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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Boyd Morrison, The Back Road to Publication

My thriller novel, The Ark, got what I call “rave rejections.” Editors loved the premise, plot, and characters, but they just couldn’t see how it would fit into a crowded thriller market. We went to every major imprint that published thrillers, and all 25 publishers turned The Ark down. Any publishing hopes for it were effectively gone.

In early 2009, I was just completing my web site (www.boydmorrison.com), and I decided, why not try to build up a readership by giving my three unpublished books away? I mean, they weren’t doing any good just sitting on my hard drive. At about that time, the Kindle 2 was about to come out, and Amazon was starting to let unpublished authors put their manuscripts up for sale on the Kindle store.

I figured if people could find my books for free on my web site, I had to set a low price on Amazon. I set the price on my books between $0.99 and $1.99. My only expense was the small fee I paid to a graphic designer to create professional-looking covers for my books.

I was armed with glowing blurbs from generous authors like James Rollins, Douglas Preston, Jon Land, and Chris Kuzneski, all of whom I had gotten to know through Thrillerfest. Amazon let me choose up to five categories under which I could list my books, so I maxed those out (technothriller, suspense, men’s adventure, action & adventure, and thriller).

In the second week of March 2009, I put my books on the Kindle store and on my web site. I had no plans for marketing or advertising. My plan was just to see what happened.

Within several days, readers on web discussion forums noticed the low price on my books (there were very few self-published authors on the Kindle at the time, and the Nook and iPad didn't yet exist). Through the magic of Google, I was notified about these posts, and I went ahead and introduced myself to members of Kindleboards.com, Mobileread.com, and the Amazon discussion boards.

I radically underestimated the power of the Amazon bestseller lists and word of mouth. In three months, I sold 7,500 copies of all three books together. The Ark was the number 1 technothriller for over a month, outselling books by Tom Clancy and Brad Thor, and my books occupied the top three slots in multiple genre lists. By June, my books were selling at the rate of 4,000 copies per month.

Because of the velocity of my sales, my agent, Irene Goodman, was immediately able to take that data to publishers. Touchstone, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, was just making a transition into the thriller market and was impressed by the reception for my books. Sulay Hernandez, now my editor, loved The Ark and offered me a publishing contract. That phone call from Irene will always be one of the most amazing moments of my life.

As far as we can tell, I was the first author to get a Big Six publishing contract for a self-published Kindle book. Touchstone acquired The Ark and its sequel in a two-book deal. On the strength of that deal, my foreign rights agent, Danny Baror, was able to secure deals in eighteen foreign markets.

Since then, Pocket Books acquired the rights for my first two books, The Adamas Blueprint and The Palmyra Impact, so essentially I have a four-book deal with Simon and Schuster. The Palmyra Impact will be released as a mass market paperback and ebook under the title Rogue Wave in December 2010, and The Adamas Blueprint will be released under a new title in December 2011.

Today, I’m lucky enough—and persistent enough—to hold a book in my hands and call myself an author.


Shirley said...

Good morning, Boyd. Thanks so much for sharing your expertise with us.

Your story is amazing! I'm curious. Before you put your books on Amazon's Kindle program, did you have a professional editor look at them first? Or did you trust your own internal editor.

Shirley said...

BTW, I read The Ark. WHAT A RIDE! Definitely the best book I've read this year. I'm surprised no one snatched it up sooner.

Janet Kay Gallagher said...

Hi Boyd
Your story on today's blog is very inspiring.
Your website is real nice and I liked THE ARK trailer.
Good Book Covers, too.
As aspiring writer's what advice do you have for us?
What is your work plan for writing? Daily, Words, Chapters?
Thanks for Blogging here today and for the free book for the drawing.

Ruth D~ said...

Serendipity! And inspiration for many. I have an iPad. I just may see if I can get your book for that.

Ruth (Sage) Hunter said...

What format do you need to put your book on Amazon's Kindle program? Does a PDF work? How much does Amazon charge for this or what kind of a cut do they take?

I love your website. Your book sound interesting, I'll have to take a gander at it. I have an online magazine and review books there. Perhaps as I get further in rebuilding my site I can review yours. If Shirley says it was that good, I'm sure it is.

Cait London said...

Congratulations, Boyd. I'm testing these waters in reverse, from traditionally published to smashwords, kindle, etc, not so easy reformatting and updating, but plan to update my website and market there, too. How much time do you spend on Facebook/Twitter/any advertisement to circulate interest?

BTW, I like your cover very much.

Boyd Morrison said...

Hi everyone,

Thanks for having me on Sleuths' Ink!

Shirley, I'm so happy you enjoyed The Ark. My agent and I went through a round of editing before we submitted it to publishers, and she's a great complement to me because she's great with character, while my strengths lie more with the plotting and action. Before that, I had a lot of smart people, including editor Susan Tunis, read my manuscript to give me input. You can see their names in the acknowledgments.

Janet, the best advice I can give is to keep writing. The Ark was my third book, and I probably would not be published now if I had kept rewriting that first book. I see a lot of writers make the mistake of bringing the same book to conference pitch sessions year after year. Don't! Write the next book. Then if you get that book published, your editor may want your earlier books. That's what happened to me, and the first of those books comes out in December as Rogue Wave.

