Amazon’s Magical Numbers

I read an article recently called “The Top 10 Things All Authors Should Know About Amazon.”  (It’s here if you’re curious.)  Most of it wasn’t anything I didn’t already know.  However, there were two things I found interesting.

First, is Amazon’s magical number for reviews.  According to a source author for this article, Amazon starts paying attention to books when they receive 50 reviews.  Now, this is something I’d heard from another source as well, so I would guess it’s true, but I can’t be 100% positive about that.  Either way, that 50 number is essential.  “Paying attention” for Amazon means more visibility.  It means that Amazon gives your book a little publicity.  I don’t know if that means your book gets in the newsletter or if it starts coming up on recommended lists for you if you’ve purchased similar books.  I just don’t know, but if Amazon is going to give me more visibility, I’ll take it.


Right now on Amazon, I have 33 reviews.  I’ve had two reviews disappear, and I have no idea why.  I’ve contacted Amazon and I’ll see what they say.  In addition, I was contacted by another reader who said they’d posted a review and it had never shown up.  It’s slightly upsetting because reviews are hard to get!  Either way, I need 17 more reviews to reach that magical number of 50.  If you’ve read Borrowed Magic and haven’t left a review yet, I’d really really really really really appreciate it.  🙂

The second thing I found interesting in the article was the claim that your Amazon ranking had less to do with sales and more to do with how many people are looking at your book page.  Now, my rankings have always gone up with more sales, but maybe it’s really views that are determining it and more views usually equals more sales.  One way to know for sure is if everyone who reads this today goes to the Borrowed Magic page on Amazon just to look.  You don’t even have to buy.  It would just be interesting to see if I get a lot more views if my ranking would also go up (which I have no way of knowing unless people tell me, but if my ranking goes up with minimal sales…).  And why would rankings matter if they’re not connected to sales?  Because the higher your rank, the more visibility you get to new readers who may not have heard of you before.

SALE!!! Oh, and why your book club doesn’t only have to read “serious” books…

So my first HUGE bit of news is that Borrowed Magic (digital only) is on sale for a very limited time.  It’s marked down from $3.99 to…wait for it…$0.99!!!  That’s 75% off!


I’ve been waiting to put it on sale in conjunction with getting some book ad sites to feature it.  These are sites that showcase free and very low priced books.  In fact, I believe every book featured on the sites has to be marked at least 50% off.  The largest of these book ad sites is called Book Bub.  It has over 3 million subscribers and can get a book a ton of publicity.  It’s also really hard to get accepted.  I applied, knowing I’d probably get denied, and I did.  🙂  Seriously, you need like 100 reviews to get accepted and I’m at 33.  However, there are smaller sites (more like 100,00 subscribers), and I got accepted to two for the coming week.  One is and the other is  Other authors have had good results with them, so we’ll see.

Obviously, I don’t do this to make a bunch of money.  At $0.99, I can assure you, it’s only pennies per book.  It’s more about getting ranked higher on Amazon and other sites so the book gets more visibility.  I’d appreciate any help by sharing with your friends, on social media, or however else works for you.

Along those lines, if you are a member of a book club, and have considered reading Borrowed Magic, now would be a great time to have everyone get it!

Book clubs often choose self help, non fiction, or literary books.  Serious books.  But let me tell you why that doesn’t have to be the case — and why for people like me, who read for fun or to escape for a while, it would make me much more likely to come.  Good fiction, whether literary or commercial, should have some things in common.  One of those is the growth of the main character.  In that growth, there are going to be things to discuss seriously.  Things like failure, trust, love, friendship, and even abuse.  We like to read books because on some level, we relate to the characters in them.  Not because we live in the same world or have the same problems, but because there’s something that is universal to humanity.


So next time you’re looking at a book for book club, consider some commercial books.

The question I never quite know how to answer… (part 7 on writing and publishing)

A lot of the people I run into ask the same question when the subject of my book comes up:

So, how is it doing?

Not a bad question.  In fact, it’s great they’re interested.  It’s fabulous someone is nice enough to ask.

The problem is how to answer.


