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Self publishing helps author builds readership

Elaine Orr likes flexibility self publishing offers

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By Rob Cline, correspondent

Self-publishing offers authors options not generally available to writers with more traditional publishing arrangements. Elaine Orr, an author who lived in Iowa for many years and now resides near Springfield, Ill., has taken full advantage of the flexibility of self-publishing to build a readership for her mystery novels and other works.

That includes reworking one of her earliest efforts, “Searching for Secrets,” when it was time to publish it as an e-book in 2012, six years after she had originally published the novel. The book is a stand-alone novel, but it remains part of Orr’s efforts to promote her work, including her Jolie Gentil and River’s Edge mystery series.

Orr’s most recent book is “Writing in Retirement: Putting New Year’s Resolutions to Work,” in which she shares her tips for aspiring writers. She reflected on “Searching for Secrets” in this interview conducted via email.

Tell me about the origin of “Searching for Secrets.” What led you to write the book?

To be a mystery writer you need a devious mind. I read a story about a school that received some hydroponic growing equipment. It had been seized in a police raid, having been used in a marijuana-growing operation. That led me to think about things donated to schools, and that to whether something donated might be a target for theft from the original owners.

Hydroponic equipment is kind of big to steal back, so I worked with the idea of donated computers that had something hidden in the file system.

Since I had moved to Iowa, it made sense to set it in my new state. It also gave me an excuse to spend time in Iowa City. I liked my new town of Ottumwa, but I’d hung around Prairie Lights Books and liked Iowa City.

Originally the book was titled “Love Does not Compute,” but a couple agents I tried to snare told me “computers don’t sell.” In the literary sense, anyway. I still like the original title better, but if I had changed the title I wouldn’t have been able to keep the reviews on Amazon and other sites (when the book was updated), so I kept “Searching for Secrets.”

Why did you decide to rewrite and rerelease the book several years later?

I reread “Searching for Secrets” a couple of years after starting the Jolie Gentil series, and thought it sounded naive. When I initially wrote it, the mystery and romantic elements were more intertwined than now, and I didn’t think it worked well. The characters spent too much time in their heads, thinking about each other.

It was time to decide whether I wanted to issue it as an e-book (which wasn’t an option in 2006), and I didn’t think it was good enough for a broader audience. A close friend suggested using the same title and calling it the Author’s Preferred Edition.

I did a fairly major revision. Recently I also had a talented artist redo the cover. It is amazing how a better cover attracts more readers.

You’ve used the book recently in a promotional capacity. When you give away a book from your back list, do you see a bump in sales for your more recent books (or for other books from the back list)?

Most of my books I sell on all retail sites, but a few I keep in a special Amazon program (KDP Select) so I can occasionally list them for free. The books have to be only available on Amazon to do that.

Offering a free book for two or three days definitely leads to a spike in sales. While it’s especially true if you write a mystery series, it’s still an uptick when giving away a book in the same genre. I sell from 15 to 20 percent more books in a weekend, sometimes more. Because I publish most books on my own, it’s easy to track and compare. The free downloads contribute to the book’s overall ranking in a category, such as cozy mystery. That makes people notice even after the book is back to its regular price.

This book is obviously important to you. Given that, have you considered a sequel? Are there more stories to be told about Kirk and Christa and their adventures in Iowa City?

“Searching for Secrets” taught me an important lesson. Christa and Kirk’s relationship evolved and matured throughout the book. In the two mystery series that I’ve done since, I have the characters get to know each other more slowly. Thus, there is more to explore in succeeding books.

I also placed characters in future books in professions with more flexible schedules. I had to have Christa break her arm so she wasn’t tied to her classroom.

That said, they might appear in a future book, but I have no immediate plans.

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