An Unexpected Breakout: When hard work, luck, and timing come together


Vision 76


An Unexpected Breakout:

When hard work, luck, and timing come together


LJ Cohen

Copyright © 2014, LJ Cohen, All Rights Reserved


Ten years ago, this summer, I began to write my first novel. Sometime along the early steps of that journey, I discovered Forward Motion for Writers and began to hang around the chat rooms and message boards. My first critique group was here, and that first novel completed with the help and the resources I found.

Fast forward ten years. In that time, I completed nine manuscripts, queried, signed with, and ultimately left an agent who was unable to sell my work, despite going on submission with three different projects, and began a journey into self-publishing in which I released two books in two years to extremely positive reviews but meager sales.

Along the way, I have learned and kept learning. Honing my writing craft was the most obvious part of that learning process, but equally important was learning to present myself as a professional in social media and understanding every facet of the publishing process including understanding what I could bring to the table and what I needed to outsource in order to produce a novel that would stand toe to toe with anything published by a large publishing company.

And even doing all of that didn’t ensure my books would be noticed, read and reviewed, or become successful.

So no one was more surprised than I was when 6 days after releasing my third novel, Derelict, sales began to spike from twenty on a good day, to over 500 on one day alone. In just a few days, the book sold over 1400 copies on Amazon, quickly shooting up the charts to land on the first page (in the top 5) of best-sellers in the SF&F/Space Opera and Space Exploration sub-genres. At one point, the book broke into the top 300 in all books sold on Amazon.


This wasn’t anything I engineered. I didn’t do any advertisement or marketing for Derelict, other than what I had done for any other novel – that is, send an edition of my newsletter to the under 150 subscribers I have, and make a few announcements on G+, my FB author page, and twitter. What I have done is to incorporate everything I’ve learned in each book to the successive one and perhaps for Derelict, all those small changes created an avalanche.

This included: asking for honest and intense feedback from serious readers, using a copy-editor (I have hired freelance editors in the past; this time I bartered developmental editing for copy editing), getting cover art created by a top-notch artist, polishing the cover synopsis, and (new for this book) asking for cover blurbs from writers whose work I respect. When it came time to list the book on Amazon, I had been recommended a series of blogposts on effective use of Amazon keywords, starting with the excellent article by Lindsay Buroker (

After digesting this information, I realized I had been wasting my keywords by repeating the ones that were already in the categories I had selected for my books. For Derelict,I chose the following categories:

FICTION > Science Fiction > Space Opera FICTION > Science Fiction > Action & Adventure

For keywords, I chose: Artificial Intelligence, Space Travel, Adventure, Diversity, Exploration, Coming of Age, and Action.

The keywords chosen meant that Amazon had included the book in the sub-categories of Space Opera and Space Exploration. Space Exploration is a small sub-category. When Derelict sold 18-20 copies a day for several days in a row, it was enough to push the book to the first page in that sub-category. When a book shows up on the front page, curious readers buy it outright, or download samples. Amazon’s algorithms must notice this pretty quickly, because a friend sent me a copy of her email from Amazon in which Derelict was featured as a hot new release in SF&F.

While it’s now four days after the crazy spike, the book is still selling over 100 copies a day and although it’s fallen down the overall rankings from 299 at its height, it’s still in the top 750 of all books published on Amazon. I suspect its numbers will continue to fall as new books are released, get buzz, and rise to the top of the ranks. However, a surge of this nature is, at least, somewhat self-sustaining, as long as the book delivers on the promise of its cover, blurb, and high ranking. I hope that as it’s read and enjoyed, readers will leave reviews and potentially look for my other published books. Links to those are in the back of the book, both in eBook and print versions, as well as my social media links and my email address.

There is a saying: An overnight success is ten years in the making. I’m not sure that I would say that I am a success, but my book launch for Derelictcertainly was one. And yes, one that has been ten years in the making.

My take home message is this: make the book as good as it can be, give it an eye-catching cover and a short, but punchy cover blurb, and position it in the marketplace with the right (and authentic) keywords, taking advantage of a small sub-category of active readers, if possible. But I will repeat this because I think it’s a crucial point: make sure your book delivers on its promises, so that the faith of your potential readers is rewarded.

And remember, even if you do everything perfectly, not everyone who sees it will buy it, nor will everyone who reads it enjoy it. There is no place in this process where subjectivity isn’t a large factor, as are luck and timing.

Good luck. And may your timing be impeccable!

Derelict, by LJ Cohen. Interrobang Books, 2014

ebook: 978-0-9847870-7-4

trade paperback: 978-0-9847870-8-1

LJ Cohen

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You can find LJ on the web at Her novels are available in trade paperback and ebook formats at all the usual sales venues.

Links at