How to Be a Best Seller on Amazon: An Interview with Multi-Category Best Selling Author Judy Powell

Today we’re pleased to present an interview with best-selling author Judy Powell. Judy came on to our radar when she recently subscribed for a BookBuzzr Author Pro Plus account. We were able to connect with her and request her to do this interview.

Judy Powell is a writer and marketing consultant who lives in Ontario, Canada. Her works are diverse, featuring romance novels set in Jamaica, Chicago and New York, a historical novel focusing on Jamaican culture and history, and non-fiction essays which have appeared in anthologies.

Judy’s Caribbean romance, Hot Summer, placed second in the Toronto Romance Writers Contemporary Romance Competition which had entries from countries around the world. Her literary novel, Coffee, Cream and Curry, was awarded the silver medal in the Jamaica Creative Writing Competition.

But before we go on we want you to take a good look at the screenshot below. Notice that Judy’s book Hot Summer is ranked #7 and #9 (as on April 24, 2012) in two different categories. Now visualize your book breaking in to the top 10 on an Amazon list. Enjoy that feeling for a few moments.

Done? Now let’s move on to the interview and get Judy to spill her secrets :&#41

Thank you Judy. We’re delighted to have you on the BookBuzzr blog.

Thank you so much for having me. I’m very happy to be here.

Tell us a little about your background that is not covered in the introductory bio above.

One of the things that people find strange about me (at least my brothers do) is that I love to study. I have a BA in International Business/ Foreign Languages and 4 Master’s degrees – in Spanish, Marketing, Literature and Creative Writing. I’m currently researching schools to apply for a degree in Psychology. Immediately after writing, I love learning. Anything. It’s not unusual for me to relax with the Oxford English Dictionary. I’ve read through it twice already. Okay, so I’m a nerd. I admit it : )

How did you feel when your book broke into the top 10 lists on Amazon? Did you go out and celebrate?

I was absolutely overjoyed. I took a screen shot of it and saved it for future gloating. Actually, Hot Summer was also on the top 100 list for Contemporary Romance from mid-January to mid-March so I had a good run. The highest it hit was #1 in Multicultural, #4 in Contemporary Romance and #47 in the entire Kindle store. These things go in cycles, though. You do a promotion and hit it big and then others promote and move up so you slide lower. That’s when you have to ramp things up and promote again. I’ll be pushing Hot Summer for the month of May in an effort to get it back on the Contemporary Romance chart.

What is the writing process you follow? Is there a routine that you’d like to share with us?

I’m up at 4 a.m. every day, even on weekends, and I write long-hand in a notebook until 7:00 a.m. when I have to get ready for the work day and get my son off to school. I then record what I wrote using the sound recorder on my laptop, I email it to a friend of mine who types it then he sends it back to me once I’ve finished the book. This process may seem convoluted but it works best for me because I don’t type very fast. I capture my thoughts much more quickly when I write on paper. By having my friend do the typing I accomplish two things – I don’t waste time typing what I already wrote and my friend pushes me for more material. If he runs out of things to type he immediately calls and harasses me until I send him more pages. It is very motivating when you have someone calling you at all hours of the day (and night), demanding, “Where are my pages?”

Who is your target audience and how do you connect with them?

My target audience is primarily lovers of contemporary romance novels, of which maybe 80% – 90% are women. I do have some male fans who have given me great feedback and have told me they love the story. What I find is that the people who enjoy my novels most are those who are more open to settings which are outside of the USA and enjoy learning about other cultures. Part of the novel is set in Jamaica and quite a few readers have emailed me to say they love the colorful images of the setting and the fact that the story incorporates the local color and culture. Some who have had the opportunity to visit the country tell me the story brings back great memories. Others tell me I have piqued their curiosity and they would now like to get to know the islands of the Caribbean. I love to set my stories in tropical settings which can be so romantic.

How do you market your books? Are there any tips that you’d like to give to our author community?

I would love to share my marketing tips. I sincerely hope it will help other authors to be successful.

For my print books I focus a lot on reaching my audience directly. After the distributor gets the books into the retail chain stores I make direct contact with as many of them as possible within my region and set up book signings where I hand out bookmarks and candy. However, I also attend a lot of events connected with the Caribbean, which is the setting for my story. I sell far more books at the events than I do in the stores. For example, at an Air Jamaica Day event I sold almost 100 copies of Hot Summer while at my best in-store book signing event I sold around 20 copies. In Canada we have a lot of cultural festivals between May and August (we have to capitalise on the few warm months) and I attend several of them to do book signings – outdoor Jerk Festivals, in-door cultural festivals, plays and concerts. I’m also asked to speak at local libraries, which is great because I earn money from the speaking fee they pay, plus they allow me to sell my books to the attendees.

