88 Books in 20 Months: The Inside Story of a Bestselling Author’s Marketing Strategy

Laurie Starkey, authorLaurie Starkey is an indie author dynamo. She’s written 88 works of fiction in 20 months. Thirty of those 88 books were created as a ghostwriter. The other 50, she wrote and produced under several pen names, including Ali Parker, Kate Thomas and L. A. Starkey.

Starkey writes in the Young Adult, paranormal New Adult, Erotica and Romance categories, and her highest sales are Contemporary Romance, New Adult Romance and Romantic Suspense novels.

I spoke with Starkey about her marketing strategies and production schedule.

This is part one in a two-part series.

BB: What is your business model?

LS: The business model is that when I start a series, I put out a book every three months. I released 14 books this summer [in several series]. When I write as Ali Parker, I do spin-offs. When creating a world, I make sure that there is an extra character in there somewhere who is going to be in the next series. At the very end of one series, I say, “Do you want to know John’s story? John was the sidekick the whole time. Of course you want to hear his story!”

BB: Can you talk about your marketing strategy?

LS: When I start a new series, I write the first book and put it out everywhere at $2.99 for three months. Once I get book two out, two or three months later, then book one becomes free. This is when I start advertising it, as far as I’m concerned. And I won’t put a ton of muscle behind it until book two is out. Then when I get three books out or if the series is complete, we really go to town on advertising. There are lots of free things to do, but I have built my platform on using paid ads.

BB: How do you plan your advertising?

LS: The last thing you want to do is run an ad and then hope for the best and walk away. You run an ad and then three days later you run another ad so that your sales stay up just a little bit longer. I usually schedule my ads on a Tuesday because new things come out on Tuesdays. New music releases are on Tuesdays. Movies get changed on Tuesdays. Tuesday is the day when people expect something new to happen. So we always release books on Tuesdays. And I always schedule my big ads for Tuesday and then we will do a smaller ad on Thursday or Friday.

BB: Talk about how you interact with your audience.

LS: We created a presence on Facebook and I drop in there multiple times a week just to say, “How are you doing? Here is what I’m working on. What are you guys doing this weekend?” Just those small things. We have probably about 350 members in that group. We grabbed those members from Facebook parties. That’s where, for 30 minutes on Facebook, we gather a small tribe together and we’re giving away lots of ebooks, several physical novels, and just having a really good time.

We asked people to join our launch team to help get reviews out. I know the indie author struggles with growing a launch team, because I did it for so long. We foster those relationships. We don’t just send a link like, “Here is your book. Have a great day.” We talk about stuff. Like, there are several people on our mailing list we talk about soccer with. Their kids play soccer, and my husband is a coach. We are not robots!

Of course we have an author webpage and we are always posting. You only have to post two or three times a week. It takes five minutes to just say something normal, to just be human, like we were eating sandwiches today and squirted mustard everywhere. Silly stuff like that. People love that—that’s connecting.

BB: Sounds like customer service is important to you.

LS: We sat down and said, “Where can we have better customer service? Where can we really make people feel like we care?” We said, “Let’s give away as much content as we possibly can.” This fall we’re creating a really funny birthday video. We will tell our fans that we will send them a birthday wish next year if they tell us their birthday. We are going to set up an automated email to make sure that on that day, that person gets their video and their happy birthday wish from me and Jacob as a thank you. It seems kind of corny. But it’s not. When they open it that day, they are going to be like, “That’s really cool.”

BB: To get people to join your mailing list, you give them 10 free books. How does this work?

LS: I have a call-to-action at the front and the back of my book. It’s a pretty graphic that says, “We would love to send you a library starter kit.” We don’t call it a mailing list, but an insiders’ group. We say, “Come join our insiders’ group and you will get updates and freebies and we will be asking your opinion.”

Nobody wants updates and information. We are all in information overload. So we had to think, what would we want? I’d want an author to give me something free that no one else can get. We give out 10 free books. That’s enticing. It’s like a starter library. And so we do the call-to-action in the beginning of our books and the end of our books and we run ads.

On my Amazon page, you can see that we would love for people to join our insiders’ group. So we have many ways to build the list. We are almost at 10,000 on the list right now.


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4 thoughts on “88 Books in 20 Months: The Inside Story of a Bestselling Author’s Marketing Strategy

  1. Michael W. Perry

    Even when you consider that genre fiction is often written to a formula filled with stereotypes, the idea that people would be reading a book I’d written in about a month sends shivers up my spine. That’d be treating my writing like I treat my cooking—from can-to bowl-to microwave-to mouth in three minutes. I spent over a year on my latest book, the hopefully ground-breaking (for hospital care) Embarrass Less. It was only during the last few weeks of that long labor that I began to feel I’d gotten it together. I wanted readers to feel as my teen patients felt as they struggled against desperate illnesses, and I think I achieved that.

