How to Brand A Break-Out Bestseller


This past month I had the pleasure of working with Lissa Ford an incredibly talented indie author. Lissa writes scorching hot M/M romance, and her prose and storytelling is as skillful as any indie or traditional author I’ve ever read. (And as a cover designer, trust me I’ve read a lot.) Recently I did her cover for her new series Bait, a procedural romantic suspense novel. Getting hot, moody men on the cover was crucial, and readers and Lissa both agree I succeeded. When she contacted me to say that it was time for her paperback, she informed me she was selling far more copies of Bait than she had with any of her previous releases and had hit and stuck a sub-thousand ranking on the Amazon store. After I finished with the paperback, I just had to ask her what her secret was so I could share with you guys!

  Lissa, I have to say I’ve read the look-in-side for your book, and you’re just a terrific writer. I think a lot of people in the indie community focus on the marketing, covers and branding, but it’s clear you got the nuts and bolts of how to craft a compelling story in vivid personality-rich prose. In my opinion this is always the most important thing.  What has your journey as a writer looked like? 

Thank you! I take craft very seriously and I’m always trying to improve. I’ve been rejected for many years by the traditional industry (surprise) but with indie publishing I’m able to write the books that I want to write, and readers seem to be responding.

Branding and marketing can only get you so far. Good writing gives the reader confidence to fall into the story and lose themselves. Sure, there are many examples of badly-written books that inexplicably take off, but I feel an author owes the reader the best work they can possibly write. The reader will then reward with sales and loyalty for your future books. There are no shortcuts when it comes to quality.

Bait, is your break-out novel. You’ve been staying steady in the sub-one thousand range in the kindle store. What factors do you think lead to this one connecting with readers and flying off the virtual shelves? 

I wish I knew! This is part of the “luck” factor that no one can control. BAIT is defying my own expectations, which is really great because I took what in the indie world would be considered a long break between books. It’s so thrilling that it’s connecting with readers.

I do think for a book to catch the eye of the reader and lead them to that initial investigation, having a kick-ass cover and a compelling blurb will get the book past the consideration stage. After that, it’s up to those first few pages to give the reader the assurance that the next few hours they spend in your world will deliver a satisfying read. It’s also undeniable the being in Kindle Unlimited is having a huge impact on rankings in the Amazon store. I’m a relatively new author, so KU makes sense in terms of discoverability. Readers are much more willing to take a chance on a new author in KU, and I’ve had the added benefit of seeing my backlist re-enter the top 100 in my genre, which is also amazing.
What would you say has been your number one marketing strategy to help you sell copies of Bait?

I gave my small (less than 200) e-newsletter subscribers a 24-hour $0.99 first day of release special. But I messed that up because I was terrified Amazon wouldn’t have the book live in time, so I loaded it in KDP the day before, and Amazon released it in a couple of hours instead of 12 hours like they usually take. Therefore, I had a “quiet” launch at $0.99, then my “official” subscriber day launch at $0.99. Both days were enough to vault the book up into the top 20 of the subcategory and appear on the first page. When the book changed over to its current list price, visibility was enough so that there was organic discoverability. I also didn’t offer a preorder, and I think that helped move BAIT up the ranks more quickly.

I had an awesome time designing this cover for you, and I think the end product turned out great! (And it seems readers agree!) My intuition is that getting the dark and brood-y mood, paired with two hot men really helped your book sell and made for an effective cover, but I’m curious to see what you think of the cover? What do you think makes an effective cover in your genre? In general?

I love the cover for BAIT. In my genre (m/m romance), hot guys on the cover are essential and you nailed it, along with the mood and the tone. I also think the BAIT cover is special in that it has artistic flair: one of the MCs is a little hidden behind the lettering, the other in front of it. It also pops in tile format on the Amazon page.

I work with other talented cover artists, too, and my Number 1 criteria is can they evoke the tone of the book (hot guys, romantic suspense) in the cover so the reader understands immediately what kind of book it is? Number 2 is, when in tile format, can the reader see my name and the title clearly? Number 3: does this cover look professional and attractive? When you’re an indie writer, quality presentation helps your book stand out.
Last but not least, I know you said you took a 7 month break between this novel and your last. What’s your opinion on speed vs. multiple rounds of revision on a manuscript and nitpicking chapters in rewrites to get that perfect polish? 

I was really worried about the length of time between my last book and the release of BAIT. My mother had passed away, and I’d gone quiet for a number of months. I also broke another indie “rule” in that I didn’t follow what had been my bestselling series with book 3. Instead, I thought I’d write a fluffy “in between” book while I prepped for my next-in-series book. But BAIT wanted to be bigger, darker, and more complex. Plus I AM I nitpicker, and I’m always tinkering with dialogue, etc.

This is just my opinion, but the rush to market, the “publish every three months or die” philosophy has resulted in traumatized writers suffering burnout, and it shows in their work. Don’t get me wrong, I wish I was a fast writer and I could pump out books quickly, but that’s not me, and I’ve accepted it. Every time I try to write fast, I’ve had to rewrite pages of dreck, which is frustrating and a waste of time. Now, I’d rather write more intentionally and enjoy the wordsmithing process instead of having it become a chore. I hope to write lots more books and keep entertaining readers, but it would really suck if I started to hate the one thing I really love to do: write stories. Life is too short.

If you want to learn more about Lissa’s publishing experiences or her books find her here: 


Twitter: @Lissafordbooks


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