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What Writing Success Requires

24 March 2016

From author John Ellsworth:

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.

. . . .

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.

Link to the rest at John Ellsworth

Here’s a link to John Ellsworth’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Advertising-Promotion, Self-Publishing, Writing Advice

10 Comments to “What Writing Success Requires”

  1. Great reading, great post, though I’d add that it seems like it’s more about marketing and sales success than writing success. Very minor quibble there, though.

    Thanks for sharing, John and PG.

    • Yeah, but it kind makes it clear that success does require marketing. At least if you define success by selling books.

      I’m kind of at the point now where I have to really think about marketing. I was just thrilled to publish, and still am, but I have to consider what it is I want to accomplish. And if I want to sell a lot of books, I have to think more about marketing.

      I admire his clear thinking about what genre he is writing for, who his competition is, and what he needs to do to appeal to readers and purchasers. I haven’t even had the nerve to submit to Bookbub with my lame home make covers. (Which I find charming and fun, but probably not marketable.)

  2. I’m going to start writing under the pen name John Ellsworth.

    • True story:

      Baen’s Bar runs a thread for short story submissions. Back when Jim Baen’s Universe breathed life, it was the only avenue for submissions to JBU. Writers posted stories in one forum, started a comment thread in the companion forum, and got critiques from Baen’s slushreaders and the BarFlies.

      Guy posted a story. His name: David Drake. Really. David Drake the Baen’s author exploded into the thread. Called on Toni Weiskopf, the publisher, to take down the story. She did. The comment thread was left open. Guy said his name was really David Drake. Did not matter. He was not allowed to publish under his own name at Baen.

      • It’s amazing he thought he’d try. I am always intrigued by brazen people. It can be fun to watch and see when reality will ensue for them.

      • Heh, maybe if he’d added ‘another’ to his name — or his full name?

        Somehow I don’t see our host smiling down on me if I claimed I was TPV or PG …

    • I had an uncle by that name (mother’s sister’s other half). He’s no longer with us …

      (I guess there really is four of everybody out there …)

      “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.”

      At least he knows he’s got to get the reader to ‘notice’ his books in order to sell them …

  3. I’m sure he’s an SEO expert, a good writer, and his covers clearly target the genre. That’s all great, but he neglects to mention the other factor that keeps him at the top of the Kindle bestseller lists, the one that has become almost essential for staying on those lists these days: all his books are enrolled in Kindle Unlimited.

    It’s a little misleading to tell new writers that “writing success” and 5-figure checks are just a matter of writing quality, good covers and SEO. Without the extra boost from KU, you can have all that and be completely invisible at Amazon.

  4. “Good writer” is John’s number one quality.

    Sure the rest helps, but he’s built a fan base that few can match. I have no doubt that eventually he’ll reach HH status and require no marketing at all. That fan-base and word-of-mouth will be all he needs.

  5. John’s books stand out because they are very good, and everything else flows from that. Excellent covers, branding, and SEO knowledge are icing on the cake.

    And as to his being in KU… if he went wide he would sell wide. He’s the kind of writer who would have been picked up by Thomas Mercer or a Big 5 publisher a couple of years ago, but now has no need for them.

    Congratulations, John, on your extraordinary success!

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