Today, I bring to you the last in the first run of the popular interview series: Secrets of Best-Selling Self-Published Authors. This interview imparts a lot of valuable wisdom that serves as a nice summary to this series. Russell Blake is a best-selling self-published author who has steadily climbed the sales ranks since he embarked on his prolific career. From his bio:
"Featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Times, and The Chicago Tribune, Russell Blake is the USA Today bestselling author of twenty-eight books, including Fatal Exchange, The Geronimo Breach, Zero Sum, King of Swords, Night of the Assassin, Revenge of the Assassin, Return of the Assassin, Blood of the Assassin, The Delphi Chronicle trilogy, The Voynich Cypher, Silver Justice, JET, JET – Ops Files, JET II – Betrayal, JET III – Vengeance, JET IV – Reckoning, JET V – Legacy, JET VI – Justice, JET VII, Sanctuary, Upon A Pale Horse, BLACK, BLACK Is Back, BLACK Is The New Black, and BLACK To Reality.
Non-fiction includes the international bestseller An Angel With Fur (animal biography) and How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated), a parody of all things writing-related.
Blake co-authored an action/adventure novel, The Eye of Heaven, with legendary adventure author Clive Cussler, to be released by Penguin in September, 2014.
Blake lives in Mexico and enjoys his dogs, fishing, boating, tequila and writing, while battling world domination by clowns.
Russell is a proud member of RABMAD – Read A Book, Make A difference."
Let's get into it, here he is, Mr Russell Blake:
You are a New York Times Best-selling author who has published most of your own work – can you tell us how you managed to get on the NYT best-sellers list? I.e. Obviously you sold a lot of books but what is it that you did to get on that particular list and receive that distinction?
I’ve been on the NYT and the USA Today bestseller lists numerous times, both co-authoring with Clive Cussler as well as with a few of my self-published efforts. I honestly don’t remember the first time, but I think it was a bundle I did that featured JET, which is also my biggest selling series.
Where do you get your inspiration from for your writing and for the way you brand yourself as an author?
I like to say it’s a combination of fear and desperation that drives the ideas, although the truth is that real life offers so many ideas the shortage isn’t in potential plots, it’s in the time to write them. I was a big fan of all the usual conspiracy thriller authors when I was growing up – Ludlum, Le Carre, Higgins, Follet – and so when I decided to try my hand at writing I gravitated toward what I read. I mean, I also love Tom Harris and Stephen King and the usual marquee names, but I cut my teeth on conspiracy/espionage thrillers, so that’s what I started with, and it later evolved into more of an action thriller thing, a la James Bond-ish fare. As to my branding, I struggled initially, because I wanted to avoid being pigeonholed as any one thing, but I quickly figured out that you need to be able to quickly summarize who you are for readers, as in, at a glance, or for many it’s just too muddled and they move on to something that’s clearer. As an example, Clive Cussler, you know exactly what you’re getting. Robert Ludlum, same thing. So I wanted to brand myself the go to guy for action thrillers, which is what I ultimately focused on. Ironically, I’ve written noir mysteries with my BLACK series, which does very well, and have tried my hand at everything from NA romance under the R.E. Blake pseudonym, to conspiracy fare like Umberto Eco and Dan Brown write, but what I think most identify the Russell Blake brand with is action thrillers, which is how I prefer it.
How important do you think non-fiction titles are to self-published authors hoping to enjoy best-selling status? I.e. Do you think that your non-fiction titles have helped your fiction sell and/or vice-cersa?
My non-fiction have done zero for my fiction. If anything, that was one of the early lessons I learned: target a genre with laser focus and establish yourself in that genre. Don’t dick around trying to be all things, be really, really good at one thing and become known for it, then, if you want, try branching out – but only after you’ve made your mark and are well established in your target genre. Don’t genre hop, don’t get distracted, and most importantly, make it very easy for your reader to know what they’re getting when they buy one of your books. You bounce around, you’re a question mark, and life’s too short for most to guess what you’re going to deliver next.
You are a best-selling Amazon author – can you pinpoint what it was that spiked your success to date? Apart from the writing is there anything that you can isolate that helped your books climb the ranks?
Sure. I remember when Amazon’s Select program first came out in December of 2011, I didn’t participate in it for the first month, and then regretted the hell out of not doing so when I saw some of my buds hitting massive sales numbers after free promotions. So I put a book into the program in January, 2012 – The Geronimo Breach – and I want to say it sold five or six thousand copies after a free run, and pulled sales of my other dozen titles with it. For about six months there, it was like you could do no wrong with Select and a free run because of how the algorithms treated the free downloads, and you’d shoot into the top 10 on the Amazon store as paid after it was done. That visibility brought thousands of sales of a title, and because I had so many titles I could run a Select promo on, I was able to do a new title every three weeks or so and restart the cycle. By the time the algorithms softened somewhat, I’d already had ten or twelve bites at that top 100 apple, and the sales became self-sustaining as readers began trusting the brand to deliver what they wanted. But I think it really turbocharged when I released the first four installments of my JET series in Oct-December of 2012. It really went massive from that point on, and I remember spring of 2013 I was pinching myself at the sales figures every month. Those were truly the good old days.
For more of this fascinating interview, please visit Self-Publishing Successfully for full transcript.
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