When I'm in writing mode (not research mode), I write a chapter a day. That's a good goal for me because my chapters tend to be 5-6 pages long.

Ruth, The Ark is definitely on the iPad. In fact, it's the number 14 bestselling Mystery/Thriller on the iPad right now.

To put my books on the Kindle store, I saved my formatted Word files as HTML (web page). Then I simply uploaded it to dtp.amazon.com, and it looked great. I would avoid PDF if you can because readers can't change the font size, and it won't look very good on the Kindle 2.

It doesn't cost anything to upload to the Kindle store. Amazon pays a royalty for each book sold. You set your own price. If you set it between $2.99 and $9.99, Amazon pays a 70% royalty (as long as it's not priced for less on another platform like Smashwords, Nook, or iPad). At any other price, Amazon pays a 35% royalty rate.

Cait, I do interact on Facebook and Twitter, but I'm just building up my presence, and I don't have many followers yet. The best use of my time last year when I was self-published was interacting on web discussion forums like Kindleboards, Mobileread, and Amazon. The members there are voracious readers, and they are very welcoming to new authors.

Beth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beth said...

Wow. What a great success story, Boyd. Thank you for sharing it.

There are so many things I want to ask that I don't know where to begin! First, how long did it take you to find your great agent, Irene Goodman?

Secondly, I assume you are very tech savvy. Is that something we need to brush up on to be able to do something like this? I'm on Facebook, Twitter and have a blog but I've never even heard of mobileread or kindleboards.

How long did you try going the traditional route before you decided to self-publish? And was your agent okay with that? (I'm sure she's very happy now given the fantastic outcome.)

That's all for now. Thanks. I'll check your site and be back with more questions. (I've been to the doctor--that's why I'm just now chiming in.)

Beth said...

Love your website and your trailer. Very professional.

The premise of THE ARK is fantastic. How did you come up with that? I can't wait to read it.

Also, how did you manage to get such great blurbs? Did you contact those thriller writers or did your agent? I'm sure that helped with sales, too.

It's hard to believe you didn't do much promotion and managed to sell 7,500 books in three months. Do you credit that to the lower price, blurbs from well-known authors, the interest in e-books or something else?

Finally, I knew I should have gone to Thrillerfest! Would you compare your writing to Harlan Coben, James Patterson or someone else?

Glad we'll be able to say we knew you back when...Thanks for stopping by.

Boyd Morrison said...

Hi Beth,

I met my agent, Irene Goodman, at Thrillerfest. You can find that story here:


But that was for my third book. My first book was rejected by five agents (I know; I didn't try very hard with that one). My second book was rejected by over 50 agents. So again, don't give up just because one book isn't finding an agent. If you're in this for a career, you're going to have to write many books anyway. You might as well get a head start.

If you can use Facebook and Twitter, you can use discussion forums like Mobileread and Kindleboards. The only reason I found them was because of Google. When people would post about my books, I'd get an alert and then go to the sites and introduce myself. All you need to do is register, which is easy and free. Each of those boards have sections specifically devoted to authors pitching their books to readers.

I was working on my fourth book when we put the first three up on the Kindle. My agent was behind it 100%. After all, it seemed like we had nothing to lose. It was cheap (all I paid for was professional-looking covers, two of which you can see on my home page). I also did not have to register for an ISBN, which meant bookstores and publishers could not track my sales. If they were bad, no one had to know, and if they were good, my agent could use that as evidence readers were interested in my books.

I'm a skeptic by nature and profession (I was educated as an engineer and a scientist). So when I was watching a documentary about the search for Noah's Ark, I was dubious that a wooden ship could still exist after 6,000 years on the top of Mount Ararat. But then I had an idea that maybe the Ark was purposefully hidden because it held a terrible secret. That got me off and running with the story.

I've been going to writers conferences for five years now, and I highly recommend that you do that once you have a completed manuscript. I met my agent at a conference, and I met all the writers who gave me blurbs at conferences. I consider them all friends now, which is pretty cool.

I think all the factors you mention had something to do with how well my self-published books sold. They were low-priced, which gave readers incentive to try a new author. I had professional-looking covers. I had blurbs from bestselling authors. I provided a good description of the book (I'm always surprised when I see no description or a lame description for a book on Amazon; descriptions are an easy, no-cost way to advertise your book, so put some time and thought into it). My books were listed in multiple categories. And once people started reading them, I got great reviews. I've seen some books do well for a while, but once bad reviews started coming in, they dropped in ranking. It just goes to show that when it comes down to it, nothing works better than writing a book people like and recommend to others.

I would say my books are along the lines of Clive Cussler, James Rollins, and Steve Berry. If you like the books from those authors, I think you'll like mine.

Shirley said...

As someone who has read The Ark, I can honestly say that ANYONE would love it. Just don't plan on getting anything else done until you've finished it, cause you won't be able to put it down!

I'm curious. You mentioned that some people get discouraged after getting a few bad reviews on Amazon. Did you get any bad ones? Doesn't matter now since they were obviously wrong!

