132. Threading the Needle—my journey to publication 1: The basics

The urban dictionary defines threading the needle as “While driving, walking, or running you weave in and out of obstacles (other cars, people, etc.) in your path.”

threading the needle

The road to self-publication involves a lot of weaving in and out. In a previous post, I described how I chose my publisher and publicist for my literary thriller, The Tears of Boabdil.

That was only the first of many decisions. Next came:

  • Distribution
  • Pricing
  • Page design and cover design
  • Promotion
    • News coverage
    • Review strategy
    • Advertising

Each of these decisions will have huge influence on the book’s success. There will certainly be a lot more to research, think about, and decide on. The book is now typset in its first proof stage, and so I’ve been proof-reading.

I can’t pretend to be an expert (I’m learning as I go) but, as a writer, I know the importance of doing my research.


This one was easy, since part of the reason for choosing Matador for the production of the book was that they also have an effective sales and distribution arm which can get books into major retail outlets.

Blue Bear bookshop
The Blue Bear, my local indie bookshop

Matador’s distribution service produces an Advance Information sheet to publicise the book for booksellers, arranges all bibliographic data management for wholesalers including Nielsen and Gardners, and distributes to retail physical and online bookshops. This service, which costs £300, requires a print run of at least 100. I also contracted their representatives to hand-sell the book into high street retailers. This service costs £250 and requires a print run of at least 300.

Book categories

How you categorise your book affects how easy it is for readers to find.


The online seller Amazon dominates the market with over 33 million titles, and understanding the way it classifies books is important to success. Amazon Kindle lists only the top 100 books in each category. That means in a highly competitive category like Romance your book may sink without a trace unless your sales figures are really good. But Amazon Kindle has 10,849 bestseller lists. So, if you expect to be getting sales in the hundreds, it pays to pick a less competitive category. If there are no more than 100 books in your category, you’ll automatically make the bestseller list with a single sale.

Here’s a really useful tabulation of how different categories sold on Amazon Kindle in 2019. It shows Amazon’s overall sales ranking for bestsellers in each category.

Amazon book categories

My book is literary with thriller elements. So, if I marketed it as Literary Fiction/Literary, I’d have to be at least number 3,754 on the Kindle rankings to appear on a bestseller list. But if I marketed it as Literature and Fiction/Literary Fiction/Mystery, Thriller and Suspense, I’d only have to reach number 18,717.

To translate these rankings into estimated numbers of books sold, you can use this Kindle Best Seller Calculator or this one.

To achieve a sales rank of 4 (the #1 spot in the most competitive category, Romance/contemporary), the author will be selling around 5,360 e-books a day. To achieve a sales rank of 18,718 (the 100th spot on the bottom row), the author will be selling around 13 e-books a day.

The rankings change over time, so it’s worth checking just before you release your book. In April 2020, the number 100 spot for Literary Fiction/ Mystery Thriller and Suspense had a sales ranking of 4,058.

Most physical booksellers use the more restricted Thema categories. There, my best choices were either Fiction General and Literary, or Modern and Contemporary Fiction, or Thriller/suspense. On my publisher’s advice, I went with Thriller/Suspense, since there was no Literary Thriller category.

So, hopefully, the book will be available through all major retailers. All I need to do is make sure readers know about it and want to buy it.

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