A former journalist and magazine editor, Judy Penz Sheluk is the bestselling author of Finding Your Path to Publication: A Step-by-Step Guide, as well as two mystery series: the Glass Dolphin Mysteries and Marketville Mysteries, both of which have been published in multiple languages. Her short crime fiction appears in several collections, including the Superior Shores Anthologies, which she also edited.
Judy is a member of the Independent Book Publishers Association, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she served on the Board of Directors for five years, the final two as Chair. She lives in Northern Ontario with her husband, Mike, and their Golden Retriever, Gibbs. Find her at www.judypenzsheluk.com.
Tell us about Finding Your Path to Publication. The road to publishing is paved with good intentions—and horror stories of authors who had to learn the hard way. For the emerging author, the publishing world can be overwhelming. You’ve written the book and are ready to share it with the world but don’t know where to start. Traditional, independent press, hybrid, self-publishing, and online social platforms are valid publishing paths. The question is, which one is right for you?
Finding Your Path to Publication is an introduction to an industry that remains a mystery to those on the outside. Learn how each publishing option works, what to expect from the process from start to finish, how to identify red flags, and avoid common pitfalls. With statistics, examples, and helpful resources compiled by an industry insider who’s been down a few of these paths, this is your roadmap to decide which path you’d like to explore and where to begin your author journey. Find it at your favorite bookseller: https://books2read.com/FindingYourPathtoPublication
Tell us about your writing process. Do you outline, or are you a pantser? For my mystery novels, I’m a total panster. But for the step-by-step guides, I followed an outline based on PowerPoint presentations I’d developed for my then-local library. Of course, outlines are just that. Once you get writing, things change and evolve. Finding Your Path to Publication, for example, required a lot of research and getting permission from various sources for surveys and the like.
When writing my mystery novels, I aim for a chapter a day—no more and no less—and I try seven days a week. I tend to write short chapters, though the odd one will be longer. I also try to leave each chapter with a hook or a question to be answered. I figure if I’m surprised, the reader will be too. And not knowing (since I’m a complete pantser) makes me want to come back the next day. I love the way ideas can percolate while I’m walking my dog, golfing, or in the middle of the night. I even have a lighted LED pen and notebook on my bedside table to jot down notes should inspiration strike while I’m in bed. Trust me, you will not remember those great ideas in the morning, and turning on a lamp will wake you completely.
What are you currently working on? Finding Your Path to Publication, which covers five publishing paths (Big 5 traditional, independent/small press, self-publishing, hybrid/assisted, and social), has been really well received. Still, I’ve heard from several authors who would really like to know more about the self-publishing process. I’m now in the editing stage of Self-publishing: The Ins & Outs of Going Indie. I’ve covered what an author must do to get their book ready for retail, how to upload to various retailers (Amazon, B&N, Kobo, etc.), advertising and promotions, conferences, business basics, social media, and more. Basically, it’s a handbook to self-publishing for the clueless! The publication date is tentatively scheduled for November 1st.
How do you come up with character names? I always watch the end credits of movies and TV shows; lots of interesting names to riff off. For example, in Yellowstone, there is a character named Colby, played by Denim Richards. I loved the name Denim, so in Before There Were Skeletons (book 4 Marketville), I named a new character Denim Hopkins (the Hopkins a nod to a friend who passed away from cancer a few years ago). My Denim is female, and she has a brother named Levy.
In the same series, the protagonist is Calamity (Callie) Barnestable. When I started writing Skeletons in the Attic (book 1), I was the Senior Editor for New England Antiques Journal. I’d been sent a press release about a cabinet card depicting Calamity Jane. I thought, Calamity – perfect – and Callie for short. I initially thought of Barnes (remembering Cliff Barnes nd Pamela Barnes Ewing from Dallas) but wanted something longer. Adding a “stable” seemed to fit.
In my Glass Dolphin series, the protagonists are Arabella Carpenter (I just loved the name Arabella), and heard The Carpenters on the radio when trying to come up with a last name. The other protagonist is Emily Garland. Emily for Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery – the book that made me want to grow up to be a writer – and Garland because I was named after Judy Garland.
I could cite lots of other examples, but you get the idea!
What kind of research do you do? I’m a meticulous researcher and a stickler for details – that probably comes from being a journalist for about 15 years (2003 to 2018). For A Hole in One (book 2 in my Glass Dolphin cozy series set in Ontario, Canada), I needed a gun that would make sense for an antique picker to own – but one that could also be a murder weapon. I know absolutely nothing about guns, so I called my local police station and explained who I was and what I was trying to accomplish. The officer on duty referred me to a gun shop in Ottawa, Canada, that specialized in antique firearms. The owner was great, walking me through options and suggesting a gun that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police would have used in the early 20th century, then sent me pictures of it. I spent the better part of two days on that gun research, and the reference didn’t amount to more than a couple of paragraphs in the book. But I knew if I had that wrong, it would ruin the book for someone who did know about guns. I’ve often been told that people learn from my books, and that makes me happy. Just because a book is a light read doesn’t mean it can’t teach us a thing or two.