I launched Hot Summer as an e-book back in September 2011 and have found even greater sales success through than I have ever done through selling print books. In my first month I made $12 from Amazon sales, in my second month also $12, in my third $84 then in December 2011 I ran a free promotion through the Amazon Select Program and made $ 856 for Christmas. Not bad, I thought. In January 2012 I gave my book away again and over 30,000 people downloaded free copies. One might think this is a bad thing. Not so. When the book went back to regular price after 2 days, it shot up the charts and that’s when it hit #47 in the overall store, selling over 1,000 copies in a single day. Needless to say, January was an excellent month for me and my month’s sales moved from hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollars.

I mention all of this to illustrate the importance of using all the tools available to you. If you have books in the Amazon Kindle store then the free promotion is a tool that allows you greater visibility on the ‘also bought’ lists of other related books. With that added publicity people are better able to find you and try your book. It is important to promote your freebie days by making announcements on Facebook, Twitter and by advising websites or blogs so that the book can be announced to as many people as possible. The more free downloads you get, chances are the more successful your book will be after the promotion.

Another strategy I use for my e-books is to solicit feature on blogs and websites that reach my target audience. I am always open to doing guest posts and interviews because every bit of publicity counts. I also place ads (selectively) on websites frequented by lovers of fiction in general and contemporary romance in particular.

Twitter, Facebook or Blogging – which is your favourite platform to connect with your audience and why?

I believe blogging is the most effective of the three platforms. I do not have a blog myself but I do guests posts on several other blogs. I’m featured on at least 5 – 6 blogs each month. I do have a Twitter account but I am still learning about how to use this more effectively. With Facebook I find I’m reaching my friends rather than new people. I would therefore recommend putting blogging at the top of this list.

How do you deal with negative reviews on Amazon?

When you decide to put your work out to the world you have to be prepared for both positive and negative reviews. You have to have really thick skin. I must warn authors that when you give your book away in the free promotion you will find several people downloading because it is free without even reading the product description or checking out the sample to see what the book is about. Then, once they start reading, they find that this is not a book that appeals to them. This sometimes results in a negative review and sometimes comments that really sting. However, the key is to take both the good and the bad in stride. I read all the reviews, take all the comments into consideration and may even act on some of them. The beauty of e-books is that they’re dynamic – they can be changed at any time. If I receive a comment that makes sense I go back and edit the manuscript to improve it for future readers. However, I never respond to reviews, whether good or bad. What I decided to do, though, is to put a note in the back of my book asking the reader to like my book or do a review if he/she enjoyed the read. I’ve had so many people e-mail me directly to say they love my book but it is the hardest thing to get them to say the same thing on Amazon.

You priced your book at the standard Indie author price of $.99. Was there a strategy behind that price or were you just going with the flow?

For me, pricing is dynamic as well. I used a promotional price of $ 0.99 for Hot Summer for a period in order to get new readers to give it a try. However, it is a full-length novel at almost 300 pages so I think the regular price of $ 2.99 is reasonable. I have seen authors change their price from $0.99 to $ 2.99 to $4.99 depending on the nature of the book and the nature of their market. I don’t intend to price higher than the $ 2.99 price point. I think that’s a reasonable place for me to be with this particular work.

Would you like to share any book marketing tips with the BookBuzzr author community.

Yes, most definitely. I will share what has worked for me in the hope that it will be of benefit to others:

  1. Have an attractive cover that is appealing to your target audience.
  2. Have a title that sets the mood for your story and attracts readers.
  3. Create a great blurb/ product description that draws the reader in. Have a hook.
  4. Make sure you’ve written the best story you can and edit it so there are no typos to distract or annoy. When doing self-editing I read my entire book backwards (not word by word but sentence by sentence, as in last sentence first then second-to-last sentence and so on). This takes me out of the story flow and allows me to pick up missing words, typos, etc.
  5. Pay attention to your first line, your first paragraph and your first chapter. This is what the reader sees when she checks out the book sample. Make sure that these draw the reader in.
  6. Get as many positive reviews posted as you can. Solicit comments from reviewers, provide free copies to fans who will read and comment on your work (by the way, I gave away 100 copies of my book in December in an effort to get reviews; did not get a single one; be selective in who you give review copies).
  7. Do promotions – giveaways if you are with the Kindle Select Program, blog tours, interviews and features on websites, etc.
  8. Write in a series if you can. I write books under other names in other genres and for one of my series my second book hit the best seller chart in its category with absolutely no promotion except that it was mentioned in the back of book 1 in the series.
  9. Set up a website or a blog page where people can learn more about you. My website is Readers can feel free to visit me there. There’s a ‘contact me’ page where you can ask me questions directly, if you wish.

I hope this helps. Much success to everyone!

Vikram Narayan is the founder of BookBuzzr Book Marketing Technologies. Follow him on Twitter
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