cozy mystery, Cozy Mystery Publishing, IWSG, Mollie McGhie Cozy Sailing Mysteries, Romantic Comedy, Smitten with Travel, Writing

2020 in Review: Writing and Publishing Cozy Mysteries & Romantic Comedies | 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:

Everyone has a favorite genre(s) to write. But what about your reading preferences? Do you read widely on only within the genre(s) you create stories for? What motivates your reading choices?

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. Instead of answering this month’s questions, I have my annual year in review post for you below.

It’s that time of year, when I post my annual review of my writing and publishing journey. 2020 was a doozy of a year, but somehow I managed to keep focused on my writing. I think in some ways it helped me to escape to some degree from all that was going on in the world.

Before we dive in . . .

For those of you who are new here, let me give you a little bit of background about me. I published my first book in June 2018, the first in my Mollie McGhie cozy mystery series featuring a reluctant sailor turned amateur sleuth. This series is based in part on my own adventures (and misadventures) living and sailing on boats in New Zealand, the States, and the Bahamas. {You can find out more about my background HERE.}

I published book #2 in that series toward the end of 2018. The following year, I released three more books in the same series (two full-length novels and one prequel novella), along with a box set. From the outset, I’ve been wide, meaning that I distribute my books on all retailers (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books, Google Play etc.).

{For more info on my writing and publishing journey check out my 2018 review post and my 2019 review post.}

Stuff that got done in 2020 and plans for 2021

Okay, now that we have the background out of the way, let’s talk about what I accomplished in 2020. In my Mollie McGhie series, I published book #5 – Shooting by the Sea – and a short story – Buried by the Beach.

When I originally planned out my production schedule for 2020, I had a goal to publish two more books in my Mollie McGhie series. But . . . um . . . well . . . I didn’t.

Things don’t always go as planned, especially not during the year we all had. So instead of publishing more cozy mysteries, I decided to launch a sweet romantic comedy series. The Smitten with Travel series features three things I love – travel, food, and happily-ever-afters. I released the first two books – Smitten with Ravioli (set in Italy) and Smitten with Croissants (set in France) during 2020.

Romcoms are so much fun to write! And the genre is a good fit for my goofy sense of humor, so you should expect to see the third book in the series (Smitten with Strudel – set in Germany) come out in 2021, and possibly the fourth book too (Smitten with Baklava – set in Greece). For all those Mollie McGhie fans out there, don’t worry, I’m currently writing book #6 in the series – Overboard on the Ocean – and it will definitely be released later this year.

Okay, enough about that . . . let’s see some charts!

Who here likes numbers?

Don’t worry, we’re not talking about square roots or long division. Trust me, math is not my strong suit. But I do like keeping track of how many books I sell and how much I make. And I find making spreadsheets to be a soothing activity. Yes, I know, totally weird. But the upside for you, dear blog reader, is that I’m able to produce some nifty, colorful charts which you may find interesting.

All right, time for a little disclaimer before we jump in. I’m not going to share actual numbers with you. I know some people are comfortable sharing how many books they’ve sold and how much money they’ve made, but that’s not me. However, I promise there is still some interesting info in the charts below.

Some boring financial terms

The charts you’re going to see below show the peaks and troughs of my sales and revenue.

Note that I used the term revenue, not income. These are pretty boring financial terms, but the distinction is important.

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, blogs etc. 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 unsuccessfully with Facebook and Bookbub ads)
  • licenses for images used in marketing and book covers (primarily 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)
  • 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)

Come on already . . . let’s see a chart!

Are you still with me? Ready for a chart? Here we go – this one shows how many units I sold (the blue bars) and how much income I made (the red bars) each month. I like presenting it this way 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 big blue spike in March? I dropped the price of my first in series cozy mystery (Murder at the Marina) to 99c / 99p and did a bunch of promos including an international BookBub Featured Deal, Fussy Librarian, Book Adrenaline, Book Sends, Bargain Booksy, and Ereader News Today. I also organized some newsletter swaps.

The result was that I sold a lot of books. But that doesn’t mean I made a lot of money. When you sell a book for 99c / 99p, you only make pennies after the retailers take their cut. But that’s not why I do promos. I do them to gain visibility and attract new readers who hopefully love my writing so much that they go on to buy other full-priced books in the series.

