Best-Selling Romance Writer Courtney Milan's 'Back Story'


In the summer of 2011, I was a traditionally published author whose romance novels boasted sales that might be called decent at best. I had glowing reviews—starred reviews from the major print publications, raves from the online community—but as we all know, reviews are not sales. In looking at my career, I decided that I could continue to accept decent to mediocre sales (and risk being told that I needed to change my name to get another contract), or I could self-publish and try to jump-start my career.

My first self-published work was a novella called Unlocked. I did a lot of things right with Unlocked: I priced it at a point that encouraged impulse buys. The cover was eye-catching. I had it professionally edited. I timed the release of the novella with my announcement that I had turned down a traditional contract to self-publish, which escalated the interest in my novella. I wrote a good story that dealt with emotional issues (specifically, the long-term effects of bullying) that readers connected with. And, as a result, I had incredible sales. Unlocked spent four weeks on The New York Times ebook list and three weeks on the USA Today list.

But I also did one big thing wrong: I didn’t have a plan for actively converting the sales I made with the novella into long-term readers.

Some of this happens passively, of course. If you read a book by an author you like, you tend to follow that author. But a lot of times, people read a book, tell themselves they want to read the next book by the author…and then have no idea when the next book is out.

There were a lot of people who had decided to read my next book after Unlocked…and I had no way of letting them know. From December of 2011 through November of 2012, I never saw a book come anywhere near the top 100 on Amazon.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not complaining about my sales. They were good enough to enable me to quit my dayjob—they just weren’t ridiculous. And so I started looking for self-published authors who not only had extraordinary success with one book, but who saw extraordinary success with every book. What did they do differently?Unlocked

The answer was twofold. 1: The author wrote good books that appealed to readers. Then, 2: On the page right after “The End,” the author told the reader how to keep in touch with the author. Sign up for my new release e-mail list. Follow me on twitter. Like my page on Facebook.

In other words, the author did her best to convert sales into readers. Starting with my April release, I added the same to the end of my books. Even though neither of the books I released had stratospheric sales, the sales were steady, the reviews were good…and more people were signing up for my e-mail list every month.

When I released The Duchess War in December of 2012, it finally did hit the top ranks everywhere—more than two weeks in the top 100 Nook books as well as the top 100 books on Amazon.

Cause and effect are rarely easy things to trace. I’m sure that someone looking over my sales history could point to numerous other things that came into play, and I don’t want to imply that everything was simple. But if I could boil down my success to two sentences, I would choose these: Write books that readers want to read. Make it easy for them to find out about the next book.

Courtney Milan is the New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of The Governess Affair, The Duchess War, Unlocked and Unraveled.


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