Today our blog puts the Spotlight on Author Catherine Lee. She is the author of the Cooper & Quinn Mystery series. Catherine writes Mystery and Suspense novels.
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Australian author of crime fiction with a topical edge.
Catherine's love of reading and dislike of working for a living led her to the only possible solution -- write fast-paced mysteries that readers will struggle to put down. Not content to simply produce page-turners, Catherine strives to leave the reader with more than who did it to think about. Cellular memory, ancestry, genetic therapy, and cyberbullying are just some of the topics involved in the Dark series, as Detective Charlie Cooper and his partner Joe Quinn solve mysteries and murders in the heart of Sydney.
SPOTLIGHT Questions and Answers with the Author
Congratulations on your book: Dark Paradise. What do you have on the drawing board next? Can you tell us the timeline for its release and give us a little tease?
Thanks. Dark Paradise, being a novella, was a lot of fun to write. I enjoy the shorter style, it gives me a break from the more meaty stuff. Speaking of which, the next Dark book is called Dark Edges, and will involve the death of a sports star. It looks at the issue of drugs in sport, both recreational and performance enhancing. But before I write Dark Edges, I’m working on a stand-alone suspense thriller. It is about a woman who finds a compromising photo of herself, and she must work out which of her friends is trying to blackmail her before her husband finds out. Of course, all is not as it seems in the photograph, either. I’m not sure of the timeline for both of these books, but I can tell you I’m writing as fast as I can!
You have great covers. They carry a theme and your brand with them. How does your book cover creation process work? Do you hand over the basic theme or do you have more of a hands-on approach? Do you get your readers involved in its development?
My book covers have definitely been a journey. What you see now is the third iteration of my covers. When I started out, I went with something pretty basic. Not surprisingly, they didn’t sell well. Then I hired an artist, who was a fantastic artist, but I still felt the covers weren’t quite there. I decided I needed someone who’s sole job was designing book covers, so not only would I have great art, but they’d convey the genre and my brand instantly. I worked hard with the cover artist I eventually chose, and because he created the first three covers all at the same time, it gave us a chance to really come up with a solid brand look. I’m happy with the results, as I think now my readers can instantly recognise my books when they see them in the sea of covers online. The rest of the books in the series are easy now, I give the designer the basic idea and/or setting of the book, and he comes back with a couple of options. We do a little refining, but it’s quite a quick process because the basic layout, font, etc is all already set.
You have written several novellas. Can you tell us if they had an impact on the sales of your novels? Are shorty’s one of your styles of writing or are they created to give readers a sample of your work? Do you feel short reads are a product of our email and smart phone age?
As I said above, I love writing the shorter style. They’re about half the length of a normal book for me, and they’re written entirely from Cooper’s point of view (whereas the full-length novels alternate between Cooper and another character). They don’t include a topical societal issue, like the main books, they’re just a fun read with a murder to solve. I wrote the first one, Dark City, as an introduction to the series (readers can get that one free on my website if they join my reader’s group). I had so much fun writing it, that I decided there would be more. Dark Secrets and Dark Chemistry (books three and four) were quite intense books to write, and I felt I needed something lighter to follow them up, so I sent Cooper and Quinn to Lord Howe Island for Dark Paradise. I think writing the novellas helps with my mindset, it gives me a break from the heavier stuff, so maybe it might do that for the readers, too.
I think the shorter reads definitely have a place in today’s reading landscape. Digital reading has opened us up to all forms and styles of writing, and I think that’s a good thing. As long as the reader knows what he or she is getting, and doesn’t feel ripped off when they get to the end of a novella because they were expecting a full novel, then I think it’s fine. I make sure it’s clear in my description that my novellas are just that, and also if you look closely you’ll see the covers of the novellas are a slightly different style to the novels. But they’re still a decent read. Again, as long as the reader knows what they’re getting, and the product is good value for money, I think it’s great that authors get to experiment with different length works.
I like the idea of Author bundles. You are a part of a novel bundle called Death, Lies & Duct Tape. What was the impact on your other sales? What was the main objective of bundling your works with other authors? How did you put something like that together?
(What a great group of authors.