If you read my last post, you’ll know that indie publishing isn’t what you might expect if you’ve seen the news articles about someone who’s sold a million copies of their books.  In reality, over half of indie publishers earn less than $500 a year.  Currently, I’m barely shy of that number, and my book has only been out for 2 months.  (And maybe $500 sounds like a lot of money to you, but remember, with marketing costs, cover design costs, etc. that $500 still doesn’t cover my initial investment.)  So, one way to answer the question of how Borrowed Magic is doing is to say, “great!”  After all, I’ve almost made more than over 50% of indie publishers.

I feel really good about that.  When I started this adventure, I didn’t have a huge social media following, my name wasn’t already out there as a recognizable author, I was basically nobody.  So the fact that I’m above the average of indie publishers is fantastic.  I’m also keeping in mind that most indie’s are successful because they have more than one book published.  Someone reads your second book, likes it, goes looking for more, and buys you first book.  Therefore, the more books you have out, the more people are likely to find you and buy your books.  For example, I’m planning to publish my next book, Blessed,  in July or August.  Say someone finds that who never knew about Borrowed Magic.  They like Blessed and then buy Borrowed Magic because they now trust me as an author and want more.  So you see how the more books you have out, the more sales you get.  If you have 10 books out and someone doesn’t discover you until book number 10, they may go and buy the other 9.  The sales numbers increase exponentially when you have more books.  Back to my point…considering the fact I am an unknown author with only one book out there (and the prequel novella, but that’s free), I think I’ve done pretty well.

Another thing to judge success by for a new indie author without a huge following is reviews.  Currently, I have 30 Amazon reviews.  That’s around 17% of my sales.  Which is AMAZING!  I read an article just the other day from an indie publisher who said their reviews usually average 1% of sales.  Not only that, but my reviews average out to 4.6 out of 5 on Amazon!  Nothing to complain about there.  I have a few more reviews on Goodreads.  Currently 53, of which 31 have actually written a review and not just rated it.  I think my average there is 4.26, which is fabulous for Goodreads, whose reviewers are notoriously more critical.

So, how is my book doing?  Great!  You just have to keep everything in perspective.  And you also have to remember that if people don’t help spread the word — don’t just tell people you liked a book, tell them they need  to read it 🙂 — indie books die.  Their sales slowly go down and down until they’re not selling at all.  More than perhaps any other group of authors, indies rely on you, our readers, to help our books succeed!


The fork in the road… (part 6 on writing and publishing)

Maybe you got your dream agent and everything is great and you’re willing to wait 1 1/2 – 2 years to see your book on shelves (really, that’s how long it takes with a traditional publisher!).  You also realize that authors, on average, earn less than $10k a year!  (Yes, that’s right.  For the majority of authors, it will never be a full time job.  Remember the the next time you borrow a book instead of buying it and supporting the author.  🙂 )  Everything is going just how you planned.

Or maybe it’s not.

Maybe you didn’t get that dream agent, and you are disheartened and feeling you can’t write, your story must be terrible, and you’ll never be published.

Then you take a deep breath and decide what to do from there.  Your choice may be to write another manuscript and try the agent process again.  This was my choice after each of my first two books weren’t picked up by an agent.  However, after my third book wasn’t accepted — and this despite beta readers who loved it — I seriously considered publishing myself.


So…Independent Publishing.  Self Publishing.  Whatever you wan to call it.  It’s definitely an option now a days for authors who are confident in their manuscript but for whom the traditional route doesn’t seem to be working.  Even traditional authors have taken the indie publishing route at times because they get a higher percentage of each sale.  If they already have a huge audience, they can often earn more money in the long run.

For those of us who don’t have an established name, indie publishing is a little overwhelming.   You have to get a cover designed.  You have to get your manuscript edited to perfection (whether you hire someone or not).  You have to learn (or hire out) digital formatting for each site you want to publish on.  You have to learn the ins and outs of each of the different sites.  If you want a hard copy also, then your cover has to be the right formatting and you have to deal with yet another site to upload to.  AND you have to do your own marketing.

