When Mystery author becomes popular

by Vijay Kerji

Dear Glen,

Thanks for your novel planning book.
I have written five romance books and a series of five mystery books. My first mystery is published in August last year and second one in May 2020. The first book is available for free. I have self published in draft2digital.
The sales figures are not that encouraging and there are a few downloads, but the readers are not returning for the second book.
My questions are:
1. How long does it take for a mystery author to become known? Should I wait until my fifth one is released in the next two years?

2. Should I continue writing the next novel in the series?

Please share your thoughts and oblige.

With Regards,
Vijay Kerji


First of all... Congratulations, Vijay!

re: your questions

1. How long getting known takes depends on a lot of factors, including...
a) How much people like the first book of yours they read.
b) How much positive publicity you can get for the book.
The combination of these two lead to the biggest factor, c) How many books you sell.

If you have a great book, publicity will be your biggest challenge, especially in self-publishing where you might not have the advantage of a large publisher's ability to get your book into bookstores, or submitted for major awards, or reviewed by major reviewers/publications, etc.

As a self-publisher, you have to do all your own promotion. Most successful self-publishing writers spend far more time on publicity and marketing than actually writing. You also have to do whatever you can to get FREE or low-cost publicity. Be aware that there are lots of expensive publicity services that deliver poor results. Steer clear of them.

As you probably have noticed, the trouble with online bookstores is that hardly anyone finds your book unless they've heard about it elsewhere. And there are lots of book review sites no one reads as well. You need to be smart about finding ways to publicize your book that will drive many potential readers to the online store.

How to get the most effective low-cost publicity is a huge topic. You're going to have some research to do to find out the best approaches. Perhaps start with local venues. Get copies of your book in local bookstores (they may take books on consignment). Get reviews by local newspapers. (Newspapers are often looking for stories about local people.) You might consider entering your book in a contest (but don't spend a lot of money on entrance fees). An award would give a newspaper another reason to review your book, and another reason some people might buy it.

Perhaps give writing workshops or readings at local book conventions. See if there are local clubs for mystery fans that offer opportunities. Perhaps do readings at local libraries (of course, you will have to publicize your readings too). Have a website so potential reviewers can find out
about you.

It's a good idea to have some paper copies of your book. Don't get too many. A print-on-demand service can be a fairly inexpensive way to get a dozen or so paperbacks at a time which you can sell yourself at public appearances.

You may find that "free" isn't always the best price. People don't expect much from a free book. Besides, if you sell books you can put the money toward publicity or any other costs.

That's just off the top of my head. There are many books on this topic. Look for ones that are fairly up-to-date.

As for how much people like the first book -- that's highly subjective. I hope you had reason to be confident about the book before you published. But even with a great book, don't expect everyone who reads the first book will buy the second. It's usually a small percentage.

If you write a great book and you get enough publicity that many mystery readers hear about it, and the book is easy to find and buy, then you should get sales. People who really like your first book will look for something else from you. It's a slow process, even for the best writers. But if you can write a book a year and each one sells fairly well, then your readership will grow. Sales of each new book will lead to more sales of your backlist.

Just remember -- publishing is a high-risk business. Most books from major publishers lose money. Self-publishing is even more difficult. It takes a lot of work and patience to be successful

As for your second question...

The main reason for publishing a sequel is if the first book sells well, because then you know there are readers who will buy the second, so sales should be higher.

If the first book flops but readers don't have to read it to enjoy the second book, then you might publish the second if you are certain the second book is much better, or you have gotten much better at publicity, or you sell it to a big publisher. Just be warned... publishers can check how many copies of your first book sold in bookstores. If it's under 200, they will count that as a flop. It means you probably just sold to friends and relatives. If you can sell a few thousand -- or many thousand -- then that might count in your favour.

Another option is to look for a smaller publisher that will help with publicity and distribution.

I wish I could give you a clearer answer, but it's difficult to say exactly why a self-published book isn't selling. Sometimes the problem is the book. Sometimes the problem is lack of publicity or distribution. Sometimes it's both. Sometimes timing works for or against you. The current pandemic, for example, doesn't help anyone.

Nonetheless, I wish you the best of luck.

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