Death, Lies & Duct Tape Featured on HBS Author’s Spotlight)
It’s hard to tell what the impact of the bundle has been on my other sales. My book is about halfway through the bundle, so there are still probably a lot of people who bought that bundle who haven’t read it yet. But I have a few reviews on Dark Heart who mention they got it in the bundle, and they’ve become fans, so there’s definitely been some impact. It’s hard for us indie authors to get noticed in the crowd, and bundles like these are another way to get your work out there. Our main aim was to make it onto the USA Today Bestsellers list, and unfortunately we didn’t quite crack that, but I think the bundle was a success regardless. As far as I can see there’s no downside – I’ve found new readers, I’ve met some great authors who have now become friends, and I had a lot of fun in the process. As for putting it together, it was very much a team effort. We had a great leader who pulled us all together, but everyone contributed – whether it be with formatting, building buzz in our Facebook group, setting up promotions, or just throwing ideas around. We were lucky in that we all worked together pretty well. I’ll take a lot away with me from that process.
You have put together a set of your novels called Dark Series Box Set. What was the impact on your other sales? What was your main objective in bundling your novels?
The Dark Series boxed set sells quite well, actually. I find a lot of people read the prequel novella, Dark City, decide they can’t get enough of Coop, and go straight to the boxed set. If you know you’re going to read the series, it represents quite a saving off the price of the individual books. Having said that, I still sell enough of the individual books that I don’t think the boxed set is cannibalising those sales. It’s a matter of preference – some readers like the bargain of a boxed set, others prefer the individual titles. I like to offer both, and once the books are written it’s not much extra work to bundle them together.
What has been your experience in giving your books away free? Have you been involved in any other type of giveaways and how did that work out? What was your main goal in doing this? Did you run into any obstacles?
I know giving books away for free goes against the grain for a lot of authors. Especially your first book, which is usually the one that has been a labour of love. Those are our babies, the ones that took forever, and giving them away for free after all that hard work is a huge mental leap of faith. But I got past that, and to be honest giving Dark Heart away for free was the best thing I ever did. When it was free (it’s currently not free but I’m thinking about changing it back), it was downloaded over 100,000 times. A good number of those readers then went on to buy and read the rest of the series, which is really the whole point of having the first book free. It’s a loss leader, a sample designed to give people a chance to discover your work. And it does work. I know my books aren’t for everyone, so giving people a chance to discover my work risk-free is a way to find the readers who do like it. If enough of them go on to purchase and enjoy the rest of my series, well, I guess I get to keep the lights on for a bit longer!
As for other types of giveaways, I’ve not done a great deal. I’m running a 99c promotion on book two of the series, Dark Past, in September (it’ll be 99c from September 12 - 17). That will be the first time I’ve ever offered that book at a reduced price, so I’ll be interested to see how it goes.
What is your primary genre? What has been your best marketing approach to this group?
My primary genre is mystery/thriller. I like to think of the Dark Series as mysteries with a topical edge. I think the best marketing tool has been having book one permafree (which I don’t at the moment, but am considering going back to), and running some promotions associated with that. I was lucky enough to get a Bookbub ad for it earlier this year, which really boosted sales of the rest of the series. Besides that I ran Amazon AMS ads for it, which I think kept up the momentum. I switched it back to paid a month or so ago, and sales have definitely dropped across the board. I know a lot of authors don’t think permafree is the way to go, but for me and my work, I think giving readers that risk-free lead in is still the best way to go.
Do you maintain a reader list? What are the methods you use to find your readers and create the list and the relationship? Do you use social media, forums, newsletters and/or support groups to build your list?
I do have a mailing list, I call them my reader’s group. They get Dark City free as a thank you for joining. I email them once a month with updates on my work, as well as links to reviews on my website of other books I’ve been reading. I encourage them to write me back and let me know of any good books they’ve read in the genre, and I then also share those with the group in the next newsletter. I’ll usually read one or two, but I don’t have enough time to read all of the books my reader’s group recommends. In the beginning I advertised on Facebook to grow my list, and I’ve used Instafreebie as well, but since Dark Heart did so well when it was free I get a lot of people signing up from the links in the back of that book. I’m not huge on list-building right now, I prefer it to grow organically with readers who like my work, rather than people seeking free books.
Living in Australia creates a unique selling and marketing situation. Where is your biggest audience? Does marketing online help in this situation?
I love being an Aussie, and I make sure that comes across in my books. Sydney is my favourite city in the world, so being able to set my series here is a great thrill. Having said that, most of my readers are in the US. I also have quite a following in the UK, which I love because my Mum is British and I’ve visited many times, and I’m slowly growing a readership in Canada as well. I’ve never been to Canada, but it’s on my bucket list. Of course I have quite a few Australian readers, who always comment on how they love reading about places they know or have been to. The internet is a wonderful thing, and it has opened us all up to more global experiences. Books are a huge part of that. I love hearing from readers all over the world. It’s especially nice to wake up to emails that have come in through the night from people in far off places who’ve fallen in love with Cooper and Quinn. It makes my day every single time.
