SFFMP 70: Retold Fairy Tales, Kindle Unlimited, and Finding Less Competitive Categories with K.M. Shea

Fantasy author K.M. Shea talks about how she’s found a lot of success publishing retold fairy tales and is now a full-time author. We covered…

  • The perks of publishing in a category that is underserved by traditional publishing and that isn’t hugely competitive.
  • Why K.M. has everything in KDP Select/Kindle Unlimited now (yes, she’s tried going wide too).
  • Monitoring page reads and payouts in Kindle Unlimited to make sure it’s working for you
  • Pitfalls and things to be careful of when retelling fairy tales.
  • Creating a series even when your books are stand-alone — is there a theme that can pull them all together?
  • Encouraging more reviews for books by offering free extras for all when certain numbers of reviews are reached.
  • Connecting with readers and giving them lots of extras to turn them into ravenous fans who want to see you succeed.
  • Choosing a cover style when you’re in a category where this isn’t a Big 5 presence and examples are all over the place.

If you’ve enjoyed the show, be sure to check out K.M. Shea’s books on Amazon. She recommend starting with The Snow Queen, Book 1.


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  • Thanks guys – another fab podcast.

    Yes. I can see a big thing to take away from this excellent interview is the “power of the niche.” This was a superb and inspiring episode ~ many thanks!

    I don’t know, Kitty, if you’ll read the comments, but your recent covers are beautiful. Do you mind telling us who did those?

    • Ah, that’s what you get for commenting before you’ve finished listening! Now I know exactly who did your covers. 🙂

      • Kitty

        Kitty/K. M. Shea here! I agree perfectly with your summary–niche writing is very powerful, and I feel like it’s very rewarding because readers tend to be more passionate.

        As a side comment about the covers, Myrrhlynn uses stockphotos to create most of my covers, but she’s a photoshop wizard so she uses a lot of custom brushes and fonts. (According to her, font type and font placement are perhaps more important than the cover image itself.) Because she uses stock images she tends to put them through a lot of filters, and occasionally layers images together. (In example, she’ll cut out a person and put them on a different background) She basically customizes the heck out of the stock photos, that way if another indie author uses the same photo, our covers will be radically different.

        I hope that helps!

        • Hi, thanks for replying!

          That’s interesting about the covers. I published my first book – MG/YA steampunk adventure (believe me it doesn’t get much more niche than that!) and it’s going well so far – ranking #3 in that niche and steadily selling a few books a day. The cover for that is all original character art, which is really the only thing that seems to happen in MG books. Interestingly, it’s the paperback that’s flying off the virtual shelves and I’ve only sold a handful of pre-orders on the ebook.

          It will be interesting to see what happens when book two is published in the summer and the ebook of book one goes to permafree. I can’t make the paperback free, although I am thinking of doing a “break even” promo on that when the second book is out. I think I can bust this “you can’t sell MG as an Indie” myth. And I have an interesting meeting with a Libraries Manager in the pipeline, too. Hmmm.

          Or it could just be the “grace period” I’ve heard about… 😉

    • SFFpodcast

      Thanks for stopping by to comment, Austin! Glad you enjoyed the show! I love that Kitty is just quietly over there raking it in a niche hardly anyone things about. 🙂

  • MyrrhLynn

    I wanted to chime in on here since I’m responsible for most of the marketing Kitty has done (she hasn’t paid for advertising because until very recently I couldn’t convince her to give me a budget).

    Yes the Fairy Tale books are in a Niche, but a large reason they have been so successful is because:

    1) They are retellings (as long as you don’t offend fans of whatever you are retelling you will have a built in, very passionate audience). If you read the reviews on the Timeless Fairy tale books a lot of them mention that “I always ready every retelling of X fairytale I can find”. This would likely work just as well with other retellings – that Jane Austen Zombie retelling just got made into a movie!

    2) Title (No clever titles here, they are named after the retelling.) I also make the title as large as possible on the book cover because I want it visible on the thumbnail.

    3) If you have a book that somehow overlaps with elements of one of the VERY popular categories your book will have a bigger audience and a higher chance of being successful. In this case the fairytale books fit in a high-ish demand but underserved area – clean romance. A lot of adults troll the YA section for books because they are sick of the passionate/sexy scenes in the regular romance category books. And like other romance readers they read a LOT and they are loyal.

    4) Kindle Unlimited and temp free promos. Kitty has used the free days from the Kindle Select program a lot over the years – she’s given away thousands and thousands of books. I don’t want to think about how many of the “promote your free book” forms I’ve filled out (too many).

