Creating a Genre of Her Own
Ann Charles writes books with an even balance of
mystery, romance, and dark humor By Alex Palmer
Ann Charles’s books don’t sell very well during the holidays. “My covers have bloody weapons on them, and shriveled-up hands, doll eyeballs, and weird things—I tank at Christmas,” says the self-published author of the two mystery-romance series Deadwood and Jackrabbit Junction, which showcase the macabre and dark humor that their gory illustrated
Fortunately, most other times of the year, Charles’s books have
been selling like gangbusters. The Great Jackalope Stampede, the
third Jackrabbit Junction mystery and Charles’s most recent
novel, landed at the #5 spot on Amazon’s bestselling self-published list after its release in late January.
The book continues Charles’s impressive track record dating
back to January 2011, when she published Nearly Departed in
Deadwood, the first in that series. Audiences have so enthusiastically embraced the unusual way she blends her genres that
Charles is now jump-starting a third series using a similar mix.
“There’s always a mystery, there’s humor, and a romance subplot,” says Charles.
But agents and publishers were much less excited about the
way Charles combined these story lines when she began pitching
them seven years ago. As she sent out early manuscripts, agents
urged her to write more clearly in one genre—either mystery or
romance—rather than an even mix of the two.
“They would say, ‘You’ve got about a 50/50 blend here, and
you have to have like 70/30,’” says Charles. “But I said, ‘This is
what keeps coming out.’”
For one of her early books—which eventually became the first
title in the Jackrabbit Junction series—Charles got an agent,
who said that although she loved the story, it would be a difficult
project to sell. When the book failed to find a publisher, Charles
remained undeterred, feeling confident that the audience was
there if her work could find the right outlet. She then wrote the
first Deadwood book—again the agent loved it, but felt it had
the same genre problems as Charles’s previous book.
They had a little more luck with this one, finding an editor
who immediately connected with the story and setting, worked
with her on refining it, and sent it up the chain, only to have the
marketing department pass on it at the final acquisition meeting.
“They thought I didn’t have enough audience potential with
it,” says Charles. “But it taught me to learn marketing, and that
I would have to do it myself.”
Charles stuck to her style and did find an audience—a large and
active one that has grown with each book. Jackalope had the
strongest opening of all the Jackrabbit Junction books. Charles
attributes this in part to the timing of its release—just after the
New Year, thus avoiding her fallow holiday sales period.
Properly timing publication has been an important consideration for Charles, who has experimented to see which period
drives the strongest sales. The first Jackrabbit book, Dance of the
Winnebagos, came out in fall 2011, and Jackrabbit Junction Jitters
in summer of 2012. She followed a similar pattern for the Deadwood series, releasing the first in January, the second in February,
the third in March, and the fourth in April, in different years to
determine which month saw the biggest bump in sales. Charles
found that the beginning of the year seemed to be the strongest
time for her books.
Of course, blood and intrigue go over well during the Halloween season as well, and Charles says of October, “That’s my month.”
Price promotions have been a valuable tool for Charles. She
will generally list the book at $3.99—“not the big $5.99 and
not the cheap $2.99”—and for at least six months after release
she will not drop the price, so that loyal readers who buy the