Jeanne: Anatomy of a Killer Debut—An Interview with Suzanne Tierney

Scandal6_RGB301Today I’m talking with Suzanne Tierney, who released her debut novel, The Art of the Scandal, on August 28th to great Day 1 sales–she ended the day in first place in Jewish Literature, in 16th in Classic Romance Fiction and 28th in British Historical Literature! And broke the top 5000 in Kindle Paid Sales.

That’s partly because it’s a great story. The Art of the Scandal provides a fascinating glimpse into the efforts required to seat the first Jewish Member of Parliament,. It also include intriguing tidbits on how counterfeited paintings are discovered and the romance between Simon Cohen and Lady Lydia, the quintessential English rose, is both challenging and ultimately satisfying.

But a lot of great books get released on Amazon every year and very few make it to number one in their category. Since a lot of 8LW readers are also writers who do or plan to publish, I thought it might be useful to find out more about the approach Suzanne took to achieve her great debut.

Question 1: I know you originally had a contract with a small press. What made you decide to go indie instead?

Tough question. I really respect small presses and traditional publishing. I think there is a collective wisdom that these publishers have because they have heaps of experience. But perhaps with a press, as an author you are one of many and as an indie, you are one of one. You get all the resources and attention for yourself!

Besides, early in the process, I discovered that I am a control freak (the first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem) and that no matter which route I chose, the only person responsible for the success of my book was me. I would have to build a social media following, I would have to find marketing opportunities. I would have to stand behind the quality of my book.

So I chose the indie route.

Question 2: You had what most indie authors would feel was a wildly successful launch of your debut novel, The Art of the Scandal. Could you please describe the elements of your publicity campaign?

Blushing. Thank you, Jeanne!

I don’t have a magic formula. I fear I probably took a machine gun approach where I tried a little bit of everything and am now beginning to learn what really works.

Writing Community. No matter where you are in your writing journey—multi-published or typing away on your first book – get a writing community. If you write romance (and honestly, even if you don’t) find a chapter of RWA to join. Your fellow writers are going to share their insights and boost you up. I would not have had the courage to go indie if my fellow Persisters like you hadn’t gone first. And when I did release my book, the very first people to promote its debut where my writing friends. So again, I owe my success to you, Jeanne!

Social Media. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the platforms and they can suck up all your time. But it’s important to have the basics down so that you have what the marketing people call “social proof.” Start early and gain traction. There are tons of platforms: Facebook, a simple author page on FB, a basic website, twitter or Instagram. You don’t have to do all of them, but at least try two. A following, no matter how small, proves you’re not an Internet bot. And while you may not garner thousands of followers in the beginning, you will make connections. You won’t sell your first thousand books via social media, but you do connect with other authors, readers, and creative types. To be fair, I also have a number of suspicious Russian trolls following me on IG and they have not had the common courtesy to buy my book.

However, just a few days ago a Canadian woman, someone I don’t know posted on Instagram how much she enjoyed The Art of the Scandal. I was thrilled!

Newsletter Subscribers. I spent an inordinate amount of time going down the marketing black hole made possible by YouTube. One excellent and FREE resource is Nick Stephenson. He focuses on your email list, which for writers is the newsletter subscriber list. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to build a list and actually produce a newsletter. You can turn your subscribers into hard core fans who eat up your newsletter and support your books.

The obvious question is, where do I get a subscriber list???? In  the beginning, I had a whopping two subscribers, my best friend and my mother-in-law. But there are plenty of services that help you build the subscriber list for very little money. Two are Booksweeps and Bookfunnel.

Booksweeps does giveaways where readers enter to win a collection of books. One of those books will be yours. If possible, try to find a Booksweeps promotion near the launch of a new release, or offer a previous book you’ve published in the giveaway.

Bookfunnel is a platform for delivering books for free. If you’re not ready to give away your yet-to-be-released book, consider a short story, a preview of your first three chapters, or another book you’ve written.

Next, treat your subscribers like VIPs. Make their experience special. Some authors offer a behind the scenes peek at their author life. Others do short stories, cut scenes or epilogues that only subscribers get. One fellow author I know has a passionate following based on her quirky ‘author life’ stories and fabulous recipes (her romances involve food, so it’s quite on brand). Readers love to be invited to vote on a character name, provide their opinion on a book cover, or share their own favorite reads. Invite them!