{By the way, “lot” is a relative term. Everyone has their own sales baseline. A lot of sales for one person might be a drop in the bucket for someone else. Comparing yourself to other authors can be a dangerous path to follow. Possibly even the path to despair and too much chocolate.}


I’ve always done relatively well in terms of sales of my large print editions, but during April and May, they exploded (my AMS ad spend also exploded which was very scary at first). When the lockdowns started happening, people were looking for books to read. Cozy mysteries are fun and lighthearted, a good way to escape for a time from the stress of the pandemic. I suspect many other cozy mystery authors saw an uptick in their paperback and large print sales during this period.

My large print sales leveled out during the remainder of the year, although I did see a slight increase in December. No surprise there as books make good gifts for the holidays.

Author Central BookScan Chart – shows spike in paperback sales in the US


I released book #1 in my Smitten with Travel sweet romantic comedy series in May. I didn’t set the world on fire with this release, but I didn’t expect to either. My strategy is to release three books in a series before I do any serious marketing. To me, it doesn’t make sense to do a price drop, book a bunch of promos, spend a lot on advertising etc., if there aren’t any other books in the series for readers to buy.

{Wondering what I mean by “sweet”? I use it to indicate that my romcoms are on the “clean and wholesome” side of things. As with my cozy mysteries, there aren’t any sex scenes or naughty language in my romcoms.}


I joined in with a group of other authors to put together a collection of cozy mystery short stories. My contribution was Buried by the Beach, a standalone story which takes place between the events of book #3 and book #4 in my Mollie McGhie series. We published the anthology in June, and I thought it was a great success both in terms of attracting new readers to my series and making connections with an awesome group of authors who were a delight to work with.

Our stories were exclusive to the anthology until the end of 2020. I’ve since separately published an expanded version of Buried by the Beach with contains an epilogue and bonus material. The original version is still available in the anthology which the group will continue to collectively promote.


August saw the release of book #5 in my Mollie McGhie series – Shooting by the Sea. I had a lot of fun writing this one, especially around the bits about Scooter’s silly celebrity crush on a game show host and Mrs. Moto learning to play the ukulele. (If you’re new to the Mollie McGhie series, Scooter is Mollie’s hubby and Mrs. Moto is their adorable Japanese bobtail cat.)


I somehow managed to squeeze out book #2 in my Smitten with Travel series, publishing the ebook edition of Smitten with Croissants at the end of December. This was a blast to work on because I got to include all sorts of geeky references to Star Wars. I may just be a bit of a Star Wars geek myself.

Psst . . . between you and me, how much did you make?

Sorry, no can do. But, I will tell you this. I actually made money in 2020!!!

There’s a reason for all those exclamation points. That’s because it was the first time in my publishing career that I was in the black. Yep, that’s right, in my first two years of being a published author, I lost money. My expenses were greater than my income.

I know some people turn a profit during their first year, but not me. However, I did stick with it, realizing that it’s a long game. And I’m fortunate enough to have had the money to invest in my books during those first couple of years.

The chart below illustrates the progress I’ve made over the past three years. Notice how 2020 is the first time the yellow income bar is above the zero mark? What had been a very expensive hobby is now making me a little bit of money and I’m now treating this whole author thing more like a business.

Let’s talk formats

As I mentioned earlier, a significant chunk of my sales are paperback and large print books. During 2019, the majority of my sales were ebooks (73%) compared to 21% large print and 5% paperback books.

During 2020, that ratio changed drastically with the majority of my sales being large print (54%) and paperback books (5%). Ebooks only made up 41% of my sales. My guess is that this was a one-off, related to the pandemic lockdowns, and ebook sales will once again surpass my large print and paperback sales.

By the way, I use both Amazon KDP and Ingram Spark print-on-demand services for my large print and paperbacks. I definitely sell most of my large print and paperback books through Amazon than on other retailers, but I have no idea of the exact breakdown. That’s because Ingram Spark doesn’t breakdown sales by retailers. Amazon also outsources printing to Ingram Spark at times, meaning that some sales that show up on my Ingram Spark reports can be attributed to Amazon. But how many that is . . . well, I don’t have a clue.

