Pendelton Wallace has authored 14 books, including the well-loved Ted Higuera Series (7), and the Catrina Flaherty Mystery Series (4). Formerly, he was a member of the SDWEG board, and has taught Guild members a number of classes and workshops.
His most recent release is Back to Vietnam: Ted Higuera Thriller #7.
In our interview, Wallace shares how he achieved his success as an author by becoming a marketing guru, all while living a life of adventure on a 56-foot sailboat.
Pierce: Talk us through your writing process.
Wallace: Every book starts with a beat sheet—a three-to-five-page document outlining the plot, characters, and story. From that, I write sketches for the major characters. As new characters develop, I produce sketches for them as well. I want to know who they are and how they will react in situations before I begin writing.
Next, I expand the outline. In about fifteen-to-twenty pages, I describe most of the book’s scenes. After completing factfinding homework, I start writing. By this time, I know the characters and story so well that I don’t really think about what I’m writing. The words just flow from my fingertips. Usually, each book comes in around 65,000-75,000 words.
Pierce: While writing, how do you incorporate marketing?
Wallace: My marketing for each book starts during the first draft, about six months before the release. I publish announcements on my website, in my newsletter and on Facebook (aka META) where I state what I am working on. Then, I’ll post updates at least once a month, asking for feedback from readers about plot problems that need solving. Readers can make suggestions. This makes them feel more committed to the book.
About two months before the launch, I do a cover contest. My cover artist will make four or five versions and I’ll send out a newsletter with those different versions asking people to vote for which one they prefer. Usually, two of them will surface to the top and I will have a runoff election. My readers choose the cover, and, here again, I think this makes them feel vested in the book.
After this, I do a cover reveal on Facebook and on my website, and continually provide updates for readers.
When I finish the second draft, I ask for Beta readers. I usually get around 100 volunteers from which I choose ten. A few will be return Beta readers, some of whom I will give preferential treatment.
Pierce: What characteristics make for a good Beta reader—one that you would use again?
Wallace: I mail them a report template that they fill out and return. If they give me helpful feedback, they will definitely go on my “Use Them Again” list. But there are people who don’t show me the problems and just provide worthless feedback, which doesn’t help me at all.
For the ones I haven’t chosen, I email them and say you didn't make the cut this time, but I will be calling for advanced-readers in a few weeks and you can sign-up for that.
The chosen Beta readers provide reports, and I consider their feedback, and incorporate the most valuable into the third draft.
Pierce: What do you do next?
Wallace: Upon completion of the third draft, I send it to my editor. Incorporating his notes, I send the fourth draft to my proofreader. At the same time, I call for readers and send out advanced-reader copies (ARCs). I take any reader willing to volunteer, that is if they agree to write reviews on Amazon. I set a hard deadline for posting their reviews and send reminders. Anyone that does not post, I won’t put on the list again.
Now, it is time to publish.
Pierce: Talk about marketing at the point of the book’s launch. Would you discuss how you juggle the blog, newsletters, social media, advertising, and events to maximize promotion and book sales?
Wallace: On release day, I price the book at $.99 and I do a Facebook blast that announces a three-day Friends and Family Discount for readers. Generally, I sell a whole bunch of copies. On the fourth day, the price goes up to $3.99. So, if a reader didn’t buy in the first three days, they have missed their window of opportunity.
At this point, I will run ads. There are websites where you can purchase advertising, priced anywhere from free to $500. AuthorsXP is my favorite. BookBub is one of the best, but they have grown larger, have a stricter vetting process, and are pivoting more toward featuring big-name authors.
Additionally, I use Facebook. I belong to a couple of hundred groups. At some point, I calculated these groups contain around three million members, and let's just say 10% see the blast. That means, 300,000 people will see it.
I pick a date and location for a launch party, where there will be free food, and readers will be able to ask me all the questions they want. The party invitation goes out in a Facebook blast, the newsletter, and my blog.
For Back to Vietnam, I did a big book release party at the OB Java Shop in Ocean Beach. We had mountains of food. Mingling with guests, I asked those who had read some of the chapters to capture their feel for the book.
Pierce: You mentioned earlier you have an editor and cover designer. Do you hire these for each of your books, and do you use the same ones?
Wallace: Yes. I use the same editor and cover designer. We have established relationships and work well together. They give helpful advice, as members of my writers’ group.