For my subscribers, I wanted to create a salon, something intimate and unique. So I built a locked Exclusives page on my website. To gain access, you have to subscribe to my newsletter and you are then given a password. On the Exclusives page, readers are treated to a guide to the art that inspired The Art of The Scandal. I licensed the works from the National Gallery so I could display them and you won’t find this particular collection anywhere else.

I add something new to the Exclusives page each month:  a video to go along with a favorite passage from The Art of the Scandal; recorded author readings, etc. I went the extra step and added sound effects and music to these readings. Well, to be honest, my neighbor added them in return for a bottle of tequila.

In addition to the Exclusives page, I offer small giveaways as my way of saying thank you. To celebrate my debut, I collected a handful of vintage romances from a local bookstore and offered them to one lucky winner. For Christmas, I am going to do a desert island keeper giveaway where I ask subscribers what one book they would want with them if stranded on an island and I am going to give away a collection of my three favorite romances.

I think something very special happens in the subscriber-author relationship. It’s a chance for true engagement. Readers love talking to writers and I will take the time to thank a reader for his/her note to me. I cannot tell you how excited I was when one of my subscribers shared with me that she was from South Africa (where my hero, Simon from The Art of the Scandal hails). I reached someone from the other side of the world!

From this fantastic subscriber community, I got several ARC reviews (essential to any writer trying to break through the Amazon algorithm) and a surprising number of presales.

So, in case I haven’t been articulate, subscribers were key to my indie debut. Shower your subscribers with love.

Facebook Ads. Now I am going to perhaps shock you with an admission. Facebook ads were a COMPLETE BUST. I wasted money and I want to kick myself and so I am going to share my mistakes so no one ever have to make them.

I invested in Facebook Ads too soon. I decided to go exclusively with Kindle Direct Publishing, which meant that I had to be exclusive with Amazon for at least 90 days. I chose this route because, quite honestly, it was the simplest route. I can explore going wide after I have the second book and more experience under my belt. Right now, going from unpublished to indie involves a steep learning curve and I can only do so much without falling asleep in my own drool.

Anyhow, I uploaded The Art of the Scandal onto Amazon and I set it to preorder with a release 30-days-out. I ran an ad campaign via Facebook and while the ads themselves got a lot of clicks, they resulted in very few sales. I was so disappointed. It stung and I was embarrassed.

Then I learned, if you are exclusive to Amazon, many of your readers will come from Kindle Unlimited and KU readers cannot preorder a book. So all the while I was spending money on clicks, very few of those readers could even buy my book.  I also learned that if you are an unknown author with no other works, and your book on preorder has no reviews, you do not have the author credibility readers look for. So they don’t buy.

In hindsight, I should have waited until reviews started being posted before I implemented my campaign. Even smarter, I should have waited until The Art of the Scandal was actually available. It would have been a much more efficient use of my children’s college fund. I mean, my marketing budget.

Don’t Be Shy. I think most writers are inherently introverts. It’s enjoyable, but often exhausting to talk to humans. Our characters talk to us and demand we write down what they say. Which is great when we are writing. It is not great when we are marketing. We cannot be shy.

Share your writing journey with your friends and with your writing community. When you are about to release, inform your writing community so they can give you shout-outs on social media. Consider Facebook parties and newsletter swaps. Look for fellow authors in your genre who have a healthy Facebook reader group and don’t be afraid to query them. Many will be delighted to offer you a day where you post to their group and you will get engagement with devoted readers who are always looking for another great read.

And finally, have a great mother-in-law. Not only does my mother-in-law babysit so I can write, she posted The Art of the Scandal on her Facebook page, threw a party with her bunco club, and accosts people at the grocery store. Every writer needs an extroverted, ballsy friend who is never embarrassed to sing your praises . My mother-in-law even hands my book out at church on Sunday with a warning that it is rated R. The response from one of her church friends was, “Glory Be.”

Question 3: Did you use a PR firm?

When you’re considering a PR firm (I use one) you have to consider what you’re willing to spend and what you really need.  A full service PR firm, one that would connect you with reviewers, get you press attention, and maybe foreign rights opportunities is very expensive. I did not go that route. What I really needed was someone who could give me good advice, show me where to focus my dollars, and help me handle the day-to-day. My PR assistant was a godsend when it came to newsletter subscribers. She found the opportunities on Booksweeps and Bookfunnel and she handled the logistics — everything from getting my manuscript on Bookfunnel to then importing my subscriber list. She also tapped into her network for newsletter swaps and facebook parties. She  prepped everything for publication, picked my kindle categories (so right there, she’s a genius) and loaded my book onto Amazon. Based on her experience, she suggested certain avenues for marketing, like Bargain Booksy, as her other authors have enjoyed increased sales from it. My Bargain Booksy promo doesn’t come out until the end of September, but I’m hoping I have some success! These are just a few examples of what she helped with, there were plenty of small tasks she had to juggle as well, and she also always made sure I was on task. She calendared deadlines to keep me honest!

