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.
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.
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…
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?
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!
Hostile Witness: http://tinyurl.com/3hy44zo
Gordon Ryan’s free book Destiny: http://tinyurl.com/3egcdqj