to see sales in other countries as well. It’s pretty cool to know that people are buying my books in places like Japan and Brazil.

2018 Review - Ebook Sales by Country Chart

Experimenting with Ads & Promos

As mentioned above, I started experimenting with advertising in September and October, which accounts for the gradual increase in sales during those months. During that time, I focused on Amazon Marketing Services sponsored ads (AMS), primarily for my large print edition of Murder at the Marina. I set pretty low daily budgets and bid levels and was pleasantly surprised to find that they worked pretty effectively. I think this is in part due to the fact that not many cozy mystery authors advertise large print editions so there isn’t a lot of competition for keywords such as “large print” and “large print mysteries.”

I also played around with a few ads for the ebook and paperback editions, but didn’t have much success with them. For ebooks and paperbacks, I can’t bid high enough for Amazon ads to be cost effective (people with several books in a series can bid higher on ads for the first book in their series and recoup their costs through read-through to subsequent books).

In December, I ramped up my spending on AMS ads for the large print editions of both Murder at the Marina and Bodies in the Boatyard in the hopes of driving some holiday-related sales. That strategy seemed to have worked. It is a bit scary to see the advertising costs escalate, so I have to keep reminding myself that I’ve crunched the numbers and that the ads are more than paying for themselves.

I also started experimenting with BookBub ads for the ebook edition of Murder at the Marina, primarily on non-Amazon retailers. (Note: These are the CPC ads, not the feature deals). It’s still early days, but so far they seem to be driving a few additional sales. Nothing to write home about though.

Kobo promotions was the other area that I dabbled in. If you publish directly with Kobo, they have a handy tab on the author dashboard where you can sign up for promotional opportunities. During 2018, I participated in four promos. I didn’t see a huge amount of sales as result, but it was more sales than I would have made on Kobo otherwise.

How did 2018 go for you? What are you looking forward to in 2019?

Are you interested in learning more about my cozy mystery publishing journey? If so, check out these posts:

Cover Design | Draft #743 | Beta Readers | Traditional vs. Self-Publishing | Editing | Going Wide or Amazon Exclusive | Ebooks, Print, or Both | Book Formatting| Distribution Channels | Book Release in Numbers | Blog Tours | ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) | Large Print Books

Murder at the Marina Cover 1000 x 1400

Murder at the Marina is available at Amazon (US) |Amazon (CA) | Amazon (UK) | Amazon (AU) | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Apple iBooks | Google Play | Book Depository | Books-A-Million | Indigo

Ask you library to order a copy—here’s the info you need.

 

Bodies in the Boatyard Cover 1000 x 1400 (2)

Bodies in the Boatyard is available at Amazon (US) | Amazon (CA) | Amazon (UK) | Amazon (AU) | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Apple iBooks | Google Play | Book Depository | Books-A-Million | Indigo

Ask your library to order a copy—here’s the info you need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cozy Mystery Publishing, Writing

Large Print Books | Cozy Mystery Publishing Process

Large Print Cozy Mysteries

This post is part of my series on “Publishing a Cozy Mystery.” This series isn’t meant to tell you how you have to go about it and dictate what’s right or wrong. Instead, I’m sharing my personal journey from writing my initial draft to seeing my first book, Murder at the Marina, be released. I’ll talk about the good, bad, and the ugly. And trust me, there was plenty of ugly along the way.

Last time I talked with you about ARCs (advance reader copies). Today, I’m going to tell you about my experiences publishing large print editions of my cozy mysteries.

What is a large print edition?

This seems like a simple question, but when I did some research on large print books I found varying answers.

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn uses 16-point font for her large print editions which is consistent with Amazon’s criteria and the Royal National Institute for Blind People. I’ve heard other people say that 14-point font is considered large print. However, both the American Council for the Blind and the American Federation for the Blind suggest a minimum of 18-point font. And what some organizations and readers consider to be “large print” is what others consider to be “giant print.”

