RWA 2016: How to Move from Midlist to Blockbuster in Five Strategic Steps

The next Romance Writers of America annual conference is July 13 -16, 2016 in San Diego and we can’t wait!  It’s always a great place to connect with publishers and authors on the cutting edge of digital publishing – and one of the year’s most fun conferences.

As authors and publishers gear up for the show, it’s a great time to review the publishing advice column our Client Services Director Kelly Peterson wrote in March 2016 for the Romance Writer’s Report, which mails out monthly to more than 10,500 RWA members, editors, agents, and other industry professionals.

If you’ll be at RWA and would like to meet Guillian Hetzler, our Client Services Manager, please contact her at ghetzler (at)


How to Move from Midlist to Blockbuster in Five Strategic Steps

By Kelly Peterson

In love, relationships start with a hot spark of possibility, and then you have to fan the flames. It’s the same with publishing a bestseller. Authors like Jackie Collins and Sylvia Day both started small, yet found ways to build worldwide audiences. What strategies did they use? Both have written terrific books that reveal how strong women tackle life and love. Beyond that, here are five key things they did to move from midlist to blockbuster.

  1. Galleys are Like Kisses to Casanova…

Flirt with fans and reviewers by sending out advance reading copies of a new book anywhere from one to six months before the official publication date. Let them check out your book jacket art and plot description, and read the whole story, so they can write early reviews.  When Sylvia Day independently published her novel Bared to You, she offered digital galleys to select reviewers using NetGalley, a service available through her publishing services company, INscribe Digital. She also approved an unusually wide number of review requests, including one from an editor at Penguin Books, who ended up buying the right to publish the book in print and digitally, along with two sequels.

After you put your galley out there, follow these hot tips, so your reviewers and fans will love you more with each release:

  • Reach out to your loyal fans and favorite reviewers, and gift them with a galley – NetGalley’s auto-approval widget makes it easy.
  • Send a personal thank you note to each reviewer who downloaded a copy.
  • Remind your adoring fans to add their reviews to their favorite retailer site on your release day.
  • Add reviewers’ contact information to your newsletter subscription list.
  1. Swipe Right on Pre-order

Make sure your titles are available for pre-order at each of the major retailers, at least three months ahead of your book’s launch date.  That way, your fans can order the book when they first hear about it, even if it isn’t available yet. Bestselling romance author Christina Bauer won’t release a new eBook in her Angelbound series unless the sequel is available for pre-order. Her rabid fans will read her newest title in a single day, then immediately want to buy the next one. She makes sure they can!

Driving pre-orders is also a key to building long-term success. At INscribe Digital, our biggest releases are those with the most pre-orders. We recommend that authors create pre-order information for all upcoming titles at all of the major retailers (we also offer our clients the option to create pre-orders at all major retailers for up to a full year before publication). Remember, fans will swipe all the way through a beloved author’s backlist, while they are waiting for a new book.

  1. Make Plans for Your Next Date Before You Kiss Goodnight

End your book like you would a date: on a confident note. On the last page of your eBook, entice your readers to come back for more, with pre-order links for all of your books, accompanied by your beautiful book jackets. Maybe even throw in an excerpt of your next book as well, as a compelling tease!

If you offer a variety of pre-order links that are specific to each retailer who carries your eBook, the retailers won’t mind. Plus, it’s a kindness to your readers. They need their next great book and you’re making it easy to find. Over time, the sales impact can be significant. Author Shiloh Walker (writing as J.C. Daniels) has made the most out of retailer-specific links at the back of her books, with the result that her next book, Shadowed Blade (Spring 2016) is poised to hit bestseller lists on its release date.

  1. Get Your Hot Self Out There

Don’t be a wallflower. When a new book goes on sale, place earlier titles in your series in several retailer promotions, so a few things are happening at once. For example, if yourbook will appear as a Barnes Noble Daily Find, schedule a BookBub promotion for the same day. Or, you can advertise in Kindle Nation Daily when your new book lands the coveted Kindle Daily Deal.

Remember that a new book can make your backlist titles sexy again. Flaunt them on your website with retail links. Authors like Dakota Cassidy curate links to their books at each retailer. Widgets from or TextCafe make the process even easier, by automatically filling in retailer links (click here to see the widgets in action). As an added bonus—these tools allow use of retailer affiliate links to earn you some extra cash.

  1. Don’t Be Scared to Update Your Look

You want your readers to lust for the outside of your book and fall in love with the inside. Survey your readers, talk to your critique partners, ask your friends if they think your content is fresh and interesting—and don’t try to counter anyone’s opinion. One person could be wrong, but if you ask enough people, you’ll be able to see where you might want to make improvements. Sometimes it’s worth trying a new cover, or a changing the book description at a crucial point to see if there’s an effect on sales.

Remember, successful publishing – like a successful romantic relationship – requires some foresight, passionate attention to detail, and a willingness to occasionally reassess and learn from others, in order to keep moving forward with confidence.


Kelly Peterson is Director of Client Services at INscibe Digital, a publishing services company based in San Francisco.