Pierce: Tell us more about your writers’ group.
Wallace: I have been in the group since 2014. There are some main people that are always there, and others who come and go. On Sundays, we submit our work for the week, up to 35 pages. Our meetings are on Wednesday. Usually, we review four to five submissions. We meet on Zoom, and our members are from all over—Japan, Thailand, England. So, each person gets to give their feedback. In my case, the group’s feedback is important while I work on my second draft.
Feedback from female members (and from my girlfriend) is critical, so the women characters think, act, and dress like real people.
Pierce: You have developed a solid group of writer friends. Ones that uphold a similar level of quality in their books. Have you worked together to promote one another?
Wallace: Dave Larson leads two writing groups on Sunday: one is sort of like a Writing 101 for beginers. When these writers get really good, they graduate to the second group, who are considered accomplished writers.
Pierce: And you have also done an anthology with your writer friends?
Wallace: Yes. With that, I have made six very good friends. The anthology showed us the value of promoting one another.
I published my first book, which was a biographical novel about my father (Blue Water and Me, 2012). At that point, I had about 60 people signed up for my reading list. I attended the, now defunct, San Diego Writers Conference, and met a woman who was close to one of my writing friends. They wrote nautical mysteries, and suggested putting together an anthology. I was put in charge, and cold-contacted several dozen writers who wrote nautical mysteries. Seven signed up.
We put together a collection of seven novels that we sold for $.99. When our sales did well, we considered what to do with the funds. We decided to donate money to The Wounded Warriors Project and wrote them a check for over $20,000. We sold a ton of those books.
Even three and four years after, I received emails saying: "I just read your book in the Seven Seas Mysteries anthology. Loved it! I'm gonna be reading more of your books!" So that was a big thing!
The really important thing about that experience was it gave me a chance to work with six other writers, all of whom sold more books than I did. I was just starting out.
All six had mailing lists. I emailed the authors and suggested we all do an email exchange. "I will email all the people on my list and ask them to join your list, and you can email all the people on your list and ask them to join my list." I picked up a couple hundred more readers. Then I discovered AuthorsXP.
Pierce: Let’s talk about that.
Wallace: AuthorsXP [authorsxp.com] is the very best thing I’ve ever done. Amy VanSant runs a weekly genre giveaway—mystery, children’s books, female authors, etc.
She’ll ask 35 authors to sign-up to give away a copy of their books. She’ll post the covers of each book. Those who sign up for her mailing list are entered into the contest. She will draw a name and the winner will receive all 35 books. Also, everyone submitting their name for the mailing list receives a book. She then passes along those mailing list names to the authors.
With every AuthorsXP promotion, I'll get anywhere from 500 to 3,000 new names for my mailing list. This has built my list up into the thousands. I have more than 12,000 people on my mailing list now.
Amy offers different ways to market your book. The “Get to Know the Author” promotion is my favorite. She takes the author’s bio and features all of the books that they have written. She gives readers the opportunity to find out about you and find books of interest. Usually, if they read one, they’ll come back and keep reading.
Recently for Back to Vietnam, I started a promotion, and in one day was able to sell enough books to pay for the ad, and over the next two days, I did about the same. Overall, I received about a 200% return on my investment.
Pierce: Now, 14 books in, what do you know about your target demographic?
Wallace: When I started writing the Ted series, I thought my readers were 18- to 65-year-old males with college degrees, who had white-collar jobs. After Hacker for Hire (2014), the second book in the series, I received several emails from women saying what they didn't like. At first, I thought they weren’t my demographic anyway. But then I got more women giving feedback. I wondered who my demographic might really be.
I sent out a questionnaire to my readers list, asking their age, sex, and where they lived. I was shocked to find out the huge majority were over 55 and 60% were female readers. From the third book in the series (The Mexican Connection, 2014), I tailored more to female tastes. I need to do another demographic questionnaire.
Pierce: Will you briefly touch on the current projects you’d like to promote?
Wallace: I am working on a new story with the working title, The Pirate and the Princess, planned for Kindle Vella. I’m calling it an Alternate History Pirate Romance.
You can contact Pendelton Wallace at: firstname.lastname@example.org
And visit him at his website: www.pennwallace.com/
And follow him on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/stores/Pendelton-C.-Wallace/author/B008823QGW