Ebook sales and revenue by retailer – Wide for the Win!

Let’s break down my ebook sales and revenue by retailer, shall we? No surprise that Amazon has the largest share, but I continued to actively try to grow my sales on other retailers during the past year. I’m all about the “Wide for the Win” mindset – i.e., not wanting to have all my eggs in the old Amazon basket. And it’s worked to some degree – 57% of the ebooks I sold in 2019 were on Amazon, compared to 51% in 2020.

Barnes & Noble continued to be my next strongest retailer (30% of ebooks sold, which is on par with 2019). I’ve been fortunate enough to be accepted into some of their promos which have really boosted visibility and sales on their storefront.

Kobo came in number three accounting for 11% of my ebook sales (up from 8% in 2019). Kobo also has great promo opportunities, especially when it comes to box sets and their romance BOGO deals.

Apple Books trailed behind the other major retailers, but I saw a massive increase in their share of ebook sales, up from 3% in 2019 to 8% in 2020. No idea why, to be honest.

I struggle to make any sales on Google Play except when I’m doing a first in series price drop promo like I did in March. And even then, sell-through to other books in the series is pathetic. Maybe one day I’ll gain traction there. Maybe one day I’ll give up eating chocolate and lose weight. Miracles can happen, right?

There was a new entry on the retailer scene for me in 2020 – Eden Books. This is a small, romance-only storefront which I’m delighted to support. I’m not selling tons of books there, but it’s always good to expand my reach to potential readers.

Before we move on, take a look at the units sold (blue bars) versus the revenue (red bars). See how on Amazon the revenue bar is higher than the units sold bar? When it comes to Barnes & Noble, the situation is reversed. Interesting, huh? Just another reminder not to always focus on how many books you sell on each retailer, but rather on how much money you make.

{If you’re interested in wide distribution, you might want to check out the super informative, supportive, and helpful Wide for the Win Facebook group.}

{How about another parenthetical note? I distribute directly to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Google Play, and I use Draft2Digital to reach Apple Books and other smaller retailers.}

A brief note about sell-through

If you write series, then you definitely want to track your sell-through. Some people call it read-through, others say buy-through. It all means the same thing – what percentage of people who read / buy the first book in your series go on to read / buy subsequent books in the series.

It’s an important metric. If you have a low sell-through, do you want to keep investing your time and money in other books in the series? Are you targeting the right audience? Do you need to make tweaks to your cover, blurb, or even the content? Should you eat more chocolate? These are all important questions, especially the chocolate one.

I only tracked sell-through for my Mollie McGhie series in 2020. I’m happy enough with it, especially considering this series probably isn’t written to market as much as other cozy mystery series are. Cozy mysteries featuring a sailing hook and an amateur sleuth who like investigating UFOs in her spare time? Not your typical draw for the cozy reader crowd. Writing more to market is something I’ll be paying more attention to when I launch my next series.

Anyhoo, approximately 9% of readers went on to buy book #2 in the series. That might seem low, but it reflects the fact that I did a price-drop promo on book #1. Lots of people will pick up a book if it’s only 99c, but then either not read it (ask me how many unread books I have on my ereader) or find that it’s not their cup of tea. However, if folks go on to read book#2, then around 85-90% of them will buy the subsequent books in the series. I can live with that.

Don’t forget about libraries and subscription sales

I used to lump in my library and subscription sales in with my other ebook sales, but I’ve started to break them out into separate categories. Why? Well, because they’re kind of different beasts, wouldn’t you say?

During 2020, I didn’t sell tons in either of these categories. At least, not enough to be bothered to make a separate chart for them. But I didn’t want to lose sight of the importance of these distribution channels, so I’m gonna tell you all about them. Now might be the time to grab a Snickers bar. The peanuts will give you the stamina you’ll need to keep reading.

One of the great things about being wide is that you can distribute ebooks to libraries. If you’re exclusive to Amazon (i.e., enrolled in KDP Select, aka Kindle Unlimited), then you’re out of luck when it comes to libraries.

