Goodreads Blog

Marketing Advice from Bestselling Author Catherine McKenzie

Posted by Cynthia on May 7, 2018
Catherine McKenzie knows that being a writer isn’t just about writing. “I run a business called "Catherine McKenzie”, and I’m the CEO and Chief Content Producer,” she says. “I’m also the accountant, the head of marketing. I involve myself in all parts of the publishing process.” The Canadian author has written several works of bestselling contemporary fiction, including Hidden, Fractured, and Arranged. Her latest novel, The Good Liar, is a mystery/thriller set in Chicago.

We asked Catherine to share some of her insights into the process of getting an agent, holding on to her stories, and staying active in her group on Goodreads.


Tell us a little about your writing career. When did you start writing, and how did you first get published?

I always wrote; poetry mostly, but I never considered a career in writing. Instead, I became a lawyer, which I still am today. I recall a few aborted efforts at writing novels in my twenties—after I read Foucault’s Pendulum, for instance, I sat down to write the next Foucault’s Pendulum, then discovered five pages later that I knew nothing and would have to do years of research.

Then, in 2006, I had an idea that would not leave me alone. I didn’t know what it was, but I had to write down. I did and it eventually transformed into my first (practice, lives-in-a-drawer) novel. I queried briefly with that work, but then decided it was too autobiographical to have out in the world. In the meantime, I’d had the idea for what became Arranged and decided to write that. I queried for months on that novel and eventually got an agent. She then queried for eighteen months without success.

In the meantime, I wrote the novels that became Spin and The Murder Game (which I published under a pseudonym in 2016). We decided to submit in Canada and got a “if you make some changes I might be willing to publish Arranged” from HarperCollins Canada. My agent submitted Spin to her instead, and it was accepted in a two-book deal for publication in January 2010. It took an agent change and until late 2011 to get a US book deal.

How did you find an agent?

I found my first agent in the traditional way—researching agents who were representing people in my genre and querying them. I must have queried hundreds of agents. It was certainly part of the toughening up process that all writers need to go through. I also had an experience where a “big” agent was interested in taking the book on if I made a significant change that I ultimately did not think worked for the book. I declined, deciding to believe in the story as I had conceived it.


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How have your marketing and promotional efforts changed over the years? What things worked then vs. now?

One thing I have noticed is a shift from Twitter to Facebook and, more recently, Instagram. Netgalley and BookBub are also more recent players in the publicity market. With Goodreads, I’ve placed a lot of emphasis in the last couple of years with running giveaways to increase my to-reads both pre-pub and afterwards. It’s helped in various ways, including when there has been a deal email that’s gone out and getting placement in the monthly newsletter.

What marketing activities do you believe have been the most worthwhile in helping you reach a large audience?

Placement is so important. I really don’t think there is any substitute for it—in stores, being on the front tables or walls; online, being advertised on Kindle screens or the various other ways that Amazon has to promote a title. The biggest placement for me was getting into the Kindle First (now FirstReads) program on Amazon; Hidden was free for a month to Prime members and this generated thousands of reviews and other metrics that have kept that book selling now, four years later.

What’s been your approach to using Goodreads? How much time do you spend on Goodreads, and what activities do you mostly do?

I use it in two main ways: I run a group called 52 Weeks, 52 Books where I pick a book each week for the group to read and people post their comments on a discussion thread once they’ve read it. I also have used it to run continuing giveaways of my books to increase my visibility on the site. And of course, I read my reviews, particularly pre-publication. It’s a good way to take the pulse of a book. I do learn from both positive and negative reviews.

What advice would you give to other authors aspiring to a successful writing career?

Read, read, read. Once you write a book, keep going. Too many authors get “stuck” on their first novel instead of moving on once it’s done. Figure out one or two online venues that you are comfortable working with and learn how to best maximize that venue.

Got a question for Catherine McKenzie about her publishing career or marketing? Leave a question in the comments and the author will respond to them the week of May 14. Be sure to follow her on Goodreads to see all her updates.


Next: The Business of Being a Writer: Turning Attention Into Sales

You might also like: Marketing Advice from Young Adult Author Jenni James

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Comments Showing 1-25 of 25 (25 new)

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message 1: by M. (last edited May 08, 2018 05:05AM) (new)

M. Jones I wonder whether Catherine McKenzie will be running Giveaways so often with the new set-up? So far I have an 8% return for mine (run 6 weeks ago with 100 e-books) and while I'm always grateful for every review and rating, that's pretty minimal given the outlay. Of course, these things take time, but it's also probably true that people who don't read within a few weeks won't ever read it.


message 2: by Catherine (new)

Catherine McKenzie M. wrote: "I wonder whether Catherine McKenzie will be running Giveaways so often with the new set-up? So far I have an 8% return for mine (run 6 weeks ago with 100 e-books) and while I'm always grateful for ..."