How do our readers contact you? https://www.judypenzsheluk.com/contact/
Lis Angus is Canadian; she grew up in Alberta but moved to Ontario for university and has lived there ever since. Early in her career, she worked with children and families in crisis, switching later to work as a policy advisor, business writer, and editor while raising two daughters. Though she loved writing stories as a child and teenager, she didn’t come back to writing fiction until she retired. Her first novel, NOT YOUR CHILD, was published in April 2022. Lis is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, Crime Writers of Canada, Capital Crime Writers, and the North Grenville Writers Circle. She lives with her husband south of Ottawa, where she is working on her second suspense novel.
NOT YOUR CHILD: A strange man insists Susan’s twelve-year-old daughter Maddy is his granddaughter, abducted as a baby — then Maddy disappears, but he has an alibi.
How my book reached Amazon #1 Best Seller status: George, I’m glad to be back as a guest on your blog. You last hosted me last year when my debut novel, NOT YOUR CHILD, was first released by The Wild Rose Press. I was thrilled to be a published writer, and the book got off to a great start after its launch in April 2022. But this year, as another April approached, I realized that sales had slowed to a trickle.
That was disappointing, especially since I knew readers were giving the book great reviews. But was it too late to try to reach a wider audience?
I decided to announce a celebration of the book’s one-year anniversary with a promotional push in April 2023 to attract new readers. I had no idea how well the effort would work, but I was optimistic.
As things turned out, the “push” was way more successful than I anticipated, resulting in (spoiler alert!) over 2,100 sales and reaching Amazon’s #1 Best Seller status in three countries. Here’s how I went about it.
Reducing the Price: My first task was to persuade my publisher to reduce the ebook price (normally US$4.99) to 99¢. They were dubious, saying that a price cut wouldn’t necessarily increase sales, and even if it did, a reduced price would reduce the per-book royalty, thus likely wiping out any net benefit.
I argued that expanding the book’s readership was a benefit in itself, particularly if it built an audience for future books. Furthermore, without a promotional push, sales would likely stay at the then-current low level, so the downside risk of reducing the price was not large.
I laid out my “anniversary” marketing plan, which included applying to several sites that promote books at discounted prices. My publisher reluctantly agreed to set the book’s price at 99¢ for two weeks, from April 12-26. This price is applied to ebooks on Amazon (Kindle), Apple, Google Play, and Barnes & Noble (Nook).
Like most small presses, my publisher expects its authors to shoulder most of the work and expense of promoting their books. So the cost of this promotion would fall to me. I decided that expanding my reader base was a worthwhile investment, regardless of whether my royalties ended up covering the cost.
Applying for a BookBub Featured Deal: BookBub, founded in 2012, has over four million subscribers in the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia. Readers sign up to receive daily email offers of free or discounted ebooks in genres of their choice. Authors and publishers pay to have their books promoted to BookBub’s subscribers.
I learned that BookBub Featured Deals are widely considered the gold standard of online book marketing opportunities, often resulting in significant increases in book sales. BookBub reportedly accepts only 10-20% of applications for Featured Deals; some authors say they’ve applied numerous times without being accepted.
Somehow, I managed to be accepted on my first try, though only for the three “international” markets: Canada, UK, and Australia. I also applied for the US, the largest market by far, but I didn’t get that one. My Deal was scheduled for Friday, April 21.
Lining up US Promos: Even though I didn’t have a BookBub Deal for the US market, my 99¢ price was available there as well. I thought reaching out to readers in that market was worth a try. So, after some research, I applied to three US promo sites that offered discounted books to readers, and promos were scheduled for the following dates:
- Book Adrenaline (April 14)
- Robin Reads (April 15)
- Fussy Librarian (April 17)
Launching the Anniversary Month: I began the month by sending a note to my newsletter subscribers, announcing the one-year milestone and asking them to help me by recommending the book to friends who they thought would enjoy the book.
I had already lined up several guest blogs on author sites during the month and sent links from these to my subscribers as well.
On April 12, when the 99¢ price kicked in, I posted it to my Facebook Page, Twitter, and Instagram and “boosted” the post for two weeks to expand its reach.
Hitting Amazon #1 Bestseller status: To get a baseline, I checked each country’s Amazon listing to find my ebook’s “bestseller rank” before the promo started and tracked changes throughout.
Amazon US: on April 11, my book had a Kindle ranking of 184,509. Four days later, on April 15 — presumably, as a result of the Book Adrenaline and Robin Reads promos — it had risen to a Kindle rank of 2,553. Not only that but to my surprise, it was ranked #1Best Seller in the “Parenting Teenagers” category. (I don’t consider my book a source of parenting advice, but the #2 book was also a thriller!) It was also #25 in Kidnapping Thrillers.