That last one is, perhaps, the most daunting of all.  No publisher to back you.  No publisher’s catalog to be featured in.  No publisher to buy you premium space in the bookstore (yes, those displays at the front and books featured on the ends of the aisle are all paid for).  This idea of marketing is also where the “free” in self publishing kind of flies out the window.  Sure, it’s free to upload to all the sites, but the rest isn’t free.  You should ALWAYS (unless you’re a designer) pay for a cover design by someone who knows covers.  And you have to spend a certain amount of money on marketing.  You know all those blog tours you see on blogs all over the internet?  Many times, the author has paid for those.  Not paid each blogger, but paid someone to organize it all and make it easier for you.  Authors will also pay for review tours, cover reveals, etc.

And then, after all that work, over 50% of self publishers earn less than $500.  $500!!!!  Yes, you hear about the exceptions where someone has sold millions of copies, but it is RARE.  Many self publishers struggle with getting people to discover and then buy their book.  Even if they can do that, you need reviews to assure new readers that your book is worth reading.  And do you know how hard it is to get reviews?!?  It’s kind of like pulling teeth.

With indie publishers, I kind of get the misunderstanding.  With the success of books like Twilight or Harry Potter, and the sales numbers and book deals amounts floating around out there, everyone thinks they are going to publish a book “for free” online and then earn millions.  Because of that, there are a lot of terrible self published books out there.  There are also incredible self published books out there where the authors took everything seriously.  They read in the genre they write.  They got beta readers.  They rewrote and rewrote and rewrote until it was perfect.  They might have even gone to writers’ conferences and taken classes.

So when you’re looking at indie publishers, look at reviews, read a sample, find the good ones and support those authors.  They have put hours and hours of work into what you will, hopefully, enjoy.  And then BUY their book.  Indie authors rarely price anything digital over $5.99, and most are $3.99 or less.  That’s like two gallons of milk!  Considering most earn less than $500 a year, the hourly rate would be very, very low (I don’t have the actual hours because I’ve lost count, but my book has 85k words, and I’ve spent at least 85 hours.  That many hours divided by $500 just as an example is a mere $5.88 an hour.  And that’s a conservative estimate on hours).

All that being said, indie authors would rather have you borrow their book than not read it at all.  After all, you might tell someone else about it and they WILL buy it.  Whatever you choose, support indie authors, tell people about the books of theirs you like, tweet about them, share them, post reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.  Do anything to help them spread the word and maybe, just possibly, they’ll be one of the successes of indie publishing and get out of the $500 a year majority.


Querying: just another word for a writer’s personal brand of torture… (part 5 in my series on writing and publishing)

Your beta readers have returned your manuscript.  You cried.  Then you put it aside for a little perspective and came back.  You realized the beta readers didn’t tear it apart as much as you thought, and that they said some fabulous things about your story.  You’ve also realized that their comments about what was wrong are absolutely right!  There are things you need to change.  You didn’t write the next great American novel in one or two drafts!  Now you have to do revisions — again.  I’m not going to do another whole post on revisions, just know you have to do them again.  (My original blog post is here.)  And maybe again.  And again.  You may even send it to another group of beta readers once you make changes and see what they think.  BUT remember, you don’t have to change every little comment they make.  If you like it, consider it.  If a bunch of them make the same comment, definitely consider it.  Like I said, Borrowed Magic has at least 11 drafts on my computer.

Once you feel you have the best manuscript possible, there are three possible options.  One, you can start querying literary agents.  Two, you can submit to smaller publishers who don’t require a literary agent.  Or three, you can self publish.  Personally, I queried literary agents first, and after great feedback but no ultimate offer, I tried a small publisher.  That was a frustrating process of them saying how much they loved it and then asking for revisions, which took me months, and then having them tell me I should have left it how it was initially.  😦  Eventually, I decided to publish Borrowed Magic myself.  It’s been a fun process and I’ve had great reviews, so in the end, I’m happy.  That being said, if a fabulous literary agent wanted my next book, and I had the chance to publish with a huge publisher, I’d seriously consider it.

OK, so back to those options.  The first and second options will both require a query letter. I’m not going to go into how to write one.  There are probably thousands of places on the internet that go into that.  Basically, a query letter is your book summed up in 250 words or less and that makes an agent think “wow, I want to read this!”  Sounds easy, but sooooooo not easy.  There’s a specific forum on Absolute Write called “Query Letter Hell” for a reason.

