AshEdit—News About Books & Writers

October 10, 2011

REBECCA FORSTER – # 1 on Amazon

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 4:56 pm

Just over a week ago Rebecca Forster’s Kindle edition of HOSTILE WITNESS jumped to #1. It jumped back and forth between #1, #3 and #6. She’s giving it away for free, but this drives buyers to her considerable backlist of other titles, resulting in $-A-L-E-$. Here’s how she did it.

REBECCA FORSTER: I published my first ebook about 14 months ago. For the first year it was super quiet. A few here and a few there. Currently in the last weeks, over 85,000 people downloaded HOSTILE WITNESS and the series books are benefiting. However, you have to temper this with the knowledge that this is a thriller series and thrillers/mysteries are the most popular on e-readers. I’d like to think it’s just ’cause I’m so darn talented LOL.

ELAINE ASH: When you started writing,  how did you land your first book contract? 

REBECCA: I was working in advertising and my client was married to Danielle Steel. I didn’t know who she was and when I found out I said “I bet I could write a book.” My secretary dared me and the rest is history. HOSTILE WITNESS was initially meant to be a stand-alone novel. It was the editor at Signet who suggested making it into a series. It did well but, in the end, did not have the sales the publisher hoped for.

I believe this had to do with the subtle transitioning from traditional publishing to digital. Bookstores were going out of business. Readers were sharing purchases which cut into authors’ sales goals set by the publishers. Money was tightening. Bestseller’s backlists were showing up and gaining more real estate so midlist authors were fighting for space.

Throughout my career, I had been vigilant about reverting my rights – even though I didn’t know why at the time. Now I do. The explosion of digital sales has created an entirely new playing field for novelists. We can now control our output, our publishing schedule, our marketing and our storytelling.

The Adventurous Ms Forster on the flight deck of the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier (Yes, she landed by tailhook)

ELAINE: What is “reverting  rights?”

REBECCA: The publisher buys the rights to an author’s book which usually means they hold the ‘right’ to print it, sell it and distribute it. Usually that includes their right to publish as an ebook or sell the movie rights. In my contract there were different end dates for ‘rights reversion’ but most were when the books were ‘out of print.’ As soon as they were out of print, I wrote to the legal department of each publisher and requested my rights reversion. That means I now control how and where my books are published.

ELAINE:  So you had a backlist of titles but  things were getting tight with traditional publishers, so you decided to take the plunge into e-publishing.

In the Blue Mosque, Istanbul.

REBECCA: I admit, I spent a year stumbling about. I am not computer savvy. I scanned my existing books and uploaded them, only to find horrible scanning errors in the files. I continue to re-edit each book when I hear a reader complain about editing. That is my number one concern – clean files. Sometimes, I do wonder, though, if there aren’t reversions during the uploads. I still find the transfer of files rather scary and magical.

ELAINE: What else did you do to make the transition?

REBECCA:  I spent time listening to readers, authors and graphic artists. I participated in discussion boards, I read everything I could on how to reach readers, I joined on-line writers’ groups. I continued to write without the safety net of New York and an editor, and published exclusively for e-book novels. (Before Her Eyes is my favorite).

ELAINE: So you were chugging along, doing okay but not setting records, and then you got a strategy…

Promoting a worthy cause: Ability First.

REBECCA: Then I offered Hostile Witness for free. It’s the first in a witness series. That made all the difference. It allowed people who had never heard of me to view my work without any risk. I hoped they would like what they saw and come back for more.

ELAINE: It worked.

REBECCA: For me it worked. It would be a difficult strategy without additional inventory so I urge authors with only one book to continue to write and build their inventory. I can’t credit my creativity for this strategy. A wonderful author, Gordon Ryan, who writes historical and contemporary fiction, shared his knowledge with me. So much of e-publishing is authors helping authors and I am forever grateful to him. Before you try the ‘free’ strategy, make sure readers will be able to find another book by you.

ELAINE:  What now?

A friendly game of paintball with her sons.

REBECCA: I’m working on book #4 of the series, EXPERT WITNESS, and hope to have it out by Christmas. I believe that continuing to work hard at craft is the author’s key to success in this new publishing arena. Once we do that, then we all help each other in getting the word out.

ELAINE: Thanks Rebecca!

To download:

Hostile Witness:

Gordon Ryan’s free book Destiny:



  1. grats, and excellent advice, rebecca… thanks elaine 🙂

    Comment by laughingwolf — October 10, 2011 @ 5:36 pm

  2. Elaine, great interview and wonderful information. I downloaded her book and I’m excited about reading it. You know how busy I’ve become lately so taking on another book to read in the midst of all that is going on with my cop job and Crime Writer Consultations is saying something about your compelling interview. Thanks!

    Comment by Derek Pacifico — October 10, 2011 @ 5:53 pm

  3. Hey Wolf, Hey Derek, I took one look at Rebecca’s pictures and I thought, if she writes the kind of adventure she lives, this is going to be a good read!

