I’ve taken the following data from this excellent report by Meaghan Gray, which is well worth reading in full. Here are the top 20 indie authors for June 2012:
1. C J Lyon, thrillers ‘with heart’ i.e. romance along the way
2. Bella Andre – sensual romance, erotica
3. Jamie McGuire – contemporary romance
4. Antoinette Stockenberg – romantic suspense
5. Marie Force – contemporary romance
6. Barbara Freethy – romantic suspense, contemporary romance
7. Huge Howey – science fiction
8. Kristen Ashley – romance
9. Colleen Hoover – various fiction, drama
10. Gemma Halliday – thriller
11. Stephanie Bond – humorous mysteries with touch of romance
12. Liliana Hart – humorous mystery with touch of romance
13. John Locke – thriller
14. Rebecca Forster – legal thriller
15. Bob Mayer – thrillers
16. Lisa Renee Jones – contemporary, sensual fiction
17. Jon F Merz – YA adventure
18. Judy Angelo – contemporary romance
19. Ruth Cardello – contemporary romance
20. Kathleen Brooks – romantic suspense
These guys are all selling 20,000 plus a month, up to over 90,000. We have 5 thriller writers, 12 with a romantic bent, 1 sci-fi, 1 YA and 1 general fiction. Fairly conclusive as to what sells I think. I have to say I’m extremely surprised that there’s no paranormal romance in these 20. They start appearing a little further down the top 100 list. That seems to be a red hot genre these days.
What emerges from indie lists like this is clearly what the low budget book buyer likes to read. There’s no pretentious literary fiction here. We’ve got solid stories with love and adventure – pleasurable escapism.
For comparison, I checked the top 20 bestsellers for paying (as opposed to free) books at Smashwords. We have a much wider range of genres including cookery, erotica, crafts (felting), paranormal, romance and sports. The only author from this list is Kristen Ashley who appears three times, which is very impressive. She’s clearly doing everything right and I’m about to buy a couple of her books and see if I can discover her secret! I suggest you do the same. A quick browse of her novels shows that on the whole they’re big – many are 130,000 words plus, up to over 200,000 words, which is quite unusual. We’re often told by publishers that 75,000 words is what most people want. Seems they don’t. Also, Kristen has a mix of series (Rock Chick) and standalones and covers quite a wide variety of themes. She’s a very flexible as well as extremely fast writer. And she goes for cool names for her characters. We have Knight, Grayson, Tor, Prentice, Ivey, Kane, Jet, February, Indy, Mara, Tyra, Cora (definitely a bit of a pattern with girls’ names ending in ‘ra’!) Also, she generously offers up to 50% samples on Smashwords. So – already we’ve picked up three tips on being successful; long books, cool character names and generous samples. Even if you feel you couldn’t write a romance novel to save your life, you can use those tips for whatever genre you do fall into.
Make it a weekly habit to pick an author from a bestselling list (e.g. Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble), preferably well up there, and read at least a sample of their work to see what you can glean from it. Go to their website, follow them on Twitter and see if there’s anything you can learn from them in terms of promotion. Compile your own notes and build up a database on successful authors and books. Learn from the indie leaders.