Amazon International: On April 20 (the day before the BookBub Featured Deal), my book’s Kindle rankings were as follows:
- Amazon Canada: 34,381
- Amazon UK: 100,472
- Amazon Australia: 69,470
A day later, by the end of April 21:
- Amazon Canada: kindle book #3, Suspense #1, Kidnapping Thriller #1
- Amazon UK: kindle book #26, Mysteries #10
- Amazon Australia: kindle book #8, Suspense Thriller #1
Amazon recalculates its sales ranks every hour, and my “Best Seller” status didn’t last long. But these results far outstripped my expectations. A lot of readers had clearly decided to buy my book, but to know what exactly that meant, I had to wait for actual sales figures.
Results: Here are the April sales figures I’ve received from my publisher, though the final numbers still need to be confirmed. Most of the sales were through Amazon, but some were also through Google and Nook.
· BookBub deal countries (Canada, UK, and Australia): 1,470 books
· US (no Bookbub deal, smaller promos): 360 books
· Another 350 books sold through Apple Books, for which I don’t yet have a country breakdown.
In total, I now have something over 2,100 new readers—way more than I expected.
In conclusion: I definitely met and exceeded my goals for this promotional push. I probably haven’t recouped the full cost of the promotion, but I am well satisfied with the results nevertheless.
Purchase links: https://books2read.com/notyourchild
I’m a debut author, Canadian, and have just signed a two-book publication deal with Level Best Books. My first title, A Nice Place to Die, is due for release in early August 2022. Blood Relations, number two in the series, is due August 2023.
The books are set in Northern Ireland, where I was born and lived for over twenty years. They are police procedurals featuring DS Ryan McBride and his partner DS Billy Lamont, and while they deal with murder, I do add humour and focus on the setting and characters.
Like many of us, I’m sure, my journey to publication was long. I worked (in broadcasting) until I decided to take early retirement, write, and travel. Well, we all know what happened to travel!
As an unpublished writer, I entered a few competitions and won the Mainstream Mystery and Suspense Daphne du Maurier Award in 2019. I’ve been long-listed four times for the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Awards, and I was finally shortlisted in the CWC Canadian Awards of Excellence in 2021.
I applied for a few grants to conferences. While I never received a grant, I did come to the attention of one of the committee members who had read and enjoyed my first few chapters. She asked me to send her the book to read. I did not, however, feel it was ready to send out for such professional scrutiny (she was a publisher!) and asked that she allow me some time. Two years later, with Covid in between and many more rewrites on my part, I resent the manuscript. This time she read the whole book and offered me a three-book contract. I ended up deciding to go with two books to start, publishing schedules are short, and I take a long time with my books!
I started out as a pantser. I wrote my first book, Abducted, in one linear process. Honestly, I can’t believe I did it that way. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. That manuscript, however, did get long-listed in the CWC annual awards competition. That gave me such a boost. I started my second book, the first in the Northern Ireland series. I began to write it the same way and quickly got lost in the plot. Frustrated, I took Simon Wood’s class, Plot Thickeners, via Sisters in Crime. He showed us how outlining and plotting out make life easier. I wouldn’t say I am a total outliner; I wish I was, but more like a hybrid.
I can’t say exactly the best book I ever read, but I love Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series. I also love November Road by Lou Berney. I enjoy police procedurals so I must mention the wonderful British writer Susan Hill. And I just finished an older book, The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim. It was fantastic.
The take-away for me on this journey is, don’t rush your work. Write the best book you can. Take classes, ask for help, write and rewrite. Join critique groups. Read in your genre and outside it. It’s taken me about four years to write A Nice Place to Die. The first edition of that manuscript was not very good. It’s a process. Certainly, for me, as a new writer, joining Sisters In Crime was the single most important thing I did—classes, critique partners, advice online, and making writer friends. Going to conferences is costly but worth it, and if you can afford a professional editor, so much the better. Enter competitions and apply for grants. Why not?
A Nice Place to Die is due for release in August 2022. – It’s 2016, and Northern Ireland remains a deeply divided province by years of distrust and hatred. But not all crimes are related to the troubles, and Northern Ireland’s past history is the least of Detective Sergeant Ryan McBride’s problems. He has enough to worry about with his latest murder inquiry. Unwilling to risk losing the case, he breaks the rules and fails to disclose a one-night stand he had with the victim. As to the investigation, it’s going nowhere fast as one-by-one, his prime suspects are murdered.
Blood Relations is due for release in August 2023 – Retired Chief Inspector Patrick Mullan is found brutally murdered in his bed. Ryan and Billy are called to his desolate country home to investigate. In their inquiry, they discover a man whose career was overshadowed by violence and corruption. Is the killer someone from Mullan’s past or his present? And who hated the man enough to kill him twice?
I’m a graduate of the Humber School for Writers in Toronto and BCAD, University of Ulster. I’m also a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, and the Suncoast Writer’s Guild.
Where can our readers contact you and order A Nice Place to Die?
Buy the book: https://amzn.to/3CGIzi0
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
My website is jwoollcott.com