Font size isn’t the only consideration—line spacing (increasing the space between lines can improve readability) and type of font (sans serif may be easier to read for some) are also important. As with font size, I found varying advice on the ideal line spacing and type of font for large print editions.

Formatting my large print editions

When I decided to create a large print edition of my first cozy mystery, Murder at the Marina, I found Joanna Penn’s tips to be really good starting point. I also went and looked at large print editions of novels at my local library to get a feel for what readers might expect in terms of font size and spacing.

First off, I decided to go with a larger trim size (6×9 inches for my large print edition vs. 5.5×8.5 inches for my paperback edition). Next, I took my paperback document and reformatted it using a larger font (17-point compared to 11-point in my paperback edition) and increased the line spacing. {You can read more about how I formatted my paperback and ebooks here.} Finally, I adapted my paperback book cover by increasing the trim size and adding a “Large Print” sticker to the front to differentiate it from the paperback version.

Then I uploaded my files and hit the publish button. Everything went smoothly after that. . .well, that is, until it didn’t.

Yikes! Negative feedback

A few weeks after I published the large print edition of Murder at the Marina, I received a negative comment on Amazon saying that it wasn’t comparable to Reader’s Digest large print editions. Remember what I said above about varying definitions of large print? Well, I ran smack-dab into that.

I felt absolutely horrible that this poor man bought something that didn’t live up to his expectations. I really wished I could have contacted him, but I had no way of doing so. I can only hope he was able to return it and get a refund.

Despite the negative feedback, it was a great learning experience. I updated my book descriptions to indicate what size font and type of font I was using in my large print editions. For the Amazon description, I also added in a section letting potential buyers know they can use the “Look Inside” feature to see if the font size would meet their needs

When it came time to format my second cozy mystery, Bodies in the Boatyard, I went with an even larger font (18-point this time) and used a sans-serif font (Arial vs. Gentium Book Basic in the paperback) to improve readability.

Large print editions make up a good chunk of my sales

When I first set out to make a large print edition, I thought I might sell a few copies and I liked the idea of having a version that would be easier for some folks to read. Little did I know that my large print books would end up being 17% of my sales. So, although it takes some effort to produce a large print version (not to mention the cost of an additional ISBN), it’s been quite worthwhile.

For another perspective on formatting and publishing large print cozy mysteries, check out this informative post over at The Ninja Librarian.

What are your thoughts and experiences with large print editions?

Other posts in my “Publishing a Cozy Mystery” series:

Cover Design | Draft #743 | Beta Readers | Traditional vs. Self-Publishing | Editing | Going Wide or Amazon Exclusive | Ebooks, Print, or Both | Book Formatting| Distribution Channels | Book Release in Numbers | Blog Tours | ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) | Large Print Books

Large Print Front Cover

The large print edition of Murder at the Marina is available at Amazon | Barnes & Noble| Book Depository | Books-A-Million | Indigo. If you would like to request that your local library order a copy of  Murder at the Marina, you can find the necessary information here.

 

Bodies in the Boatyard Large Print Front Cover

The large print edition of Bodies in the Boatyard is available at Amazon | Barnes & Noble. If you would like to request that your local library order a copy of Bodies in the Boatyard, you can find the necessary information here.

Cozy Mystery Publishing, Writing

Getting Advance Reviews |Cozy Mystery Publishing Process

Advance Reviews

This post is part of my series on “Publishing a Cozy Mystery.” This series isn’t meant to tell you how you have to go about it and dictate what’s right or wrong. Instead, I’m sharing my personal journey from writing my initial draft to seeing my first book, Murder at the Marina, be released. I’ll talk about the good, bad, and the ugly. And trust me, there was plenty of ugly along the way.

Last time I talked with you about blog tours. Today, I’m discussing ARCs (advance reader copy) and getting advance reviews for Murder at the Marina.

What is an ARC?

ARCs are free copies of a book (ebook and/or print) that is going to be published but hasn’t been released yet. While they are fully formatted, they’re not necessarily the final version of the book. Through the ARC process, readers and the publisher may find typos or other errors that need to be fixed before the release.

