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How I Do It: Indie Authors Share The Secrets Of Their Success – This Week: Robert Bidinotto

How I Do It: Indie Authors Share the Secrets of Their Success – This Week: Robert Bidinotto

Robert Binidotto

Robert Binidotto

We had a super response to our  Q & A last week, the first in our new series highlighting and celebrating indie authors who are doing great things –  and not just in terms of sales. This week's follow up interview is another great read with best-selling vigilante-thriller author Robert Bidinotto under the ALLi spotlight. Solid storytelling and the creation of an iconic and inspiring series hero are key to crafting un-put-downable fiction, says Robert, and then there are those fan letters which often start with the greeting: “Damn you, Bidinotto – you kept me up til 4.00 am…”

What’s the secret of your success?

Well, timing had a lot to do with the initial success of Hunter, my debut thriller. When I released it in 2011, it was during the Gold Rush days of the e-book revolution. Competition for reader eyeballs was less ferocious. Ereader sales were in a period of explosive growth, and new owners were still filling them with new titles. I also had some pre-established visibility in certain circles due to my long career writing non-fiction, so I had reasonably decent sales right out of the gate. Early reader reviews were terrific, too. Apparently noticing this, the Kindle book editors named Hunter an Editors’ Pick, placed it in a late-2011 promotion, and showcased it on a host of Amazon web pages. Sales skyrocketed after that – 50,000 copies in 35 days.HUNTER ebook revised cover 5-9-15

But since then, I think continuing sales are due to solid storytelling and my creation of an iconic and inspiring series hero – at least, that’s what I’d like to believe. I don’t believe sustained success as a novelist can be built on anything but well-honed storytelling skills.

What’s the single best thing you ever did?

I finally gambled on myself and gave fiction-writing a shot. You see, “Write a novel” had been on my Bucket List for decades. But I let fear and life distractions prevent me from doing more than occasional dabbling, in fits and starts. But losing my job as a magazine editor during the 2009 recession forced me to reconsider my career options. That scary income disruption proved to be a blessing in disguise. I knew that I’d hate myself if I never tried to achieve my dream of writing a novel.

So, I took the plunge. I was 60 years old when I finally got serious about it, and I finished Hunter just one hour before my 62nd birthday—which had been my deadline. Six months later, the book hit #4 on the overall Kindle bestseller list. As I look back, I wonder where I’d be today if only I had tried going for my dream much earlier in life. I hope other writers take heart from my example and start sooner than I did!

Did you get lucky? What happened?

Very lucky, due to the market timing, as I mentioned earlier. With millions of new competing titles and authors, it’s harder to achieve visibility for your work these days. But it can be done.
I think the secret to enduring sales success is not luck, or milking fads, or marketing gimmicks. All that stuff is transitory, and much of it is out of the author’s control. I think the key is to develop, and then publicize, the elements that are unique to your work – things that cause it to stand out in an overcrowded marketplace as something fresh and different. It might be a compelling hero or heroine, a fresh plot, an imaginative new story world, or your own distinctive voice. But that’s what can set your work apart and get noticed by its target readers.
In book marketing, good positioning means offering your target readers singular, unusual elements that distinguish your work. Good branding means earning a reputation for writing stories with the elements your target readers find appealing. Those elements are intrinsic to your writing itself, and they’re totally within your control. So focus on your writing. If you do a great job as a storyteller, you’ll make your own luck when the right market circumstances come along.

How do you get/stay in creative mode?

It’s hard in a busy life filled with distractions. So, minimizing distractions during my writing periods is the first priority. Then, finding techniques to prime the pump of my subconscious and generate ideas. There are many. One trick I use when I’m stuck is to start typing a dialogue with myself. I ask myself what the problem is, then answer, conversationally. I ask my other self a stream of follow-up questions, teasing out further clarifications, and I jot down the replies as if I’m recording a chat with a sympathetic friend. After a while, the chat moves to “What would happen if…?” options. I’ll write like this for page after page, asking myself new questions and answering them, solving problems of plot and character. It keeps my mind productively engaged on developing the story instead of just drifting aimlessly, and on capturing the ideas as they occur to me.