    I’m certainly not a member of the James Patterson school of writing. In my only attempt to read one of his hastily written books, after but a few pages I wanted to hurl it against the wall. It was that bad. Realizing that my public library would not be happy if I returned it damaged, I restrained myself.

    Writers should not forget that hasty writing resembles my bad habit of hasty cooking. Rush the process and you never learn to do it well. I may take many months with my writing, but with each new book I write better in less time. Eventually, I hope I’ll write quickly and well.

    For an illustration of what that means, think of President Reagan. Near the end of a life spent writing and speaking, the time came for him to explain to the nation that he had Alzheimer’s. The result was so marvelously written, some doubted he could have written it without assistance. In response, his wife showed the draft, written in his own hand with but a few changes. You can read that letter to the nation here:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/primary-resources/reagan-alzheimers/

    Compare Reagan’s marvelous last letter to the stilted opening pages of a James Paterson novel, and you’ll understand why mastering the craft of writing well matters.

    I’ll add one more comment. Writing and reading bear the same relationship as cooking and eating. Eat hastily prepared junk food, and you’ll acquire a taste for nothing but junk food. Read junk fiction from James Patterson and his kin, and you’ll soon lose the taste anything else. That is why they sell books by the millions. It’s why their books have a similarly unhealthy impact. Someone who writes to formulas and plays to stereotypes deprives their readers of any ability to think honestly and see clearly. Indeed, I suspect one of the keys to Patterson’s success is that he allows readers to feel intensely without the bother of thinking. Is there a worse sin for a writer? I am not sure there is.

    And no, I’m not praising literary fiction. Much of it is as distorted in its own way as the worst bodice-ripper romance or gore-glutted thriller. Perhaps the best illustration of what I like is a book for children, Anne of Green Gables. In Embarrass Less, I tried to give my readers the same understanding for my real-life teen patients as Lucy Maud Montgomery did with her fictional characters. I hope to guide doctors and nurses from feeling to thinking and on to understanding their patients. My focus was on the embarrassment that patients that experience in hospitals, but the lessons apply equally well to everything else sickness and hospitalization bring. As in Anne of Green Gables, teens—who are so open about their feelings—are wonderfully revealing. What adults would hide, they show.

    Reply
  2. Karen judge

    Kudos to you for creating what you feel is your best, but knocking others’ tastes (readers) and work (authors) are the words of a bitter creep.

    Reply
  3. S.M. McEachern

    I’m a big reader of DBW, but rarely comment. However, I feel compelled to ask you, Michael W. Perry, if you’re drawing upon actual data when you claim, “It’s why their books have a similarly unhealthy impact. Someone who writes to formulas and plays to stereotypes deprives their readers of any ability to think honestly and see clearly.” Is there an academic study that you should be citing here? Because in my opinion, one of the worse sins an author can make is feeding his/her readers unsubstantiated rhetoric for the purpose of influencing opinion.

    I took the liberty of looking you up on Amazon and see that you’re a non-fiction author. Some of your novels interest me–I’ve read quite a few works on the holocaust, both for academics studies as well as my own pursuits, and our awful history of eugenics never ceases to hold a horrific fascination for me. However, I’m extremely grateful that these dark, hard-hitting nonfiction topics are not the only books I have to choose from. I can lose myself in a YA adventure, or a bodice-ripping romance, or a suspenseful thriller, or even the occasional “distorted” literary novel.

    Has all this junk fiction rotted my brain? Mmmm … well according to a study done by researchers from the University of Buffalo, my ability to feel empathy increased after reading “Twilight.” https://www.google.ca/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=Academic+Study+on+the+effects+of+fiction+reading&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&gfe_rd=cr&ei=n9gYWJnaKcve8AeuzLbIDw And according to an article published in Psychology Today, “fiction improves brain connectivity and function” by providing a vehicle for readers to “get outside themselves” which improves “theory of mind.” Or in more simplistic terms, it’s great to escape into a good book and experience feelings associated with something other than the daily monotony of life.

    While you may not agree with it, formula writing has a solid place in publishing. There are millions of voracious readers out there, some of whom read four or more books a day, and I personally don’t see anything wrong with authors trying to keep up with their appetite. However, I do think it’s extremely narcissistic to put those authors down in attempt to elevate your own rank as well as self promote your book. It’s not only insulting to the authors you’re slamming (in this case, James Patterson, Laurie Starkey, and authors of bodice-ripper romance, gore-glutted thrillers, and distorted literature), but also to their millions of readers who like nothing better than to temporarily escape their own stressful lives by living vicariously through a fantastical world of characters, and then go back to being nurses, doctors, teachers, scientists, lawyers, mothers, fathers …

    Reply
  4. AuthorPalessa

    Laurie Starkey, I salute you. To find your audience and to know them well enough is an amazing feat. I am blown away by how prolific you are. I like thus article’s strategy. I do now work with paid advertising as I find that my time is well spent doing that as part of my overall marketing strategy. Seriously, this is awesome.

    Reply

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