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.

Cozy Mystery Publishing, Writing

Blog Tours | Cozy Mystery Publishing Process

Blog Tours

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 my book release in numbers. Today, I’m sharing how I went about organizing a DIY blog tour to get the word out about the release of Murder at the Marina.

What exactly is a blog tour?

A blog tour is pretty much what it says on the tin—a trip around multiple sites during a set period of time to promote your release. Kind of like a virtual book tour, but do much less stressful for introverts like me as you interact with folks through blog posts and comments, rather than face-to-face.

I’ve hosted a number of people’s blog tours over on my other blog, The Cynical Sailor, so I thought it might be a fun thing to do for my own release.

It seemed like a pretty straightforward thing to organize—ask people to participate, set up a schedule, prepare blog posts and release materials, and visit all of the participants during the tour. I’m a big fan of project planning and spreadsheets, so I dove right in.

But while it is a straightforward process, there are a lot of logistics to manage. And it can get time-consuming. Which is why some people outsource the whole thing.

Should you outsource or take a DIY approach?

I don’t actually know what the right answer to the question above might be for you. But I can tell you why I chose to do it myself. There are three reasons:

(1) Cost – Independently publishing a book is expensive. Where I could do things myself and save money, I did, like managing my own blog tour.

(2) Capability – I knew I had the skills needed to manage a blog tour.

(3) Time – If you’re short on time and have the money, this might be an activity to consider outsourcing. It took many hours to manage the process. Perhaps time that could have been invested more wisely in sorting out the cause of the leak on my sailboat, making chocolate chip cookies, or working on the next book in my series. But I had the time and didn’t want to spend the money, so DIY it was.

The downside of taking a DIY approach

My blog tour was fantastic with wonderful participants, but there was one major downside to doing it myself, namely not having many cozy reader blogger connections.

I have two primary audiences for my cozy mystery series: (1) boaters who might enjoy light-hearted mysteries with a nautical setting and (2) die-hard cozy mystery readers. While a number of my blog tour participants were fellow boaters, I didn’t manage to include many cozy mystery bloggers.

If I do a blog tour again in the future, and have the funds for it, I might consider outsourcing to someone like Lori at Great Escapes with Dollycas who has an extensive list of cozy mystery bloggers that she works with.

In some ways, going DIY for my first cozy release was realistic. Many cozy mystery readers aren’t likely to pick up the first book in a new series from an indie author who doesn’t have a proven track record. They’re more likely to want to wait until they see that you’ve published a few books already before they invest their time in your series. I figure I’ll go harder after the cozy reader audience once I’ve published the third book in my series.

{Note: Authors in Kindle Unlimited have an advantage in this area as readers can take a chance on a new author/series as they don’t have to buy the book, but can read it as part of their subscription. This doesn’t work for me as I’m wide, not exclusive – read more about that here.}

The nitty-gritty of organizing my blog tour

The first step in organizing my blog tour was to put out a call for participants on my other blog as part of the monthly Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) blog hop in March (my book released on June 21st). I set up a Google Docs sign-up form and thought I would be doing well if I got somewhere between five and seven people to raise their hands. Over twenty people volunteered. Twenty plus. A whole lot of people. I was stunned. This wasn’t any old blog tour anymore, this had turned into a blog fiesta!

These wonderful folks were a mix of sailing bloggers, fellow authors I had met through the IWSG, and blogging buddies. I also reached out to some cozy mystery bloggers, some of whom were kind enough to take a chance on a new author.

I offered participants the choice between: (1) writing their own blog post to tie in with the release and the start of summer in the northern hemisphere; (2) having me write a short boating-related post to tie in with the book; or (3) something else. Most people went with option #2.

Now, remember I thought I might be lucky to get seven participants. Writing custom blog posts seemed doable for that amount of people. I ended up having to write a lot more than I anticipated. Yikes, but in a really good way cause it meant so many people wanted to help out with my blog tour.