No can do. I like libraries. Actually, scratch that. I LOVE libraries. My whole family loves libraries. I was practically raised in libraries, and my sister even works in a library. So, the thought of not selling my ebooks to libraries was inconceivable. I use both Kobo and Draft2Digital to reach libraries via Overdrive, Hoopla, and Biblioteca.

{Note: This only applies to ebooks. You can be exclusive to Amazon for your ebooks, but still distribute your paperbacks / large print books to libraries.}

Remember how I mentioned Kindle Unlimited a moment ago? Well, it’s not the only ebook subscription service in town. There are other services which are non-exclusive including Kobo Plus and Scribd. I have my books enrolled in both of them via Kobo and Draft2Digital.

Okay, I think that wraps it up. Anything else you want to know? What are you looking forward to in 2021? What’s your favorite candy bar?

Cozy Mystery Publishing, IWSG, Mollie McGhie Cozy Sailing Mysteries

Bookbub Featured Deal Update & Arranging a Dream by JQ Rose | 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:

Blogging is often more than just sharing stories. It’s often the start of special friendships and relationships. Have you made any friends through the blogosphere?

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, find out about JQ Rose’s wonderful memoir – Arranging a Dream – and get an update on how my recent BookBub Featured Deal went.

Blogging Friendships

When I saw this month’s question, I smiled. That’s because the answer is really simple . . . yes, indeedy, I sure have made friends through blogging. Some of them I’ve even met in real life (like fellow IWSG member Liesbet at Roaming About). It’s such a joy to be able to connect with people with whom you share common interest. And in these pandemic days we’re living through, online connections become even more powerful.

One of my blogging friends is the delightful JQ Rose who I met through IWSG several years ago. I was thrilled when she asked me to read an advance copy of her lovely book, Arranging a Dream. I just adored this book. It’s a feel-good memoir that makes you realize that ordinary people can indeed arrange their own dreams, and, as a result, lead the most extraordinary and rewarding lives. Have a read below to find out more about it. You can also see my review over on Goodreads.

About Arranging a Dream

In 1975, budding entrepreneurs Ted and Janet purchase a floral shop and greenhouses where they plan to grow their dream. Leaving friends and family behind in Illinois and losing the security of two paychecks, they transplant themselves, their one-year-old daughter, and all their belongings to Fremont, Michigan, where they know no one. 

Will the retiring business owners nurture Ted and Janet as they struggle to develop a blooming business, or will they desert the inexperienced young couple to wither and die in their new environment?

Most of all, can Ted and Janet grow together as they cultivate a loving marriage, juggle parenting with work, and root a thriving business?

Follow this couple’s inspiring story, filled with the joy and triumphs and the obstacles and failures experienced as they travel along the turbulent path of turning dreams into reality.

Grab your copy of Arranging a Dream at: Amazon | Kobo | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

About JQ Rose

Whether the story is fiction or non-fiction, J.Q. Rose is “focused on story.”  She offers readers chills, giggles and quirky characters woven within the pages of her mystery novels. Her published mysteries are Deadly Undertaking, Terror on Sunshine Boulevard and Dangerous Sanctuary released by Books We Love Publishing. Using her storytelling skills, she provides entertainment and information with articles featured in books, magazines, newspapers, and online magazines. 

JQ taught elementary school for several years and never lost the love for teaching passed down from her teacher grandmother and mother. She satisfies that aspect of her character by presenting workshops on Writing Your Life Story.

Based on the lessons taught in her workshops, JQ created a book, Your Words, Your Life Story: a Journal for Sharing Memories to help life storytellers write, publish and market their stories. She decided to take her advice and pen her memoir, Arranging a Dream: A Memoir. 

If you would like to write or record your life story/memoir, check out the Facebook Group, Telling Your Life Story and Memoirs Circle for encouragement and ways to spark memories. Click HERE to join.

Blogging, photography, Pegs and Jokers board games and travel are the things that keep JQ out of trouble. She and her husband spend winters in Florida and summers up north with their two daughters, two sons-in-law,  four grandsons, one granddaughter, two grand dogs, four grand cats, and one great-grand bearded dragon.