Hi, I will not be running as many giveaways with the new set-up; I cannot afford to. I am curious, though - what do you mean an 8% return? How are you calculating that metric? Thanks!


message 3: by M. (new)

M. Jones Hi Catherine. Thanks for the response. What I meant was that I distributed 100 ebooks and have got so far 8 ratings/reviews. After two years at the self-publishing lark I do realise how difficult it can be to come by reviews, so while I'm pleased people have taken the time, it does make me think that the new Giveaways are not an affordable solution. Running Giveaways with printbooks would perhaps be a better bet, just because a printbook sits on the shelf making you feel guilty that you're neglecting it *turns away quickly from all the ranks of unsullied spines on his bookcase*, but that's even more expensive. I did that once via Amazon and spent £240 on 20 paperbacks + postage (I'm a Brit: maybe $400 at the time) to get one review, albeit a stunner. Little and often was possible with the old Giveaways, especially if we non-US Indies could distribute locally, but no longer now that the packages have a fixed price (and are US only).
It's a shame Goodreads couldn't come up with something a little more helpful.


message 4: by Catherine (new)

Catherine McKenzie M. wrote: "Hi Catherine. Thanks for the response. What I meant was that I distributed 100 ebooks and have got so far 8 ratings/reviews. After two years at the self-publishing lark I do realise how difficult i..."

Thanks for your response. To me Goodreads giveaways serve two purposes: 1. to get people to add the book to their to-read shelf, and 2. early reviews before publication. I actually see much more value in 1 in my case since those people are alerted when the book comes out or when it's on sale.


message 5: by M. (new)

M. Jones I haven't been organised enough to do advanced review copies yet, partly down to sheer naivety on my part. It's great when someone adds your book to their To Read shelf. Slightly less great when you find out they have 17,892 others on there as well. I often wonder what the average is.


message 6: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl Devenney Gave away 20 paperbacks back in October of 2017. Found one of the autographed books for resale on a website. Received one review (not from the re-seller). Won't run another Goodreads giveaway,


message 7: by M. (new)

M. Jones Sorry to hear that, Cheryl. My first print Giveaway ended with a couple of the autographed copies online, too.
When I had over 1000 people sign up, I thought some of them might go for the next e-book freebie (I always prefer paper myself, but out of 1000 some must be OK with pixels). Nope. Maybe they just didn't hear about it. It would help if signing up actually meant getting ALL the message traffic tagged for that book, at least from the author. That might also put off the resellers and those who aren't really bothered.


message 8: by David (new)

David Dennington Hi Catherine, I have written an epic historical novel. It's had excellent reviews. I used Goodreads giveaways when it was free, but have since given up on that, as it not affordable. I wrote the book after studying screenplay and novel writing with a six part TV mini series in mind, hoping the novel would jump start the process. I need to reach a producer/director who might become passionate about it as many others are. It would be a Titanic type period piece, and Titanic in scope.
This 1920's action/adventure, love story is ready, and adaption would be easy. The story is about Airships R38/ZR2 (a forgotten American tragedy), R101 and R100, the men who flew them and the women they loved.
The final national tragedy caused heartache and grief, culminating in a funeral more spectacular than that of Princess Diana. I know for a fact there are people out there who want this story brought to the screen. I need to get buzz going. Any thoughts or ideas you have would be greatly appreciated?


message 9: by Catherine (new)

Catherine McKenzie David wrote: "Hi Catherine, I have written an epic historical novel. It's had excellent reviews. I used Goodreads giveaways when it was free, but have since given up on that, as it not affordable. I wrote the bo..."

Hi David, I think the best way to get attention for your book is to keep writing and publishing. The more work you have out there, the more chances there are for someone to discover you. Good luck!


message 10: by David (new)

David Dennington Thanks Catherine. That's true.


message 11: by Steven (new)

Steven Sheiner Hi Catherine! Thanks for the excellent article. Question: How does one add a novel to Amazon's FirstReads program? I've searched Google and Amazon without any real direction. Can you help? Thanks in advance!


message 12: by Catherine (last edited May 29, 2018 02:19PM) (new)

Catherine McKenzie Steven wrote: "Hi Catherine! Thanks for the excellent article. Question: How does one add a novel to Amazon's FirstReads program? I've searched Google and Amazon without any real direction. Can you help? Thanks i..."

Hi Steven, it is not a program that you can add books to - the books in the program are chosen by Amazon publishing from among their publications.


message 13: by Steven (new)

Steven Sheiner Catherine wrote: "Steven wrote: "Hi Catherine! Thanks for the excellent article. Question: How does one add a novel to Amazon's FirstReads program? I've searched Google and Amazon without any real direction. Can you..."