Did I mention that I love spreadsheets? And that’s a good thing because having a way to track all of the participants, what date they were scheduled for, their name and email address, what kind of post they wanted etc. was essential. I also made a calendar so that I could visually see where people were scheduled and make sure to spread participants out during the course of the blog tour (it ran from June 21st-July 3rd).

Once everyone was scheduled and sorted, I pulled together the custom blog posts along with a book release “package” (cover image, other promo images, tagline/blurb, buy links, author bio, social media links etc.). I then emailed everyone with what they would need and followed-up closer to their scheduled blog tour stop.

Before the blog tour kicked off, I did a post letting everyone know about the “blog fiesta” with dates and names of everyone participating. I also included a little bit of personal info about each participant, such as how I know them, what they blog about etc. I also encouraged my blog followers to go visit their sites. The way I see it, blog tours are a two-way street. The participants are hosting you and sharing your book release with their followers, but you can also drive traffic to participants’ sites and they’ll hopefully end up with new followers as well. {You can see my blog tour fiesta kick-off post here.}

During the blog tour, I visited each participant and responded to comments on their sites. It was so much fun to read the kind and encouraging comments that everyone left.

And perhaps the most important step of all was thanking the blog tour participants after the fiesta was over. They were all truly awesome! I still can’t believe how generous people were with their time and energy hosting me on their blogs.

So was it worth it?

I was talking with a friend the other day and she asked me if I thought it had been successful. My immediate answer was yes, followed by a “but.” That “but” has to do with how you measure the success of something like this.

It would be nice if there was some magic calculating device that could tell me if I sold more books as a result of it, but there isn’t. {Some people use Amazon affiliate links to track sales as a result of promos. I don’t.} Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. I’ll never know.

Selling books is only one success criteria. Raising awareness of your book release and your author brand with your target audience is also important. I think the blog tour was helpful in regards to the boating community, but less so in terms of cozy mystery readers (which I knew would be the case). There’s probably also some knock-on effect in terms of SEO with Murder at the Marina coming up in search results and linking back to blog tour participants’ sites.

However, regardless of generating sales or reaching my target audience, I think it was a huge success for three reasons: (1) it underscored how wonderfully generous and supportive the the blogging community is; (2) in the end, I did get the word out about my book release; and (3) it was a lot of fun!

Want to know more?

If you’re thinking about organizing a cozy mystery blog tour, here are a few sites to check out. Lori at Great Escapes with Dollycas organizes blog tours. Marie at A Cozy Book Experience organizes book release Facebook parties, among other things. Dru’s Book Musings features upcoming releases, character interviews, and day in the life posts and was gracious enough to host me during the blog tour. Many thanks to Linda at Chatting about Cozies for reviewing Murder at the Marina on her site.

Mixtus Media, has a downloadable blog tour worksheet and explains How to Set Up a Successful Blog Tour.

Stephanie Bond talks about How to Book a Successful Blog Tour over at the Book Marketing Tools site.

Janice Hardy talks about How to Promote Your Book with Blog Tour on Anne R. Allen’s site. She also has a follow-up post on her own site about whether blog tours are worth it.

Anne R. Allen’s offers some crucial advice—Treat Book Bloggers with Respect.

The Alliance of Independent Authors talks about Why Blog Tours aren’t about Sales.

Elaine Viets shares tips about Cozy Book Promotion: A Soft Sell in a Hard Business. While this is primarily aimed at traditionally published authors, it’s also good food for thought for independent authors.

Penguin Random House tells you Everything You Need to Know about Organizing a Blog Tour. It’s interesting to note that the onus for organizing a blog tour is on the author, even if they’re traditionally published.

What do you think about blog tours?

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.

Cozy Mystery Publishing, Writing

Book Release in Numbers | Cozy Mystery Publishing Process

Book Release

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 to you about what distribution channels I used. This time, I’m going to share details about the release Murder at the Marina, in numbers.

