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What Writing Success Requires

I have a very strong presence in legal thrillers. The secret has been marketing. My two most recent books are around 8 and 10 in legal thrillers top 100. The books I can't move in order to get a better ranking are John Grisham (of course) and the rest are Thomas Mercer imprints where the author has one or more books by TM that then pull the others along and they all rank in the top five or six all of the time. So be it, there's nothing I can do about it except bank my mid-five-figures each month and look at the next shiny toy on Amazon's site.

But I was lucky and somewhat knowledgeable when I first published in January 2014. I had done SEO on Google's Adwords for ten years and was pretty up on the importance of graphics and keywords. The graphics paid off by Bookbub giving me like ten or twelve promos in my first fifteen months. This had everything to do with my cover art, I am convinced. No, the covers are not typical genre like many gurus preach, but they did all have the indicia of legal thrillers such as courthouse columns or scales of justice somewhere in the cover. But my cover artist is a genius and had done Internet branding for many years and knew what i needed/wanted. So that was a good fit–and how else did Bookbub select me so often except by my covers since I started out a total unknown writer? Now I rank about number 26 in kindle thriller writers two years later.

Branding is the name of the game for me. Which will at least get you to the Look Inside feature. After that you better have a compelling story, worldview, and voice or no matter how great your cover you won't sell books. Purchasers are very astute when it comes to authorial sophistication and I was lucky in that regard too because I had written novels for thirty years, never made a sale to tradpub, and was quite accomplished (not bragging, I hope) when it came time to producing sentences people would like. Since January 2014 I have published 14 books and sold in excess of 150,000, the majority of those in the past eight or nine months.

I believe that trying hard is admirable but it's not enough. Practice is required within the art form itself; lots of unrewarded practice. Thank goodness no one did publish my first novel, my second, or my eighth or ninth. Thank goodness the New Yorker and The Atlantic rejected the hundreds of short stories I submitted over the years. But today I would be proud for them to publish me. I think I have finally started to learn how to say what it is I envision and what it is I am trying to distill from that vision into words on the page.

It didn't come to me in full until I was 74 years old. You have to really want this more than anything.

Yes, Amazon has definitely saturated my genre and I am paying them back. I am saturating it too.

  • March 23, 2016
Jon Reisfeld - June 15, 2016

Another great post, John! Thanks for the "look behind the curtain." I'm working on saturating the spy novel series market (with a first book that covers the legal thriller genre as well.) You're an inspiration. I appreciate your transparency and candor on a subject of great interest. Keep it up!

Robert - June 15, 2016

Thanks for sharing your experience John. What makes covers work is especially intriguing.

Mohan - June 15, 2016

Hi, I love your books and so much that I would like to translate them into my mother tongue – Hindi, the National Language of India – spoken, read and written by more than One Billion people throughout the world. That means a huge market … Kindly let me know your consent and terms & conditions of your copyright. Thank you.Best regards. Mohan

Mackay Bell - June 15, 2016

Thanks for sharing your insights. Congrats on your hard earned success!

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