How do you prioritise?

I am a meticulous outliner rather than a seat-of-the-pants writer. My stories feature controversial themes embedded within the psychologies of their characters, which lead them into their conflicts. So my first priority is to develop my theme into a cast of conflicting characters, and then expand their conflicts into a solid plot structure. I find that I must work through the logic of all of that before I can begin to draft anything, or else I create incoherent messes and find myself at dead ends.BAD DEEDS ebook 2015 - final
When I finally begin to draft the story, I proceed from beginning to end, rather than jumping around. I set word-count goals for the day, week, and month, and a target date for completion.

What’s next?

To date I’ve published two bestselling thrillers in the series. Hunter introduced Dylan Hunter, my mysterious, crusading reporter-turned-vigilante-hero. Bad Deeds further complicated Dylan’s life, especially his relationship with his remarkable girlfriend, Annie Woods. I’m now writing Winner Takes All, the capstone of the initial three-story arc. These tales all address controversial real-world issues, but in the form of entertaining, high-suspense thrillers loaded with action and romance. So I call them “thrillers for thinkers.”
After I publish Winner Takes All this year, completing the opening trilogy, I’ll take the series in fresh directions. Also this year Hunter will be published in Germany, and an audiobook edition of Bad Deeds will be released shortly by Audible, to join the existing Hunter audiobook.

What’s your top tip for other indie authors?

Don’t try to follow ever-changing market fads. That’s the path to becoming a hack, producing inauthentic, forgettable junk. Instead, write what engages your passions – what you love to read – and write only for those who love the same kinds of stories.
But let me to add a second tip, about craft.

Your job as a fiction writer is to seduce your reader into your story world and captivate him so completely that he totally forgets the real world around him. That’s what it means to write a page-turner. So my one commandment is: Never indulge anything in your work that will break the story spell for the reader, whether it’s typos, factual or formatting errors, misspellings and bad grammar, or showing off in ways that call attention to you, the author. Those things jar the reader out of your story world.

My favorite fan letters are variations on: “Damn you, Bidinotto – your book kept me up till 4 am, and I was a total mess at work the next day!” When I get reader feedback like that, I know I’m doing my job and giving Dylan Hunter’s fans exactly what they want: a roller-coaster ride that they never want to stop.

Ever since he read Batman comics as a kid, the pursuit of justice became a life-long passion for Robert Bidinotto. Justice was the focus of his high-profile investigative crime reporting for Reader’s Digest and hard-hitting nonfiction books about the legal system. Now it’s the central theme in his Dylan Hunter thrillers, beginning with Hunter, a Wall Street Journal Top 10 Fiction Ebook and a #1 Kindle bestseller in Mysteries & Thrillers. Robert lives on the Chesapeake Bay with his musician wife, Cynthia, and their cat, Luna, who plays a supporting role in the Dylan Hunter stories. His website is www.bidinotto.com.

Find out the secrets of @RobertBidinotto's #selfpub success in this #author interview Click To Tweet

Author: Boni Wagner-Stafford

Boni Wagner-Stafford is a nonfiction author coach, writer, ghostwriter, editor, and co-founder of Ingenium Books. She’s an award-winning former journalist and also led public-sector teams in media relations, issues management, and strategic communications planning.
Boni has been at the controls of a helicopter, loves backcountry canoeing, once jumped from an airplane, sang on stage with Andrea Bocelli in a backup chorus, and grew up skiing Canada’s Rocky Mountains. She can be found on the South Shore of Montreal, in Mexico on her 40’ sailboat, Ingenium, or sometimes in the South of France.


