I recently chatted with Mary Rosenblum from New Writers Interface about what we can expect when it comes to mystery and thriller trends in 2017, as well as what really hooks a reader and draws them into a story. She’s an author, editor, and marketer whose services replace much of what traditional publishing houses once did when it comes to prepping a book for publication and seeing that it gets to the right audience. So if anyone knows what is ahead for readers, Mary does.
Carmen Amato: As a publishing insider who helps bring quality books to readers, what mystery and thriller trends do you see ahead, when it comes to reading and publishing?
Mary Rosenblum: I’m seeing a growing shift to ebooks among the mystery readers in general. It was behind the fantasy, romance, and SF genres for awhile, but the ebook sales have really strengthened. It’s still a genre where you want to have the book available in print as well as ebook, however.
Readers are getting pickier now, dismissing books with weak descriptions or slow starts. Most people use ‘look inside the book’ before they buy. Series collections are increasingly popular in the ebook world, and for you authors, free book giveaways no longer translate into an increase in paid sales. They’re good for boosting your Amazon ranking, though.
There is also a growing need to focus book promotion on increasing your visibility on Amazon.com as book purchases shift more and more to Amazon. Amazon does not make all books visible equally, and good books can be quite invisible unless you know the author or title. Don’t depend on Amazon only to find new books. Use book discounters such as Fussy Librarian or BookBub, be on Goodreads, and follow reviewers in your genre for good leads.
CA: I’ve noticed that more and more mystery series are using title devices. For example, the title of each Hetta Coffey mystery by Jinx Schwartz starts with “Just,” while Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum mysteries are numbered. What do you think of this trend?
MR: It started some time ago and has recently gained momentum. Sue Grafton really brought attention to it with her alphabet series quite a few years ago.
This is all about branding and it’s a really good idea in our world of one second visual hooks! Some authors use a title device, perhaps using a particular phrase, a color, flower, bakery item or what have you as part of the title. My own cozy mystery series with Putnam included a flower name as part of the title; Deadly Nightshade, Bleeding Heart, etc. Other authors use cover imagery as a brand — the covers all share a similar look. You want instant reader identification — “Oh, I like that series…”
CA: As both reader and editor, what “hooks” you when you read a book description or see a cover on Amazon? What makes you pass on a book?
MR: Covers are the first thing I look at and I can tell with about 90% certainty whether they’re professionally done or done by the author. A good cover reveals the genre, the ‘tone’ of the story, and offers some kind of visual hook. Vague covers that don’t make the content clear are a turn-off, not just to me but to other readers, too. It implies a book that isn’t up to professional standard.
I will even turn down free books if the description is poor! I want a description that hooks me right away, gives me a sense of the main character and the central conflict, and excites my curiosity. If I want to go read more at the end of that description, I’m 2/3 of the way to clicking ‘buy’! (A quick glance at the start of the book is the deciding third…)
CA: Book reviews, especially on Amazon, have become an essential part of the book industry for both readers and writers. My own experience has been 1 review for every 1500 downloads. Do you think book reviews will become more or less important as time goes on? Why do you think so few readers leave reviews?
MR: Right now, reviews are becoming more and more important to Amazon visibility as are Goodreads reviews and reads. These things change, but right now, authors need to actively solicit reviews. But you must do it within Amazon’s best practices rules or risk getting kicked off Amazon. You cannot offer a reward for a review and it is very dangerous to hire a company to ‘get you positive reviews’. If that company is on Amazon’s black list, your book gets banned! NOT good!
The best way to get reviews or Goodreads action is to cultivate a personal connection with your readers. Acquire their emails and their goodwill through giveaways of free short content, free book giveaways, contests, invitations to contribute something to an ongoing draft, and the like. Then ask for reviews the way you’d ask them for a Facebook like. If your fans feel that they’re your friends, they’re more willing to do you favors.
CA: Can you tell us a bit more about yourself? You have a unique place in today’s publishing world but I think more agents and editors are going to follow your lead.
MR: I raised my kids as a mid-list author with Random House, Penguin, and Torr Books, writing SF and mystery (as Mary Freeman) as well as teaching writing. (And I won some nice literary awards while I was doing that, too). As the publishing world changed and opened up to self publishing, I saw too many of my students getting scammed by fake ‘publishers’ or publishing books only to see no buyers. I saw this new world of self publishing as a huge benefit to writers and readers both. The NY marketers were no longer the gatekeepers of published fiction!
But you have to do it right in order to succeed. You must have a book that satisfies the readers in your genre and is well edited. You must publish it in a professional manner. You must promote it.
I have worked very hard to bring those three elements together for writers as New Writers Interface where I edit and help them publish and promote. The promotion part has become more important lately, and I spend a lot of time keeping track of what is working for authors today to connect their books to the right readers. It’s a lot of fun and keeps me busy tracking trends! And I love it when my clients’ books sell well!
CA: Can you leave us with two recommendations: A classic every mystery lover should read, and a book you’d give as a gift.
MR: Ah, I’m usually terrible at these recommendations, but in this case I can manage! Whew!
The only classic that I’d recommend to every mystery lover is Sherlock Holmes. No matter what sub genre of mystery you read or write, Holmes works. The books really don’t fit into any modern genre, but for mystery authors there’s a lot to be learned from that distant, knows-everything character. The books don’t sell just because they get assigned in high school and college English classes, they still engage readers in spite of the antiquated writing style. A few authors since then have done very well with the Holmes archetype. Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series, begun in the 30s, was very successful and was quite popular for at least four decades.
A gift I actually gave this Christmas was an assortment of Raymond Chandler mysteries — another classic by the way. The recipient is a younger mystery reader who likes noir detective fiction and hadn’t heard of Raymond Chandler and Phillip Marlowe. He was very pleased with the books, and there’s another author whose stories have survived in spite of ‘antiquated’ prose!
CA: Mary, thanks so much for stopping by. This was great information for both readers and writers.
MR: Carmen, thank you so much for inviting me! I just finished Hat Dance and am moving on to King Peso–I really like Emilia Cruz and her investigations. And believe me, getting three books into a series is rare for me! As soon as I start editing, I am done with a book! That I do for pay, not for pleasure. Excellent writing, characterization, and plotting. I’m looking forward to more Emilia Cruz mysteries for sure!
You can find out more about Mary and her magic at http://www.newwritersinterface.com/