Here’s my query for Borrowed Magic, which was a really successful query and got me a lot of requests.

Dear ,

The siege has ended. The dark mage is dead. Life is almost back to normal.

For everyone except Maren.

Three years ago, an attack by the now-dead mage left her near death and with a sliver of magic buried deep inside her. Now, for reasons Maren doesn’t understand, that magic has been triggered, giving her the ability to “see” the truth: That her world is nothing more than a magical façade. That the kingdom’s hero isn’t a hero at all.

With the country’s future in the hands of a man who’s vowed revenge on its king, Maren must convince someone else of the truth. Unfortunately, the only person powerful enough to help is also the one man she’s afraid to trust, the man she almost married, the man who abandoned her and disappeared for three years.

And she must persuade him before the kingdom crumbles. Before the king is murdered by the very hero he reveres. And before the same magic that gives her sight also takes her life.

BORROWED MAGIC is a 91,000-word YA Fantasy with strong romantic elements. I believe it would appeal to readers who enjoy Tamora Pierce, Cinda Chima, Kristin Cashore, Megan Whalen Turner, Rae Carson, and Shannon Hale. I have included the first ten pages for your review. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Shari Lambert

That took weeks to get exactly right!

Once your query letter is written, you have to find agents who accept the genre you write in.  I’ve used, query, and Publishers Marketplace, but there are a bunch of places you can find agents who want what you write.  Once you get a list, you research those agents a bit more and see what they require.  Some agents only want the query letter itself.  Others want the first five pages of your manuscript or a synopsis along with the letter.

Now it’s time to start sending the queries.  Some writers only send a few at a time and see what kind of response they get.  If the response isn’t great, they might rework the query letter and send out another test batch.  Querying is often a slow process.  While there are a few agents who will get back to you within a week, many take 4-6 weeks (agents get hundreds of these a week).  And there are a growing number who don’t respond at all if they’re not interested.  If you’re lucky enough to have an agent interested, they’ll usually request to see the first 30-50 pages of your manuscript.  Some request the entire manuscript from the start.  Then, if you’re really lucky, one or more of them will offer you representation.  And then the process starts all over again, with your agent sending “queries” to editors.  Yeah, it can take a really, really long time!  (And that’s not even the traditional publishing process, which can take 1-2 years to get your book on a shelf.)

If you’re not so lucky but you still believe your book is worth reading, there are a lot of great options that there weren’t just a few years ago.  Publishing Borrowed Magic myself is the route I chose to take after a lot of agent interest but ultimately a lot of “just not for me’s.”  I’ll go into the pros and cons of that in my next post.  Along with the realistic expectations.



Beta feedback isn’t about you. It’s about your book. -Amanda Shofner (part 4 in my series on writing and publishing)

Beta readers.  They’re an absolute MUST if you want to end up with a good manuscript.  I think this is one of the main things that separates the “I wrote a book and I put it on Amazon” people versus those who really put work and sweat into their book.  However, beta reader feedback can, at times, be a bit harsh.  But if you have a good beta reader, they’ll tell you everything they love about the book along with everything that isn’t working.

My experience with beta readers has been amazing.  That doesn’t mean I agree with everything they say.  Books are one of the most subjective things out there.  90% of people will love one and the other 10% just won’t.  It’s not their thing.  No book will appeal to all people.  With that in mind, take beta readers comments with a grain of salt.  And don’t take anything personally.  Your writing is your writing.  You are you!


Here’s the process I go through.  First, I send my finished manuscript out to 4-5 beta readers.  I read all their comments as they send them back.  I cry over a few.  I cringe over others.  I rejoice over the praise.  But I wait to do anything about them until I’ve let them sit in my mind for a few days.  Usually, I realize they were right about some things, and I find way to fix them.  Other things, I’m not so sure about and I wait more.  One thing I do know for sure is that if multiple beta readers bring up the same thing, I need to fix it.  If only one beta reader points something out, maybe that’s worth fixing too, but maybe it’s just that person’s opinion.  Those kinds of comments need to be really thought out with my vision of my own manuscript.  I’ve had one beta reader point something out that gave me a kind of “aha” moment and the manuscript was so much better.  I’ve had those same kinds of comments I never changed at all.