Boyd Morrison said...

Thanks, Shirley!

I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a writer with no bad reviews. In fact, my favorite award at Thrillerfest was for the worst review, which included candidates from bestselling authors like Sandra Brown, Linwood Barclay, and winner John Gilstrap (“The glue boogers in the binding were more captivating than Gilstrap’s torpid prose.”).

I just looked at Amazon, and 11 out of my 83 reviews are 3-star or below. There will always be readers who don't care for my books, and that's just part of the business. Opinions vary and the appeal of a book is subjective. Just look at the polarized opinions about The DaVinci Code. Tons of readers love it or it wouldn't have sold 81 million copies. But there are plenty of detractors out there as well.

However, if the majority of your reviews on Amazon are scathing, perhaps you should take a good look at what they're saying and decide whether there is any merit to the critiques. Ultimately, it's your book and your decision, but if the same comments are being made over and over, that may be a part of your work you can improve.

If it's only a few bad reviews, try not to read anything into them. Some people simply won't like your books and that's okay. Just keep in mind that you're writing for the people who do like your books.

Shirley said...

Boys, thanks again for joining us. I know we've all learned a lot today.

We may have a few late comments, so if you could stop by either tonight or early in the morning to see if there are more, that would be great!
Thanks again. Can't wait for the sequel.

I'll draw for the winner of The Ark this evening. So everyone check back to see if you won.

Boyd Morrison said...

My pleasure, Shirley. Thanks for hosting me.

Beth said...

I went to my first conference in June and pitched to two agents. Both requested partials and both, unfortunately, passed (one sent a long handwritten note and said after careful consideration she passed) so that gave me hope. I haven't yet queried other agents.

So...how did you keep your spirits (and motivation) up during that time that you pitched to 50 agents and also when your agent was pitching your ms to 25 publishing houses?

I so love your advice to keep writing and working on other books because we'll have to do that anyway. That makes perfect sense and I have several books in me. :)

To clarify, this big success story is book #3 for you, right? Congrats again. You're quite an inspiration.

Stephanie Jarkins said...

Sorry for the late comment. Thanks for your encouraging words. Are there any other websites you would recommend for getting the word out or for marketing other than the obvious ones (Amazon, twitter, FB, own website)?

Boyd Morrison said...

Beth, during the mass of rejections, it helped that I had a supportive wife and family. They believed it was just a matter of time before I got published, and that made the rejections a little easier to take. When The Ark was being rejected by publishers, it helped to have an agent who believed in me.

But this is a tough business. Every author I know has gone through rejection. I would advise anyone who has a hard time with rejection to go into any other line of work. However, if you really believe in your stories, keep going.

My wife and I have a saying: every writer will eventually get published, it's just that some give up first. The third book I wrote was The Ark, but it's the first to be published. If I had given up after the first two, I wouldn't be your blogger today.

Of course, you can now publish yourself electronically, and traditional publishing may not be your goal. But either way, the only thing you really have total control over is your writing, and that's where 95% of your focus should be.

Stephanie, Kindleboards.com and Mobileread.com are very supportive of writers putting their books in electronic format. There are also online book communities like Goodreads.com, Shelfari.com, and Librarything.com. Check them all out and see which ones are the best fits for you. But don't just go in, pitch your book, and leave. Become a contributing member. Post on other subjects. And don't be pushy. Members don't like sales pitches, but they do like people who love books.

Janet Kay Gallagher said...

Hi Boyd,
Unable to get the link to work for the thrillerwriters.org
I copies it as it was written.
Your other links on your site are neat also.
You have given us valuable information. Thanks again.

Janet Kay Gallagher said...

HI BOYD again,
When I posted the previous one, I read it over and still did not catch a typo,[copies instead of copied.]
How many times do you have to read to be sure of getting a clean work?

Boyd Morrison said...

Janet, I'm not sure why the Thrillerwriters link doesn't work. Try copying this link:


Highlight the Thrillerfest menu item and scroll down to Agentfest and click. You should see my name highlighted as a link on that page.

Shirley said...

The winner of Boyd Morrison's book, The Ark is.............


Congratulations, Ruth. You're gonna love this.

Boyd Morrison said...

Janet, you can never get a clean work by proofreading yourself. I know, believe me. In fact, I wrote a blog post about my problems with typos.


Always have someone you trust do a final read-through to catch typos.

Ruth, congratulations! I hope you enjoy The Ark.

Janet Kay Gallagher said...

Thanks all. Great information on this blog today. I need to get some sleep so I will come back on tomorrow and copy all the neat links. So much to learn about. Yea!

Congratulations Ruth!

Beth said...

Boyd, you may or may not see this, but I wanted you to know what a great job you did guest blogging.

Thanks for the personal insight into your publishing journey and for all the valuable information. I've already told several people about you and will continue to do so.

Ruth, congrats on winning THE ARK. I'll have to check it out, too. Love the premise and I love thrillers so I know it's a winner already.

Boyd Morrison said...

Thanks, Beth! I hope you like The Ark.

It's been a lot of fun and a lot of great questions. Thanks for hosting me.