While some people look at stats for the first 30 days after a release (the supposed 30-day cliff), I decided to make things easier on myself from a reporting perspective and look at the numbers from the release date of June 21, 2018 to the end of July 2018. That’s roughly a six week period.

What numbers are important?

So, what numbers did I look at and why? The obvious one that I was interested in was the total number of sales. Now, this may disappoint some of you, but I’m not planning on sharing that here. What I can say is that my expectations were greatly exceeded, which is in large part due to all of the wonderful people who helped spread the word for me on social media. Thank you!

The other numbers I spent time poring over had to do with sales by format and where books were sold. I also got a kick out of checking out what I like to call my “popularity” stats. Let’s dive into the numbers, shall we?

Sales by Format

I’ve mentioned before how surprised I am at how many people purchased the paperback version of Murder at the Marina. If you look at the chart below, you’ll see that 10% of people bought paperbacks and 90% bought ebooks.

On a whim, I also created a large print version and, while I didn’t sell any of those during June and July, I have sold a few during the past month. (If you’re interested in learning more about large print, I found Joanna Penn’s article on the subject helpful.)

Despite the learning curve involved in terms of book formatting and set-up on Amazon and Ingram Spark, I’m really glad I decided to publish hard copies in addition to ebooks.

Murder at the Marina - Launch Graph 1

Ebook Sales by Retailer

Because I decided to go wide instead of be exclusive with Amazon, I was really interested in seeing how many books I sold on non-Amazon sites. No surprise that the bulk of the sales were on Amazon (88%), but I was pleased to see that I sold a few on Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Kobo, Google Play, and Overdrive.

Hopefully, the percentage of non-Amazon sales will increase over time.

NOTE: The percentages below don’t add up due to rounding.

Ebook Retailer Graph

Ebook Sales by Country

I love the idea of knowing that people around the world are reading my book, so I was thrilled to see that 17% of my sales came from outside the States. Most of them came from the United Kingdom, followed by Australia, Canada, and EU countries. And I’d love to know who is reading Murder at the Marina in Japan and Brazil.

Ebook Country Graph

Popularity Stats

Come on, admit it, sometimes you compare yourself to other people, don’t you? You like to see how you rank against others. Or is that just me?

In any case, it’s a bad idea to get too caught up in this as a writer. Reading all of the success stories out there about folks who are top of the charts, pulling in the big bucks, or have a million 5-star reviews can get a tad depressing. It’s enough to almost make you forget what the real joy of writing is about—having fun creating imaginary worlds, people, and situations.

But, I confess, I did check my Amazon popularity stats during my release. Like where Murder at the Marina ranked on the Hot New Releases list. It peaked at #81 in the Cozy Animal Mystery sub-category at one point. (The lists are updated hourly.) We can all thank Mrs. Moto, the best clue-finding feline in the business for that.

Screenshot_2018-06-28 Amazon com New Releases The best-selling new future releases in Cozy Animal Mystery

Amazon’s Author Central lets you check how popular your book is compared to others. The Kindle edition of Murder at the Marina ranked #30,571 on release day, peaked at #25,456 a week late, and has been on a roller coaster ride ever since. When some sales comes through, it perks back up, when sales are quiet, it plummets down the ranks.

To be honest, I wouldn’t expect to do great in Amazon rankings due to the fact that I’m not exclusive to Amazon and in Kindle Unlimited. From my understanding, pages reads and increased visibility in the Amazon store can do a lot to boost your position on the charts.

Amazon Bestseller Rank - June & July 2018

But it’s not just about your books, Amazon gets personal and give you an author rank. My highest ranking (#38,745) was actually when Murder at the Marina was on pre-order. It stayed above the 100k mark for a couple of weeks after the release, then tumbled down the charts after that.

Amazon Author Rank - June & July 2018

If you’re an author, what kinds of numbers do you track? If you’re a reader, do you pay attention to book rankings?

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.