The key to all of this is to get beta readers.  Don’t be the person who thinks their manuscript is perfect just the way they wrote it because it isn’t.  I promise.  You need outside perspective.  You need people who will be honest about the good and the bad.  A beta reader is no help at all if they don’t find anything worth changing!


Perhaps the hardest part in all of this is where to find beta readers you trust.  While your mom might be a good person to run your book by, she might not be the most objective.  Still, give it to her anyway because it will make you feel good!  🙂  I’ve found my beta readers mostly through forums that I’ve joined and gotten to know people on.  The Absolute Write forums were my very first (“share your work” and “old people writing for teens”), and my best beta readers are still people I met there.  The people on these forums are other writers.  They know the basics and can point out the flaws.  They are also usually huge readers, which is a big benefit.

And one last piece of advice, get beta readers who read in your genre and at least one who doesn’t.  If you can convince someone who doesn’t normally read in your genre to like your book AND those who do read in your genre to like it, then you really have something!


Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. -Anne Lamott (part 3 on writing and publishing)

Revision.  For some writers it’s the bane of their existence.  For others, it’s their favorite part.  I’m probably somewhere in the middle.  I love plotting, so I love the first draft, but there’s also something satisfying about cutting unnecessary scenes, making characters more three-dimensional, making the setting more rich, and having those “aha” moments that make the whole story better.

I know every author’s process of revising is going to be different, but I’ll share a little bit about mine.  First, I just read through the manuscript with track changes on.  As I read, I make small changes to things like misspelled or missing words, a sentence that is just clunky, or adding little details that pop into my head.  I DON’T make huge plot or setting changes.  Instead, I mark things that I know need work and make comments about what I want to change in those scenes.  Those might be scenes I don’t think are necessary or scenes I need to add or even plot points that aren’t working or may have a whole in them.

Once that is done, I usually let it sit for a few weeks.  This gives me some perspective.  Of course, during this time, I don’t stop thinking!  The things I marked as needing changes are in the forefront of my mind.  Sometimes, without even consciously trying, solutions for some of the problems just pop into my mind.  Other times, those solutions are HARD to find.  And sometimes there isn’t a solution at all and an entire section has to be completely rewritten.

When I go back to the manuscript, I work on those larger changes.  I move scenes around.  I write new ones.  I delete old ones.  I add description.  I make sure my words are pretty.  I look at dialogue tags and make sure there aren’t too many but that there are enough.  I look at character growth and make sure there is some.  Basically, I look at the rough first draft and polish it until it feels like something I could let someone read!

And then that’s what I do.  I let people read it.  These are called beta readers and I’ll have a whole post next time on how great they are and how every author needs them!


You can make anything by writing -C.S. Lewis (part 2 of my series on writing and publishing)

So you have an idea, now what?  Well, you have two options: create an outline and plot out your book OR sit down and start writing and see where it takes you (we call this being a “pantser”).  Personally, I like to outline.  I think it creates fewer problems.  For example, you start a story and don’t know exactly where you’re going so you write one thing early in the book and then something that contradicts that later.  Then you have to go back and reconcile them so the book fits together as a whole.  I know a lot of successful people are pantsers.  I just prefer to have an outline.

Now, when I say outline, I don’t necessarily mean a document that contains roman numeral headings and subheadings, etc.  I don’t do a formal outline.  It’s more that I know where my story is going.  I know what the key, pivotal scenes are going to be.  And I always know how it will end.  I also realize that in all of that, things will still change.  I will get ideas as I go that change the details of how I get to the end.  As I get to know my characters, they will make decisions that weren’t in my general outline view of the book.  The outline just gives me a sense of direction and I feel it helps me to write a faster draft.

Yes, a draft.  It’s not a finished product.  It’s not even necessarily very polished.  It’s exactly what it says it is:  a draft.  I don’t worry too much about beautiful writing.  I don’t pay tons of attention to great dialogue tags.  I’m getting the story onto paper (or into a document on my computer…).  That doesn’t mean I’m totally sloppy.  I try to write a solid draft, but still, there will be so much to change.  For example, I think I have 11 drafts of Borrowed Magic on my computer.  And those are 11 drafts with significant changes!

