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Karen Menuhin On Self-Publishing Her Way To A Top Amazon Spot

Karen Menuhin On Self-Publishing Her Way To A Top Amazon Spot

When Karen Menuhin ventured into self-publishing with her debut, Murder at Melrose Court, she didn’t know what to expect. She’s since published seven books in The Heathcliff Lennox series as eBooks, paperback and audio, and made it to #1 on Amazon in the USA.

In this interview, we’ll hear about where she began and the realities of having a career as a self-published author.

I started writing in 2018. My husband had just completed his autobiography, but his publisher had gone bust part-way through the process and we didn’t know where to turn. I’d read about self-publishing in the newspapers, so volunteered to find out how to do it. Once I figured out the basics, I realised the opportunities it offered. The daunting barriers of the traditional publishing world had been removed, and I’d always loved books and stories – so I thought ‘why not give writing a try?’

I was 60 years old with nothing to lose… so I set about writing a book. I had tremendous fun developing the story and characters; Murder at Melrose Court wasn’t meant to be particularly funny, but I think there’s quite a lot of humour in it simply because I enjoyed writing it so much.

The daunting barriers of the traditional publishing world had been removed.

I joined Jericho Writers early in the process, so it hadn’t taken me long to realise I knew next to nothing about the nitty-gritty of self-publishing or writing a novel. I read everything I could find on the site, watched the ‘how to’ videos, and listened to lectures. Once I’d completed the book and uploaded it to Amazon, with the correct files and cover and all the details you have to add (categories, keywords, ISBNs and the rest), I had to think about how to bring the book to the attention of readers.

Taking the plunge into self-pub

Someone in the Jericho Writers community had posted that they’d given away their debut novel free for two days. This seemed like a good idea to me, and it didn’t cost a bean, so that’s what I did. On December 3rd, 2018 I pressed ‘go’ or whatever it was, and the book went live.

1,100 ebooks were given away in 2 days. I was dismayed that so many books had been snapped up – I thought there would be nobody left prepared to pay for it. I was wrong. ‘Murder at Melrose Court’ has since sold hundreds of thousands of copies, for which I’m eternally grateful.

1,100 ebooks were given away in 2 days… I thought there would be nobody left prepared to pay for it. I was wrong.

It was by no means an effortless ride, though. A few months after ‘Melrose’ was published I noticed sales falling away quite dramatically. I realised that I’d have to learn about marketing. I turned again to Jericho Writers and attended a one-day seminar in London run by Harry Bingham and David Gaughran, along with the wonderful Rachel Abbott (a true heroine of the self-publishing world). I took copious notes about Facebook adverts and Amazon ads and heard about Bookbub, then went home to digest the information.

Marketing is a costly and time-consuming process, it’s probably the biggest burden of the self-publisher, and it’s essential to get it right. I can’t say I’ve ever really got to grips with it. My eldest son, Jonathan, took an interest in it and now runs it for me. Without that support, my writing time would be slowed to about half of what it is now. That doesn’t mean I’m absolved from the day-to-day business of self-publishing – there are still 101 other jobs to do. Admin, correspondence, liaising and directing proofreading, editing, graphics, formatting, social media and promotions and a great deal more than I want to think about.

It’s added a new dimension to our lives and a few extra pressures.

My dear husband, Krov, was a documentary filmmaker. He understands the sacrifices and helps in every way he can. He carries out a lot of research for me, reads every chapter, discusses plots, and is encyclopaedic on weapons due to his military background. It’s added a new dimension to our lives and a few extra pressures. I’ve just published my 7th book in the Heathcliff Lennox series and have started on number 8. I thought I’d be retiring in my 60s, but I’m working harder than ever.

It has its rewards though. I bought Krov a beautiful used Maserati Quattroporte for his 80th birthday, we drive around Europe discussing means of murder with our dog and cat in the back.

Life is to be lived.

Audio – a crucial format

The audible version of Murder at Melrose Court was number 1 in the USA in July 2021. The narrator, Sam Dewhurst-Phillips, is superb. He acts all the different parts and brings the books to life, so the quality of his work is essential to the success of the audiobooks. I hadn’t initially been convinced by audiobooks, but the market has grown exponentially and is now over a third of my sales. Having your book narrated is not a difficult process. It’s all explained on ACX (the audible arm of Amazon) and is easy to follow.

The reality of self-publishing

If asked what the crucial factor to successful self-publishing is, I’d say it was writing good books. There’s no other criteria than that, although dogged determination probably helps too.

There are definitely pros and cons to self-publishing. The downside is the responsibility – everything rests on you. The upside is the control; I’m not answerable to anyone, and I get to keep all my own income (after extensive costs, of course).

I think the best aspect of writing is sharing the stories with readers. My books are murder mysteries so they’re effectively puzzles and I challenge the reader to solve them – it’s a sort of game between us. They write to me, telling me if they worked it out, or not and if they enjoyed the stories – usually, they do. It’s very satisfying and inclusive, and I really enjoy being a part of it.

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About Karen

Karen Menuhin is the number 1 bestselling author of The Heathcliff Lennox series. Having grown up in the military, she has lived an itinerant life and is often on the move. She has two sons and lives with her dog, her cat, and her husband, Krov, who is ex-US Special Forces and a documentary filmmaker.

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