    As a tip if you download a browser just to use for filling out the free forms and make sure it is setup to save the browser cache you can fly through those forms! We’ve also discovered that if you have a successful free giveaway going some of the sites that normally make you pay to promote free books will pick you up even if you didn’t register with them. Also your Kindle Unlimited audience will download your book on free promo days if you give them enough notice, which is nice because it drives the book up the rankings but you didn’t really “loose” money because you were already paid for the pages read.

    • (My first attempt at a comment appears to have been swallowed by cyberspace so I’m trying again. Apologies if I end up with duplicate comments!)

      Hi MyrrhLynn!

      Thanks for your helpful insights! It sounds like you’re Kitty’s marketer so it’s great to get your perspective 🙂

      Would you say that free promo days are significantly more effective than KCDs?

      • MyrrhLynn

        (Interesting, my first attempt at commenting seems to be lost as well…)

        Hi Melanie,
        Yes I make Kitty’s covers and I also help her with Marketing!

        I can’t speak from personal experience comparing the free promo days to the Countdown Deals. There aren’t very many websites that will let you submit a Countdown Deal book for free, so we haven’t tried them with Kitty’s books at all. (In contrast, there are many places where you can submit a free book for no cost.) As a general marketing concept I really like the countdown option because it can tap into the “for a limited time” mentality and should therefore encourage people to take action NOW. It also has the advantage that you will still get payment for page reads! I think if it was combined with an ad that was driving a lot of traffic it could be very powerful. (Lindsay mentioned she did this for a bookbub ad for her pen name in one of the more recent podcasts). My theory would be this would work best when the Countdown deal is a really big savings (such as a 99 cent boxset), as people are usually spurred into action by a bigger sale.

        One thing we did do with Kitty’s books is when her Snow Queen series first came out in December we discounted the first book in her main fairy tale series to 99 cents for about a month. (Her Snow Queen series is actually a pre-equal series with no overlapping characters to her main fairy tale series). The goal was to harness the success of the Snow Queen and funnel people into the other series. We haven’t had a chance to really analyze the numbers yet but from the little investigation we’ve done this strategy worked!

        I took a look at your website and I saw that you have a book in the fairytale category as well, welcome to the club! My recommendation for now would be to stick with the free promotions to try to get your books into more hands and hopefully increase your reviews (make sure you submit to as many free book listings as possible, the Author Marking Club has a nice tool that makes this easier!). Once you have your second book out in the series then I think doing a countdown combined with a paid ad would make more sense.

        • (I really should have learned from the first time around and put my comment onto the clipboard before pressing post! So here’s my second go at a second comment!)

          Thanks for the advice and for looking at my website 🙂 I guess I’d been thinking the opposite – that while I only had one book, I’d stick with KCDs since there’s no opportunity for flow through sales on other books and then, when I have a second out, I could try doing some free days to try for flow through sales. But it also makes sense to focus on getting it into more hands and building reviews. I’ll have to give it some thought! Hopefully the second one will be out soon anyway.

          PS I know Kitty said to start with The Snow Queen but I’ve decided to start with Cinderella and the Colonel for no other reason than that one took my fancy 🙂

          • MyrrhLynn

            Hi Melanie,
            When you’re starting out with your first book it’s really your foundation and you basically have three goals:
            1)Start writing the next book and improving your writing abilities
            2)Get people on your mailing list so you can easily notify them when that second book is out.
            3)Get as many reviews as possible on the first book so when the second book comes out your credibility is higher.

            Getting reviews on your first book is especially important because every review before 100 is a hard won and precious jewel that will make a big difference in your long terms career. (There isn’t that much difference in a reader’s eyes between 120 and 180 reviews but there is a HUGE difference in a reader’s eyes between 20 and 80 reviews.) That is why I recommended doing the free days – especially since you have a nice cover so your book will stand out (in a good way) among the other free books. The KCD isn’t worth doing if you can’t get it announced somewhere and get new potential readers looking at it. If there is a forum or other place where you think you can announce your KCD and get a good response, or if you are willing to throw money at it and do a paid advertising than go for it! But personally I’d recommend saving any money you want to spend on advertising/promotions until you have the next book out so people hopefully go on to buy the next book too.

          • Thanks MyrrhLynn! I really appreciate your time and advice and now think I’ll try the free promo days instead of the KCD for my next Select period 🙂

  • Interesting stuff – thanks for that.

    I have decided t avoid exclusivity – which makes total sense for my target market, I think. But there are useful insights in there.

  • MyrrhLynn

    Hi Austin!
    I agree that exclusivity (and being in Kindle Unlimited) doesn’t work for everyone. I think it can make your life easier when first starting out, but there is a lot to gain from being wide release! And you’re right it definitely depends on your target market!