    Comment by ashedit — October 10, 2011 @ 8:36 pm

  4. Def learned a few things from that. Best of luck Rececca!

    Comment by Sean Patrick Reardon — October 11, 2011 @ 12:06 am

  5. Insightful stuff. Congrats Rebecca, and thanks, Elaine.


    Comment by Col Bury — October 11, 2011 @ 3:41 am

  6. Okay, Elaine, you didn’t tell me you hung out with all these really interesting folks!

    Derek – crime writing consultant and cop? You are a man after my own heart.

    Def and Col, thanks so much for the good wishes. Hope everyone’s books go ballistic.

    EA – so happy to be here and to have met you. Eagerly awaiting the rise of Sid!!! Now there’s an adventure and a half.

    Comment by Rebecca Forster — October 11, 2011 @ 7:35 am

  7. Interesting interview and good advice. I’ll have to give my rights a check. Thanks, Elaine and Rebecca..

    Comment by oscar case — October 11, 2011 @ 9:31 am

  8. Congrats to Rebecca. That’s an awesome number of downloads. Will definitely up her name recognition!

    Comment by charlesgramlich — October 11, 2011 @ 9:53 am

  9. It’s good to know that giving something away is helping your future sales. Super strategy. I have four back list books up and two more to upload to Kindle, but I thought only publishers could give books away at Kindle. Where I read that I can’t remember. Congratulations on the sales. And may they continue.

    Comment by Velda Brotherton — October 11, 2011 @ 10:35 am

  10. Hi Oscar, yes that’s good advice for all of us. Who knew?
    Charles, I wonder if that strategy might work in crossover? Say, if you gave away an e-book would it drive buyers to purchase print books?
    Velda, thanks for dropping by. I’m so glad readers have an interest in this subject. REBECCA is nearby, so feel free to ask a question and I think she’d post an answer.

    Comment by ashedit — October 11, 2011 @ 11:14 am

  11. This is an inspiring post, and Rebecca makes a good point about continuing to work hard at your craft (which is tough to do while also working to promote.) I’m curious if book bloggers played a role in spreading the news about her books? Did she approach them for reviews, or rely more on reviews from buyers at Amazon?

    Thanks for the interesting story, Elaine!

    Comment by Mark Boss — October 11, 2011 @ 12:15 pm

  12. Congratulations on your book sales. E-publishing seems frightening but you managed to do it and do it well. I’m also glad to hear about your disciplined editing practices. The number of errors I see in many self published e-books had me wondering if I could be up to the task. It’s great to read about someone taking extra care for their readers. Thanks to Elaine and Rebecca.

    Comment by theresavarela — October 11, 2011 @ 1:31 pm

  13. This has proven a really interesting discussion. I especially like the question about free digitals driving print sales. I doubt that would happen. The digital reader seems very price sensitive – look at Locke and Murcer who price at .99 and sell a million books (well Locke did but I think Murcer right up there with him). The question of book bloggers helping spread the word, absolutely. I also think that Twitter has been incredibly effective. On the question of who sets the price. If you set the price to zero on smashwords/barnes & Noble you control that price. If people report lower price to Amazon they may or may not lower it. That is the chance and the risk. I would never do it, though, without multiple books and it seems series is the best route. Finally, question about editing. I think we all try really hard but edit problems still exist. Sometimes I think it’s reversion when the files are formatted (from scanning to formatting to being put up). Some of my books were scanned from hard copyand low-and-behold there were editing problems in the manuscript. The best we can do is stay on top of it. If a reader is kind enough to contact us privately that’s heaven. It’s sad when readers feel the need to cruelly point out problems. I don’t think there is an author out there who would put up a product that is less than what they feel is best. I for one am so appreciative of everyone who ever pointed out a mistake. The nice thing is, lots of these folks have become friends and readers. Digital is much more personal than print ever was.

    Comment by Rebecca Forster — October 11, 2011 @ 4:30 pm

  14. I have known Rebecca for almost 20 years and was present during a lot of ups and downs regarding the Witness books and others and it delights me to no end to see her finally getting some of the recognition she has always deserved. HOSTILE WITNESS in one hell of a book. It kept me up way past my bedtime many nights, and is so enthralling that the slightest disturbance will make you snap. And all this talk about it makes me want to read it again so excuse me….

    Comment by Brian Drake — October 11, 2011 @ 4:32 pm

  15. Hi Mark thanks for the great question and Rebecca, thanks for the detailed answer. This is what I call a value-added interview! Velda, it’s a confusing time, isn’t it? But out of uncertainty, opportunities present themselves. There are formatters out there available for reasonable prices who will guide you through it and/or do it for you. I had help and I’m glad I did.

    Brian, thanks for the promo. I hope everybody hustles on over to Amazon and gets HOSTILE WITNESS while the gettin’ is good.

    Comment by ashedit — October 11, 2011 @ 5:23 pm

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