Oh, I see! Thanks for the clarification. When I read "The biggest placement for me was getting into the Kindle First (now FirstReads) program on Amazon", I got excited, and immediately went to see how I could get my book in there, lol. Thanks for the reply ;)


message 14: by W.L.W. (new)

W.L.W. Good day, I have written a couple self-help books, a couple short 'essays', a short story, and a full-length fictional mystery/conspiracy novel. All of these have been self-published on Amazon and are listed on Goodreads. I've gotten a couple very good reviews of my fictional novel and a few so-so reviews of the other stuff. I've done free giveaways on Amazon of my self-help books and the fictional novel which resulted in a lot more people picking them up for free than selling, even with countdown deals. I have sold about 4 dozen copies of the self-help books, but given away probably more than 125. Even though the fictional novel has gotten very few but very good reviews, I can't seem to even give it away. I figure I'm getting about 1 review per 30-40 units sold, both paperback and e-book.
How does one get their books out there to at least get reviews without spending a bunch of money on advertising or hiring an agent, or is that the only way?


message 15: by Catherine (new)

Catherine McKenzie W.L.W. wrote: "Good day, I have written a couple self-help books, a couple short 'essays', a short story, and a full-length fictional mystery/conspiracy novel. All of these have been self-published on Amazon and ..."

It sounds like you are doing the things you need to do. Unfortunately they don't always work. I wouldn't personally spend money on advertising at this point and you can't 'hire' agents; they agree to represent your work to place it with a traditional publisher. My best advice is to keep writing, keep putting your best work out there and it might fight an audience.


message 16: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen Derbyshire Catherine wrote: "David wrote: "Hi Catherine, I have written an epic historical novel. It's had excellent reviews. I used Goodreads giveaways when it was free, but have since given up on that, as it not affordable. ..."

That is a good idea. I was discouraged about my book not selling a million copies in one week (slight exaggeration but you get my drift) then I read in a blog post somewhere that Tom Petty didn't get popular until after his 3-4th album. I am working on my second book. Here looking at getting popular after my 3rd book. Good luck.


message 17: by Catherine (new)

Catherine McKenzie Kathleen wrote: "Catherine wrote: "David wrote: "Hi Catherine, I have written an epic historical novel. It's had excellent reviews. I used Goodreads giveaways when it was free, but have since given up on that, as i..."

Good luck to you!


message 18: by W.L.W. (new)

W.L.W. Catherine wrote: "W.L.W. wrote: "Good day, I have written a couple self-help books, a couple short 'essays', a short story, and a full-length fictional mystery/conspiracy novel. All of these have been self-published..."
I find it is the perfect Catch-22 situation: without reviews, people are much less willing to take the chance on buying, but without selling copies, there is little chance of getting reviews.
At the end of everything I publish I ask for comments and suggestions, because I really don't know what the reading public wants to read or the style they want to read in. I don't get the comments or suggestions so I blunder on hoping I'll win the lottery by putting something out there they want to read. I could write a hundred novels and sell next to nothing, or I could stumble on that one that everyone likes and sell thousands. How to get to that point without writing and writing and writing - that's the rub.


message 19: by M. (new)

M. Jones @W.L.W.
That's the rub, indeed. I've seen the comment "don't chase the market" so often, usually allied with the phrase "be true to yourself". While I believe all that - if I don't care about the story, nobody else will - it's easy to say when you're flying high. When you're sitting in limbo with few reviews (and in my case, even fewer sales) it's hard to deny that pressure to tap into what readers want. And of course while I'm not in it for the money, some would be nice, if only to fund my exorbitant consumption of teabags and chocolate when I'm writing (not that I actually eat the teabags; I mean, I am British, but I wouldn't go THAT far).


message 20: by Catherine (new)

Catherine McKenzie W.L.W. wrote: "Catherine wrote: "W.L.W. wrote: "Good day, I have written a couple self-help books, a couple short 'essays', a short story, and a full-length fictional mystery/conspiracy novel. All of these have b..."

In a nutshell...


message 21: by Catherine (new)

Catherine McKenzie M. wrote: "@W.L.W.
That's the rub, indeed. I've seen the comment "don't chase the market" so often, usually allied with the phrase "be true to yourself". While I believe all that - if I don't care about the s..."


Good to keep you sense of humour! :)


message 22: by Keith (new)

Keith Sickle Catherine wrote: "Steven wrote: "Hi Catherine! Thanks for the excellent article. Question: How does one add a novel to Amazon's FirstReads program? I've searched Google and Amazon without any real direction. Can you..."

Hi Catherine,
When you say "from among their publications (Amazon's), does that include those of us who publish using Createspace? Or is there some more specific Amazon publishing you are referring to?
Many thanks and I appreciate your very helpful article.


message 23: by Catherine (new)

Catherine McKenzie Keith wrote: "Catherine wrote: "Steven wrote: "Hi Catherine! Thanks for the excellent article. Question: How does one add a novel to Amazon's FirstReads program? I've searched Google and Amazon without any real ..."

Amazon publishing; not createspace or any other self-publishing.


message 24: by Cally (new)

Cally Hill I am a writer, always have been, always will be. I am crap at marketing and promoting. My first book, The Unhouse was published through a traditional deal, my second Half A Human Away, self published , not even one review. Satire, but I can't find any consumers for that type of book. I won't give up writing though. I am working on my third book. To all those people disenchanted with self publishing I would say, don't expect it to be any easier than the traditional route. In fact, probably, harder. The best piece of advice I have heard is:
IF YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO WRITE, THEN DO SO, BUT IF YOU DON'T, THEN DON'T.


message 25: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Khamali Amazing writing you've got, i feel motivated and most of all inspired to write like you


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