As authors, we’re all looking for that one change or shift in focus which will take our careers to the next level. I should know—I spent five years trying to find mine before my whole life changed in the space of a few days.
It was the autumn of 2015, and although I’d been just about covering the bills through my writing for around five years, I was a long way from being able to call myself a successful writer. I’d tried everything in that time, but just couldn’t find the ‘thing’ that would kick my career on to the next stage.
Then I discovered the potential power of Facebook Ads. I ran a few adverts and had some mild success, but nothing that I could scale up and really make a big difference with. It became apparent to me that I needed to ‘hook’ readers in somehow.
I distinctly remember waking up at four o’clock in the morning, remembering the discarded manuscript that sat in my desk drawer. It was different from my other books: a psychological thriller rather than a police procedural novel or a murder mystery. It wasn’t part of a series, either—the kiss of death in marketing terms, if you believed the indie publishing experts of the time. What it did have, though, was a killer hook.
Could you murder your wife to save your daughter? was the elevator pitch for the book— Her Last Tomorrow—which I’d written about two-thirds of before discarding. I liked the idea, but the plot just wasn’t working out. It was easier to go back to my tried and tested series. But if I was ever going to have success with Facebook Ads, I knew it would be with that book. What reader could resist seeing a hook like that and not want to find out what happened in the book?
So I spent the next few weeks working out the plot, rewriting large sections of the book and, ultimately, finishing it. I released it on 5 December 2015 and sales were steady, but not hugely impressive. Then I switched on the Facebook Ads.
It became apparent very quickly that this book was super marketable. Every dollar I spent in advertising was being doubled, sometimes trebled, in book sales that same day. Naturally, I ramped up the ad spend as far as I possibly could in order to maximize profits. Within four months it had made enough money to pay off my mortgage, and suddenly I was finding myself being mentioned everywhere. It was a huge transformation for me, but one I was determined to enjoy and capitalize on.
All of this led to my wife being able to leave her job, me getting a deal with a major publisher, film and TV rights, foreign translations and plenty of media attention, but I was convinced it could be repeated, too. By 2017, I had another hook for a book which I was sure could be just as successful as Her Last Tomorrow. The book, which was titled Tell Me I’m Wrong had the hook: What if you discovered your husband was a serial killer?
These two hooks have a lot in common. They both pose direct questions. They both demand impossible choices or decisions. They both involve the reader through use of ‘you’. They’re both clearly domestic in their setting.
Now, that’s not to say the same recipe would work for you. The overwhelming likelihood is it won’t, in just the same way as I spent five years trying to emulate what the prominent self-publishers of the day were doing—and failing miserably. It’s all about discovering your thing, the thing you do better than anyone else. It’s about finding something new. For me, that became the domestic noir psychological thriller, wrapped up in a short, concise hook that poses a direct question to the reader. Many other authors (and major publishers) have tried to emulate this in the past few years, but it’s worked about as well for them as trying to emulate others worked for me between 2010 and 2015.
Tell Me I’m Wrong became an immediate hit, and in its first couple of months sold almost twice as many copies as Her Last Tomorrow. It’s opened my books up to a huge new audience once again, and has boosted my career on to yet another level. It’s something I’ll keep trying to repeat, too. I’ve got a handful of other hooks which I’m confident will be super-marketable in the same vein, and I’m really looking forward to getting those books out there and pushing on to another level.
As a result of finding my ‘thing’, I’ve gone from selling a small handful of books a month to over 1.5 million copies of my titles to date. But if I hadn’t had the sense to look at the market, realize what opportunities were available and to tailor those to what I already had—as well as adapting my focus to suit it—I might still be struggling to pay the bills, with that unfinished book and super-marketable hook sitting unloved in my desk drawer.
I could have given up at any point in the five years before then, too. I could be working in a completely different job right now, sitting in an office or toiling on a building site. But, thankfully for me, I stuck with it. And that’s when I realize that your break can come from anywhere—and often when you’d least expect it.
Check out Adam Croft and Robert Daws’ podcast Partners In Crime!
With more than a million books sold to date, Adam Croft is one of the most successful independently published authors in the world, and one of the biggest selling authors of the past year.
His Knight & Culverhouse crime thriller series has sold more than 250,000 copies worldwide, with his Kempston Hardwick mystery books being adapted as audio plays starring some of the biggest names in British TV.
In 2016, the Knight & Culverhouse Box Set reached storewide number 1 in Canada, knocking J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child off the top spot only weeks after Her Last Tomorrow was also number 1 in Canada. The new edition of Her Last Tomorrow also reached storewide number 1 in Australia over Christmas 2016.
Adam has been featured on BBC television, BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 5 Live, the BBC World Service, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, The Bookseller and a number of other news and media outlets.
In March 2018, Adam was conferred as an Honorary Doctor of Arts, the highest academic qualification in the UK, by the University of Bedfordshire in recognition of his achievements.
I knew how important a great hook could be, but this post drove the point home!
I think the hook is glossed over by too many authors in favor of getting more books out quicker. Thanks for this story.
Thank you for the great article! It helps me immensely in promotions but I would love to learn how to find out what people are interested in. How to find my audience.