Chris Stralyn is a suspense writer who started his career with a simple essay contest and is today a self-published author. Read about his unique marketing approach involving coffee mugs and how it’s bearing fruit with increased sales.
1. Pretend for a moment I’m a reader looking for my next book. Pitch me your book in five to ten sentences.
This Time You Lose is an intense read. It is the terrifying story of Lisa Kaamp, who operates a small childcare business out of her home in the sleepy little town of Nogeksum, Michigan. Highly respected and known for going the extra mile for her daycare kids, Lisa thought she had handled every daycare emergency possible.
But nothing prepared her for the nightmare she now faced. Lisa awakes one morning to find herself bound and gagged, four strange men in her home, and the daycare children being held hostage in the next room. Terrorized by her captors as the authorities work to meet the ransom deadline, she tries negotiating with the men for the release of the children, and soon realizes that at least one of them has no intention of letting anyone go. With the deadline quickly approaching, Lisa must do the unimaginable to protect the children and get everyone out alive.
2. What motivated you to become an indie writer?
I never intended to be a writer. Short-order cook, security guard, safety officer, childcare provider, and teacher were all titles I’d worn – but never writer. Then I entered an essay contest for “The Worst Vacation Ever” and won. Writing became my new hobby, and soon I had several articles in print with local publications. This was followed by a short story, The Khaki Pants, which was published by RDR Publishing in an anthology that went on to sell over a million copies.
A suspense thriller was my next undertaking, and in 2008 This Time You Lose was named a finalist in the TNBW Strongest Start Novel Competition. Four months later it earned the distinction of being a TNBW Readers Choice Top Ten Novel, and has remained on the Top Ten list ever since.
3. Have you been traditionally published? Why or why not?
Yes and no. My short story, The Khaki Pants, was included in an anthology that was traditionally published. I’ve also had several articles printed in local publications. When I finished This Time You Lose, I sent it out to agents. After many, many, many rejections I finally got an agent in New York. She sent it out to all the major publishers – who rejected it, but offered constructive comments. I reworked the story based on their comments and my agent resubmitted it. This time most of the publishers liked it, but still turned it down. My agent explained that it had more to do with the current economy than the writing….the big publishing houses just weren’t taking many chances on unknown authors. She suggested shelving it for a year or so, and trying it again later. So I put it away for awhile. Then after much thought and research, I decided not to wait. I didn’t need a big publishing company to get my book out there. I could do it myself. So I decided to self-publish, and went with a print-on-demand publishing company. In less than two months I had my finished book in my hands.
4. How have you liked self-publishing so far?
So far, so good. I like the freedom to choose my own title and cover. (Big publishers get the final say on these things in traditional publishing). I can set my own price, my own royalty level, and my own distribution channels. I am free to run contests, sales, giveaways, etc. as it suits my schedule. However, 100% of the marketing also falls in my hands. I have discovered that marketing is oh so much harder than it looks, and not nearly as enjoyable as writing the book.
5. Tell me about the marketing techniques you’ve used to sell your books. Which ones have been the most successful?
I’ve tried a few different marketing techniques. Like most self-published authors, I did the Facebook blast – and pretty much spammed all my Facebook friends in the first couple of weeks my book was available. Then I did a few book giveaways thru Goodreads, and sent out press releases everywhere. I also did a couple of book signings, and set up a “Track My Travels” campaign. I also had some travel mugs made with my book cover on it, and gave them to family members – who carry them everywhere. I/they get lots of questions about them, and that opens the door for promotion and sales. I even give away a free copy of my book to some of the people who ask about my travel mug. One such giveaway led to a sale of 52 books! Unknown to me at the time, the woman I gave the free book to was the merchandise manager for a pharmacy chain. She read the book, loved it, and ordered it to place in all her stores in Michigan!
6. Are there any marketing techniques you intentionally avoided or discontinued, and if so, why?
I have done no paid advertising as of yet – simply because I don’t have the extra cash to do so.
7. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about self-publishing that you didn’t know when you started out?
Self-publishing my book, both in print and as an e-book, was a lot easier and a lot quicker than I had anticipated. Marketing has turned out to be a lot harder than I anticipated.
8. If you could do one thing differently in publishing your books, what would it be?
I would have done it a lot sooner. I waited a long time, thinking I couldn’t do it myself – that I needed a “big publisher” to tell me how to do it. I was wrong.
9. Independent authors face the obvious challenge of marketing their books without the resources of traditional publishers. What advice do you have for an indie author just starting out?
Include a page at the end of your book (or add a sticker on the inside back cover) asking readers to support indie authors by leaving a review of your book on Amazon.com (include the link). More reviews – assuming they are good reviews – help your book become more attractive to other Amazon shoppers. Join author networks. Think outside the box when it comes to marketing – don’t be afraid to try different or unusual marketing techniques. Give away some of your books to strangers. My biggest sale came from giving a free book to a lady that asked about my coffee mug!
10. What projects are you currently working on?
My current project is marketing This Time You Lose. I do have two more books in the works, but they are still inside my head. I plan to get them down on paper sometime this summer, and published early next year.
11. If you could market your brand – not just one particular book, but your overall brand of writing – in one sentence, what would it be?
Hmm, I’ve never really thought about it. How about: Chris Stralyn, author of intense real-life thrillers for real live readers. Hmm, maybe not. What do you think readers, any good ideas for a one sentence brand?
12. How can readers learn more about your books? Readers can learn more about me, and my book, at any of the links below.