ARCs are used not only to get advance reviews, but also to build excitement about the release (some people give out ARCs as part of giveaways) and, in the case of traditional publishers, to advertise to libraries and bookstores.

How I used ARCs

For Murder at the Marina, I touched base with three main groups of potential readers: (1) cozy mystery book bloggers; (2) friends within the writing community; and (3) members of the boating community.

For the first group, I sent emails asking if they would be interested in reviewing Murder at the Marina and included a link to BookFunnel where they could download a copy of the ebook. Because this was my debut novel, I didn’t expect that many established book bloggers would be willing or able to review my cozy mystery, but I figured it was worth a shot. I was pleasantly surprised that a few agreed to help out.

For the second and third groups, I put out a call on my other blog (The Cynical Sailor) asking if anyone would be interested in helping out. I had a fantastic response which was so encouraging.

In the end, I ended up sending ARCs to over 60 people (including my beta readers) and about half of those people left reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. (A few people also left reviews on the other major eretailers.)

In my initial email to my advance readers, I explained why reviews are important—they make your book more visible to potential readers and provide social proof and credibility (i.e., people are going to be more willing to read your book if they see other people have read it and enjoyed it).

I also explained what’s involved in writing a review (they can be short, a sentence or two is fine) and suggested that they might want to include a disclaimer in their review such as: “I received an ARC of this book and voluntarily chose to leave an honest review.”

The other thing I mentioned was Amazon’s review restrictions—you need to have spent $50 in the last twelve months to be eligible to review.

When the book was released, I sent through a follow-up email letting them know that they could now go ahead and leave reviews.

After my book launch, I sent an email to everyone who had left a review to thank them and ask if they would be interested in being on my ARC team for the next book in the series (Bodies in the Boatyard). Most people said yes leaving me with around 30 people on the list (not including beta readers).

Using BookFunnel to distribute ARCs

I chose to use an online solution, BookFunnel, to distribute ARCs. While I could have just emailed files to my advance readers, BookFunnel takes the hassle out of everything by making it simple for users to download the file that best suits their device and providing support if they have any technical issues.

I signed up for the First Time Author plan which allows me to store five books and have up to 500 downloads a month. It costs $20 a year and is more than adequate for my needs. BookFunnel has other plans which allow for more than one pen name and more monthly downloads, as well as collect email addresses (useful for building your newsletter lists).

I also use BookFunnel to distribute draft manuscripts to my beta readers and final manuscripts to family, friends, giveaway winners etc.

What about reviews going forward?

Advance reviews are great, but you also want people to leave reviews once your book is published. The easiest way to do this is to ask your readers to help out. I add in a request for reviews in the Author’s Note & Acknowledgements section at the end of my book, as well as mention it on social media (Facebook and Twitter).

FB Review Post

Want to know more?

Bookworks discusses tools you can use to share your ARCs (including BookFunnel) with readers.

Check out Jenna Moreci’s video on how to get advance reviews (warning—she uses strong language at times).

The Author Learning Center has a good overview of ARCs and how they’re used.

Alex O’Connel discusses ARC dos and don’ts for self-publishers.

If you’re interested in distributing print ARCs, Ingram Spark has a useful article on how to create them.

Other posts in my “Publishing a Cozy Mystery” series:

Cover Design | Draft #743 | Beta Readers | Traditional vs. Self-Publishing | Editing | Going Wide or Amazon Exclusive | Ebooks, Print, or Both | Book Formatting| Distribution Channels | Book Release in Numbers | Blog Tours | ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) | Large Print Books

Murder at the Marina Banner - Available Now

A dilapidated sailboat for your anniversary—not very romantic. A dead body on board—even worse.

If you’d like to pick up your own copy (ebook, paperback, and large print), you can do so at your favorite online retailer:

Amazon (US) | Amazon (CA) | Amazon (UK) | Amazon (AU) | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Apple iBooks | Google Play | Book Depository | Books-A-Million

You can also add Murder at the Marina to your to-read list on Goodreads and subscribe to my newsletter here.