It sounds easy, right?  A rough, messy draft shouldn’t be all that hard!  Wrong!  It might be the hardest draft for some writers (although I LOVE plotting, so I really like writing the initial draft) because you have to actually sit down and do it.  You can’t mean to do it.  You can’t say you’ll work on it tomorrow.  You have to have the discipline to actually get it done.  One thing I hear from a lot of my writer friends is that they have tons of unfinished manuscripts.  They either lost interest or didn’t know where it was going (another reason I outline…).  My biggest advice:  just write and write everyday.  If you get stuck on a particular scene, skip it and come back later.  You just have to get that first draft onto paper.

And then comes the even harder part — revising.  More on that in my next post!

Ideas are the root of creation. –Ernest Dimnel (part 1 in my series on writing and publishing)

They say everything starts with a good idea, and since Borrowed Magic came out, I’ve been asked one question possibly more than any other: Where did you get the idea?

I’ve been wanting to do a series of posts on the process of publishing and thought this concept of idea would be a good place to start.  After all, no matter how much you study about setting, plot, and characters, it leads you nowhere unless you have a great idea.

In my experience, the initial idea for a book falls into EITHER setting or plot or character.  The first book I ever wrote (which I still hope to do a TON of revisions on and publish one day) came from an image in my mind, a scene, a setting.  It was the tone of that scene that I wanted to capture.  Interestingly enough, that exact scene isn’t even in the book anymore, but the ideas that evolved from it are.  The book I’m currently writing came from an idea about a character — a young woman who’s grown up in an isolated religious community.  That evolved into this character being naive about so many things and yet so capable and strong at the same time.

Borrowed Magic evolved from a plot idea.  I started writing it during the whole dystopian craze.  Knowing I was going to start something new, I asked myself what the themes of dystopian were that I might be able to apply to fantasy.  The one I came up with was the idea that the world isn’t quite what it seems.  In so much dystopian, there’s a clean, shiny version of the world that is presented by whoever is in charge, and then there’s the real world, the dirty one, the one people are actually living in.  Once I had a theme, I thought of ideas of how I could apply that to a magical, fantasy world.  And that’s where Borrowed Magic came from.  The characters all evolved later.  As did the setting.  It was that one plot point that drove everything — at least at the beginning.

Other people may find ideas in other ways, but for me, the easiest way is to focus on one of the three elements of fiction:  plot, setting, or character.  Choose one of those that fascinates you and develop it.  You’d be surprised at how much can come from one great idea!  (more on developing an idea in the next post…)

Book Recommendation: The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

I had seen Cinder on people’s Goodreads shelves and had heard a little bit about it, but every time I read the summary/blurb, I kind of felt meh about the whole thing.  Then I had a friend whose opinion I trust say how much she loved it and I thought I’d give it a try.  What could it hurt?

NOTHING!!!  It turned out to be amazing.  I loved the story of Cinder and Kai.  And Wolf and Scarlet.  And Cress.  And Winter.  And basically everyone.

Here’s the Amazon summary for Cinder:

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

So here’s a basic rundown:  Cinder follows the basic storyline of Cinderella with a lot of literary license taken.  Scarlet continues the story of Cinder but introduces Scarlet.  Her story is based on Little Red Riding Hood.  Then comes Cress, who plays the part of Rapunzel.  And finally Winter, the story of Snow White.  All these characters are interwoven throughout the stories, so although Cinder’s main introduction is in Cinder, her character is important all the way through to the end.

In between Cress and Winter, Meyer wrote Fairest, which is the story of the evil queen, Levana.  It gives a lot of good background information and maybe a bit of a redemptive aspect to the character.

Within the past week, Meyer released an additional book in the collection, Stars Above, which is a collection of short stories about some of the characters.

I truly did enjoy this series and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy and fairy tales.  It was very clean and would even be appropriate for younger audiences.  The love stories are great and believable and the characters are complicated and yet sympathetic.