Connect with JQ at: Blog | Facebook | Amazon | Goodreads | Pinterest | BooksWeLove

BookBub Featured Deal Update

For those of you who popped by here last month for my IWSG post, you’ll know that I had a BookBub Featured Deal scheduled for mid-January. I was a bundle of nerves wondering if I would make back my investment. The good news is that I did – phew!

My BookBub was for Murder at the Marina, the first in my cozy mystery series. I dropped the price to 99c, as well as lowered the price on the second book in the series (Bodies in the Boatyard) to $2.99. I sold 2100+ copies of Murder at the Marina during a six-day period (breakdown by retailer in the chart below), got reasonable sell-through to other books in the series, and a number of people have also pre-ordered book #6 in the series (Overboard on the Ocean). Overall, I would say that it was a success.

If you haven’t read Murder at the Marina yet, it’s still on sale. Grab a copy at your favorite retailer below.

Grab your copy of this hilarious cozy mystery at:

Amazon (US)
Amazon (CA)
Amazon (UK)
Amazon (AU)
Barnes & Noble
Apple Books
Google Play

Have you read any good books lately? Made any friends through blogging?

Cozy Mystery Publishing, IWSG, Mollie McGhie Cozy Sailing Mysteries, Romantic Comedy, Smitten with Travel, Writing

BookBub Featured Deals, Writing Update & Camping in the Desert | 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:

Being a writer, when you’re reading someone else’s work, what stops you from finishing a book / throws you out of the story / frustrates you most about other people’s books?

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. Instead of answering the question, I’m chatting about the terror that overcomes you when you pay for a BookBub Featured Deal, giving a writing update, and sharing the best part about camping in the desert.

Scoring a BookBub Featured Deal – Eek!

Last month, kind of on a lark, I applied for a BookBub Featured Deal for Murder at the Marina, the first book in my Mollie McGhie cozy mystery series.

While I had been accepted for an international BookBub Featured Deal last year, I knew that getting a US one was competitive. People get turned down all the time. That’s what I was expecting – a big fat “NO!” Instead, I got a “Congratulations. You’re booked for mid-January. Now, give us lots of money.”

{By the way, if you’re not familiar with BookBub it helps folks discover new things to read through daily emails which feature free and discounted books. Authors pay to have their book included as a Featured Deal. And it’s not cheap.}

The thing about being an author, like with any other business, is that you have to invest money to make money. Things like editors, cover artists, website hosting, promotions, advertising etc. add up. And you don’t often see a return on your investment for a while. Sometimes, a long while.

So when I opened up the BookBub invoice to pay for it, my stomach churned. This is a lot of money with no guarantee that you’ll earn it back, the scaredy-cat part of my brain said. The more gung-ho part of my brain said, “Go for it. Chances are good you’ll make it back and then some!”

I went for it. The invoice was paid. My BookBub Featured Deal is booked. My fingers are crossed.

Writing Update

When I haven’t been hyperventilating about shelling out money to Bookbub, I’ve been hard at work launching the second book in my romantic comedy series. Smitten with Croissants came out at the end of December and I couldn’t be more excited about the reviews that have come in so far. Sure, you try to tell yourself that it doesn’t matter what people think about your books and that there will always be people who don’t like your writing, but until you get a few positive reviews under your belt, the worries and insecurities bubble away at the back of your mind. So, many, many thanks to those folks who have left reviews! They’ve left a huge smile on my face.

By the way, if you enjoy sweet romantic comedies and you’re interested in becoming part of my review team, drop me an email at

Camping in the Desert

My hubby and I are currently camping in the desert with two other couples who also former sailors and now live full-time in their rigs. We’ve all formed a little, nomadic COVID bubble and had a lot of fun celebrating the holidays together. And, you know what one of the best parts of it all is? The fact that one of the people we’re camping with is none other than fellow IWSG member and author of the fabulous memoir PlungeLiesbet Collaert of Roaming About! It’s been wonderful to have someone with whom I can talk about writing-related stuff in person. And it doesn’t hurt that she and her husband make the best-tasting margaritas I’ve ever had either. LOL!

Do you subscribe to newsletters like Bookbub? Read any books lately? Have you ever been camping in the desert?

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.


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!