This Post Has 17 Comments
  1. Good day I am so glad I found your blog, I really found you by
    accident, while I was researching on Google for something else, Nonetheless I am here now and would just like to say thanks
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  2. Hi Robert, I just love this post and hearing about how you write to yourself to get the creative juices pumping…for me, I get SO distracted with life and always seem to be stuck in chapter 1? I currently write an advice column on coping with blindness as I am a visually-impaired person/writer but wonder how to write my memoir with so many demands on my time, any advice? Thank you so much,

    1. There are no secrets, Maribel. The only solution to the “distractions” problem is to block out some dedicated writing time, leave the phone outside the room, close the door, shut off your internet connection, and face your blank screen or page. Then maybe have that typed conversation with your “Self,” and see where it goes.

      In other words, you need to view your writing as important as the other important things in your life — even more so than many of them. You need to treat your writing time as you would if you had to show up at any other job — not as some optional way to kill a few hours. Treat your writing as a professional would, and you will turn out professional writing.

  3. Hi Again Robert:

    You are absolutely right.

    There is no greater “High” a person can feel to finish writing a book, regardless of what success follows. That “High” can last as long as you want it to.

    Though I have written 23 books and success has eluded me, I have each book cover on a wall to inspire me and make me believe I have a purpose as a writer.

    I wish everyone a wonderful 2016.


  4. Hi Robert,

    I wrote ghost stories from 2002-2009.

    Then I took a one year break. For a number of years I wrote a few pages each year of what I called, “A Western Romance Story!” Just a nice story about a shy cowboy, a widow and two small children. By 2010 the story was 50 pages, far shy of a book. My new years resolution for January, 2011 was to add 10 more pages to that story.

    Instead, I wrote 200 pages and had written, “Was It Fate Or Destiny?”

    In all honesty I never for a moment dared to think I would write a second book.

    But my best friend said; “The next book you write, make me a gunfighter!”

    My jaw dropped and I didn’t think I could possibly do that, but did the following month.

    I even made a pre-made book format, page numbered to make it easy to write my next book. I share that word file with anyone who feels intimidated about how to tackle putting what they have written or would like to write into an actual book.

    Not all of us have self-confidence and we look to successful writers like you to inspire us to believe in what we hope to achieve one day.



  5. Raymond, trust me: As I looked at the hundreds, then thousands of sales per day racking up, I at times felt as if I should go to the E.R. and beg for the cardiac paddles. It was a crazy ride. But your advice is dead on. Be brave. Write your book. I’m living proof that sometimes you can get very lucky and hit the jackpot. And the worst that can happen is that you will have written your book. NOTHING can beat that feeling.

  6. “Sales skyrocketed after that – 50,000 copies in 35 days.”

    I think I would have a heart attack if these sales happened to me on Amazon, lol.

    I encourage everyone who knows me to be brave and write a book.


    1. Hello,
      I am researching to ad nauseam on all the various ways to indie publish and reading comments by authors. I happened upon yours that shortly addressed what initially sounded like a good idea. Because I was considering Amazon as a possibility, I felt consternation in your comment. I hope you have the time to tell me why you’re not happy to have sold your book on Amazon, and then follow it up with where you did and why.

      I guess I’m trying for a real “bang for my buck”, but I’m so excited to have accomplished my goal of writing what I feel, of course, is a good fiction, that it is very difficult to spend endless hours trying to maneuver my way through what I should do with it. These matters are not my forte. Too sad.

      Please get back with me when time allows. Your comments in this Q&A seem honest and I feel I would appreciated your reply.

      Thank you in advance.

  7. Long time listener, first time caller. 🙂 I had to comment on this one, though. Great post. I am 46 and about to publish for the first time, though I’ve wanted to write a book all my life. What he said – don’t take so long to follow your dreams! Also, great tip about writing to your passions.

    1. Go for it, Kitty. What motivated me to finally, FINALLY do just that were two thoughts: (1) You only live once, and (2) I’d hate myself if I were on my deathbed, looking back at my life, wondering, “What might my life have been, if only I had tried to write a novel?” Swing for the fences, so that you will never look back in regret. Yes, you might fail — or you might succeed. But if you don’t try, you guarantee that you will fail.

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