Back Story: A.G. Riddle's 'Dumb Luck'


Photograph of A. G. Riddle courtesy of the author.
If you’re a first-time novelist hoping to get noticed in the sea of books on Amazon, I feel your pain.

Thirteen weeks ago, I uploaded my debut novel to Amazon. At first, nothing happened—sales were slow and reviews were rare. Fast-forward a few months, and The Atlantis Gene has been in the top 100 for weeks now; review No. 684 just rolled in.

I want to be upfront: I don’t know exactly how my novel got so much traction. I can only tell you what I did, and I hope you can take something away from it. In short, this is the stuff I would have wanted to know before I clicked “publish” in the Kindle Direct Publishing control panel.

Novel Relationship Advice

Women have this formula: When you break up with someone, it takes half the time you were in the relationship to get over that relationship. Don’t ask me how they know or how this sort of top-secret calculus is circulated (I imagine in hushed tones over martinis), but they’re right—as women usually are about all things related to relationships.

The logic is sound. If you invest in something (especially emotionally), you stand to lose a lot. The more time and the more of yourself you put into something, the more likely you are to get hurt if it doesn’t work out—or in the case of a debut novel, if it doesn’t sell or if the reviewers don’t sing your praises.

I think this is incredibly important. Before you click upload, you have to manage your own expectations. If you’ve invested a lot in your story, if you’ve been writing it at night for years, you stand to get hurt if it doesn’t succeed or if it gets panned (it will, no matter how good it is).

I spent two years writing The Atlantis Gene. The book isn’t a biopic or a memoir by any stretch (it’s more of an action-adventure with three scoops of science and history), but I did invest a lot of my time in it. I was incredibly nervous about releasing it. I spent weeks rewriting it, until I knew it simply wasn’t getting any better. It was the best book I could write at the time. I clicked the publish button on Amazon’s KDP site on March 27th.

In the weeks that followed, The Atlantis Gene struggled to find an audience. I was pretty disappointed. But, in my heart, I knew I had written the best book I could, and I liked it. So I kept writing the sequel (and tried my best not to look at my sales stats, reviews or email). To me, that’s the real measure of success: Can you keep going?

How to Botch a Book Launch

I made several self-inflicted errors that added to The Atlantis Gene’s almost total lack of early success. I hope you can avoid these.

Any Two Won’t Do: Amazon Categories

On Amazon’s KDP, you can select two categories. Which two you select is incredibly important. I chose the wrong ones. Think hard about your categories. Look at the books in those categories and read the reviews.

If your book is a techno-thriller (as The Atlantis Gene is), here’s a nifty tip you won’t find anywhere online: You cannot put your book in the techno-thriller category via the KDP control panel. You have to email KDP support, and they will put your book in there. I put my book in the thrillers category and just figured it would magically associate with the techno-thrillers sub-category. Yeah, not so much.


I get a lot of emails from other indie writers asking me about book pricing. I started out pricing my book at $2.99, then lowered the price to 99 cents for a week or so—a desperate attempt to get in front of potential readers. Sales picked up a bit but not a ton. I went back to $2.99 and have stayed there since.

When the book cost 99 cents, one blog did email me back and said they would post The Atlantis GeneeReader News Today. I’ll be forever grateful to them for that. It only resulted in 200 sales, and their charge to me was only $18, but it was so encouraging. Knowing that someone outside my mom, girlfriend and friends (not exactly an impartial jury) was willing to spread the word gave me some hope that The Atlantis Gene might find an audience. To date, that $18 is all I’ve spent on marketing, and the only other promotion I’ve done has been a GoodReads giveaway (definitely something to check out).

Hot or Not (aka Thank You, Amazon)

After the sales bump from eReader News Today, The Atlantis Gene resumed its normal pace of selling nearly no copies, every day. Then, in one day, it Riddle Cover started climbing quickly.

It turns out The Atlantis Gene had made it onto a list on Amazon called Hot New Releases. If you’re a first-time novelist, this list is your whole life. Forget your bucket list, throw out your grocery list; Hot New Releases is the only list that matters to you. I don’t know what it takes to get on that list, but I assume it’s some amount of sales (and possibly reviews). Your goal should be to get that critical mass of sales to get on that list and climb to a noticeable level.

After that weekend, everything changed. Sales picked up and stayed up. Reviews came in, and fans began to email me. I think Amazon’s Hot New Releases list was huge, but I also believe Amazon had begun to email readers about the book.

Spoiler Alert: Cliffhanger Ending Ahead

What I’m trying to say is:

1: Fall in love with your work. If you don’t love what you’ve written, I can guarantee you the world won’t. Invest in your novel. Invest as much time as it takes to write a novel you believe in. There’s a lot of competition out there, but that isn’t the biggest reason. If it doesn’t succeed, your belief in your work could be all that saves you psychologically.

2: Have a plan to get to critical mass early. You read my story (and in case you didn’t, here’s the short version: For me, it was pure dumb luck). Have a better plan and be ready to change it.

3: Keep writing. And let me know what you come up with.

A.G. Riddle spent 10 years starting and running Internet companies before retiring to focus on his true passion: writing fiction. His debut novel, The Atlantis Gene, is the first book in The Origin Mystery Series. He lives in Durham, N.C.


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