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How a self-published author inspired by Stephen King knocked his idol from the top spot on Amazon

20 April 2017

From CNBC:

Dylan Jones, 39, started reading Stephen King novels when he was 11. He’s pretty sure he’s read all of King’s fiction, which is saying something: King is an impressively prolific author.

It was King who first inspired Jones to try writing. “He was, I think, probably the single reason that I started writing, to be honest,” Jones tells CNBC. “He’s definitely a role model.”

So it felt almost surreal when, on August 16, 2015, Jones’ novel, “Black Book,” the first-installment of an ongoing trilogy, passed King on the most popular list in the horror genre of Amazon.com. And the triumph wasn’t a fluke: The novel, which Jones describes as a “time-traveling western,” has surpassed those of his idol a couple of times since then, too.

. . . .

That first time it happened, he was particularly excited. He was, as he says, “over the moon, of course! To see something I did on a laptop, not even with Microsoft Word, but with a free, open-source word processing software package — to see that climb above the reason that I started writing in the first place is quite a thing.”

. . . .

Nowadays, Jones reads and writes only fiction. “You read so much nonfiction online anyway everyday and in newspapers and magazines … if I am in a book, I just want to relax and escape,” he says.

. . . .

Nearly two decades ago, the Internet was still a novelty. He wasn’t able to use it yet to publish his work. So Jones bought research books to find the mailing addresses for magazines and he submitted paper copies of his short stories to them.

About once a month every month for years, Jones received rejections in response.

. . . .

He wrote, marketed and published “Black Book” over about six months in 2013 while maintaining his day job of building mobile and web applications. He self-published the novel on Amazon towards the end of the year. In the summer of 2015, a year and a half a year later, “Black Book” generated buzz online and started creeping up the charts.

Link to the rest at CNBC


19 Comments to “How a self-published author inspired by Stephen King knocked his idol from the top spot on Amazon”

  1. Ouch… Went to look at the reviews, and a lot of recent verified purchasers are slamming the book, claiming that most of the reviewers are either “bots” or paid reviews, and that the book is successful more because of its’ marketing effort than the actual content. (One of the most common complaints seems to be that the story stops without any conclusive ending, regardless of being part of a series.) That might not be so bad, but the author seems to be responding to the bad reviews, which is also angering some of the reviewers. Either way I wish him success, but he should probably focus on writing the next book, rather than responding to reviewers.

  2. Interesting review pattern, and a lot of very short reviews. Still over 3* average, but some recent buyers seem to feel tricked.

    Very few 5* long reviews voted up by a lot of people (a thing I check). And those often quote a piece of the book because the reviewer found the book so compelling, or mention some reason for the 5* rating.

    Short book at 137 pages.

    Has anyone here read it enough to comment on 1) writing ability, and 2) plotting ability? I could see myself generating quite a few of those reviews without reading a thing.

    • He could use an editor (punctuation mistakes abound in the sample, mostly missing commas). And what I read didn’t quite make sense, being the hero had just walked out of the saloon and then back in to what amounted to a mess.

      As far as managing to beat Stephen King, I’d say it was review gaming that did it.

      • So, if you have what you think is a very good book NOT getting the attention it deserves, should you game the heck out of the system, and let readers find it?

        The ethics are getting very slippery.

        I have resisted ANY attempts to get me to buy reviews, however much the reviewer or reviewing company claims it stays within Amazon guidelines because you are not actually buying the review (with various justifications put forth), and then someone like this comes along and muddies the waters all over again.

        Just like when the subtitle of a bestseller is loaded with keywords that should have gotten the book banned, and I wonder why they don’t have algorithms that examine that little bit of text, the subtitle.

        PLUS this behavior keeps the disbelievers in their camp of ‘all indie work is cr*p.’


        • I’m not a fan of breaking the rules. I waited 6 years for more than a few readers to find my books. They finally did.

          So I’m on Team “Let it happen naturally, write the next book.”

          • Which works well if you’re fast enough to keep producing books, and are not in a huge hurry to support yourself from a small number of them.

            For people who take 15 years to write the first book in a trilogy (ahem!), and expect to take at least 2-3 for the remaining volumes, this is a problem.

            Think Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch, only indie.

            • Aren’t we all in a hurry for that? 😉

              But yeah, I understand. I think that’s where judicious use of paid promotion comes in. <Something I've personally never had luck with, LOL.

              • Couldn’t agree more, but there is a different path for the quicker genre writers. A lot of techniques for selling: setting the first book in a series to permafree, promoting the first book in many ways, doing cross-promotions within their genre, participating in boxed sets by themselves, or with different authors… there are a lot of techniques used by selling writers.

                I’m experimenting with Amazon ads, but have not reached the point where they are taking off yet.

                OTOH, people who buy from those ads are definitely out of my usual suspects pool, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out. And they are not paying a discounted price. Hope some of them decide to review!

                • I’m trying out Amazon ads myself. Only one’s doing anything, and it’s not been anything to crow about yet. YET. LOL 🙂

          • with you, Scath

        • In my opinion, and author should never gain the system even if they think they’ve written the next Harry Potter, simply because readers are not stupid and many can tell what’s going on and will put the author on an authors behaving badly shelf.
          Inevitably, an authors book it’s never quite as good as they think it is.

    • From the sample, the writing is okay. Really needs an editor, though. Can’t really tell about plotting from something so short, and I certainly wouldn’t pay three bucks for a novella that doesn’t even have a cliffhanger but simply ends.

      Reviews may have been removed, because I only saw one out of the one and two stars I looked at where the author replied, and that was to a complaint about not getting the product or some such.

      This book has been around for a few years, so not sure why people are all ga-ga about it. Lots of people have ranked higher than Stephen King at some point or another, so that’s not really a selling point for me. This hype kind of reminds me of Eragon, frankly. Lots of blah blah blah for a so-so book at best.

  3. I think the problem is when you break a story down into cliffhangers as an indie, you better publish the other parts pretty fast. This first one came out in 2013, and then disappeared until this year.

    • Agreed. It’s one thing if you have a back-catalog, but if you don’t have an established base, you need to keep up with your reader’s desire to read.

  4. He keeps doing AMAs on Reddit, getting called out for the lack of content, then deleting everything before waiting and starting it all over again.

    e.g. here https://www.reddit.com/r/AMA/comments/3hgc4l/i_wrote_the_book_that_beat_stephen_kings_the/

  5. the race belongs to the long distance runner, not the 3x sprinter.

    that’s nice that the momentary algos treated him nice. But the pay check is where the rubber meets the road. And ethics. We’ve already had enough of whatsisname the ‘million ebook seller’ cheat.

    • Yep. Stephen King is looking at his numbers, too – the numbers on the checks saying “pay to the order of.”

      Don’t think he’s losing a single bit of sleep over this. (Now, if I had his plots running through my head, I’d be a horrible insomniac…)

      • I always loved the anecdote King told about how he sleeps. He explained he never lets a leg hang out of the side of the bed; he keeps both his legs safely under the sheets.

        See, he knows intellectually that if he did let his foot stick out, nothing will reach out in the middle of the night to grab it. But so long as he keeps his feet firmly in his bed he will never find out if he’s wrong.

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