Can you do those things yourself? Yes, absolutely. If you do, you can focus your dollars on direct marketing opportunities like Bargain Booksy, Book Bub, Facebook and Amazon ads.  But I have a day job, a husband, three kids plus a golden doodle who thinks he’s human. I don’t think I would have a newsletter without my PR Assistant and the newsletter has been key to my debut’s success.

LAST WORDS. Jeanne, thank you for inviting me to your blog. You ask hard questions! Also, in case anyone is reading this blog and has not purchased your  series, I am here to tell them all to go get your books now. Set aside a weekend. Lock yourself in the bedroom with tasty treats and a good drink. And don’t come out until you’re finished because, wooh, you will be in for a fantastic ride. And yes, I’m looking at you, Belial. If Bruce Campbell was ever written into a smexy paranormal romance, this would be it.

Suzanne TierneyWHETHER it’s restlessness, wanderlust, or train fever,Suzanne Tierney loves stories about journeys. So that’s what she writes–books steeped in the lush details of history that tell of heroines thoroughly devoted to their sense of place, even when it’s the wrong place, and the heroes who catapult, challenge and cherish those heroines, even when they have no intention of setting down roots.

You can sign up for her boffo newsletter here.


15 thoughts on “Jeanne: Anatomy of a Killer Debut—An Interview with Suzanne Tierney

  1. I’ve seen this book flash across my screen…going to add it to my TBR pile.

    Thank you for all the advice. Definitely going to cogitate…I have a first release coming up, too.

    Suzanne, I tried to sign up for your newsletter, but the Subscribe button isn’t working. 😦 Suggestions?

    • Justine, I suspect there’s a technical hiccup that needs fixing. To make ilife easier, you can email me at and I will manually ad you. It may take me a week to fix the glitch.

      Good luck on your first release! It’s a whirlwind, so don’t forget to stop and enjoy the accomplishment of bringing a book into this world. The world needs more books!

  2. This is really helpful. Thank you, Suzanne and Jeanne–and congratulations, Suzanne, on your debut success.

    I checked out the sample of The Art of the Scandal and really enjoyed it. Have bought the book and will probably read it this weekend if I can sneak a few hours of downtime.

  3. Great interview! I’m really interested in the advice that non-romance writers join RWA local chapters. I write science fiction and fantasy with strong romantic elements, and have thought about joining RWA nationally. (There is no local chapter in my area; I live abroad.) But I don’t know if know any people writing the stuff I do who belong to RWA . . . . Well, Kay is pretty darn close in some of her writing.

    (-: Anyway, I guess I’m asking for stories about non-romance writers in your own chapter.

    Thanks for doing the interview and answering the hard questions! Lots of good points that I’ll take note of when I need to market a self-published story.

      • It seems like you have an active chapter! I have to look around and see what I can put together here. I’ve found some fellow writers with NaNo, but nobody on a regular basis. Writing is fairly solitary, but research, editing and marketing go much better with friends to bounce ideas off.

    • Yes, as Jeanne mentioned, I’m a YA fantasy writer, and I checked out RWA after doing surprisingly well in a short story contest when my prompts were rom-com; and then the next round, romance. I’d heard of COFW since a chapter member is the wife of a bicycling friend, so I finally put on my big girl panties and came to the chapter meeting.

      I joined for several reasons, among which are: 1) SUPER supportive community. They accepted that I’m not in the same “romance” category that they are. I’m not looked down on for writing YA, or fantasy. 2) THE WORKSHOPS. Oh, my gosh. If your chapter is like my chapter? JOIN! RWA bylaws allow chapters to have a guest at two meetings. After that, you’d have to join to continue attending.

      I want to write STRONGER romance into my characters, and this is the perfect community to help me with this. They’ve helped me brainstorm ideas. I still have to submit the next draft of my novel to RWA if I want to see if they’ll accept me as a higher tier. I forget the names they give us, but right now I’m a non-voting member. I still don’t know if the romance element is strong enough even for YA to nudge me in, but it’s worth a try.

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