What is your method of getting reviews for your novels? Do you seek professional reviews, use social media or do you rely on your reading audience to supply them?
Reviews are hard to come by, aren’t they? Especially with Amazon’s rules, which make it tricky to even ask readers to leave a review. I was lucky in that a lot of the people who’ve downloaded Dark Heart for free have gone back and left a review, which has been really nice. I have a small group of advanced readers, who get an early copy of my books and help me out by letting me know of any last minute typos. They also leave reviews for me sometimes, which is very nice. But mostly I just leave it up to the readers. I have a little paragraph at the end of each book where I ask if people liked the book, would they consider leaving a review. That’s about all you can do. I think at the end of the day this business is about slow growth. If you write books people love to read, and if you’re consistent enough and engaging enough, and you work hard enough, there’s a good chance you’ll make it eventually.
Author's Book List
Reality television just got deadly.
When a contestant on hit reality show Transformation in Paradise turns up dead, Detectives Cooper and Quinn find themselves out of their comfort zone on a remote holiday island. Amid growing pressure from the mainland to solve the high-profile case, Cooper struggles with the island’s lack of resources and the decision from up high that the show must go on.
With the million dollar winner-takes-all prize still up for grabs, the show’s five remaining contestants all seemingly have something to hide. Did one of them commit murder? Was a crew member involved? Or does the island have secrets of its own?
Dark Paradise is a fast-paced novella, a bonus story in Catherine Lee’s page-turning Dark Series. Join Cooper and Quinn as they take a break from the city and find out that island paradise isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
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Barnes and Noble
- A Cooper & Quinn Mystery Book 4
Everyone is entitled to a voice, but has a protest group turned to murder to make themselves heard?
A fatal stabbing in a local park appears to be a mugging gone wrong – but Detective Charlie Cooper suspects there’s more to this murder than meets the eye. The victim worked at a local pharmaceutical plant, where protesters against the company’s manufacture of vaccines are becoming increasingly vocal. The victim was the CEO’s nephew, and soon a clear message is sent – stop making vaccines, or more blood will be shed.
Lab Technician Leo McCarthy loves his job at Lighthouse Pharmaceuticals. Processes and procedures, scientific testing, black and white – all things Leo’s difficult mind can understand. But when his friend is murdered, Leo’s world is thrown into a type of chaos he thought was long behind him.
A police procedural tale that tackles one of society’s most dividing issues, Dark Chemistry is the fourth in Catherine Lee’s page-turning Dark Series. Cooper and Quinn are back in another rollercoaster mystery, and this time murder isn’t the only thing rocking Cooper’s world.
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Barnes and Noble
- A Cooper & Quinn Mystery Book 3
Will a mother’s search for the truth about her son cost her the two children she has left?
Jackie Rose is a mother on a mission. Determined to prove her eldest son did not commit suicide, she enlists the help of her best friend’s husband, Homicide Detective Charlie Cooper.
Reluctant to reopen another team’s case, but even more reluctant to upset his wife, Cooper and his partner Joe Quinn investigate. They soon discover Jackie Rose is right – someone’s killing kids. The deeper Cooper and Quinn dig, the more they realise everyone has a secret to hide. Can they find the killer before more young lives are lost?
As Jackie struggles to cope with the circumstances surrounding her eldest son’s death, a new threat emerges. Her ex-husband, unhappy with the effect of the case on the family and concerned Jackie’s becoming increasingly unreliable, wants to take their remaining two children to the other side of the country. Will Jackie’s fight to clear her son’s name cost her the two children she has left?
Part police-procedural, part domestic thriller, Dark Secrets is the third in Catherine Lee’s page-turning Dark Series. It tackles the difficult themes of bullying and teenage suicide, but at it’s heart it’s another rollercoaster murder mystery with a kick-arse detective team and a twisting plot that will keep you guessing until the end.
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Barnes and Noble
- A Cooper & Quinn Mystery Book 2
There’s a secret buried deep in the Fisher family’s past – a secret someone will kill to protect.
When young shipping company heir Jill Fisher is found dead in her apartment, Detective Charlie Cooper and his partner Joe Quinn don’t believe she was killed by a random intruder.
Corporate lawyer Beth Fisher struggles to cope with the grief following her sister’s murder, but she decides there’s one last thing she can do for Jill – finish the ancestry research she was so passionate about.
Cooper and Quinn’s investigation and Beth’s research uncover truths about the Fisher family and their business dealings that raise more questions than answers. Cooper must act fast before more lives are lost. And for Beth, work and family collide as she struggles to find the secret someone will kill to protect.
The second case for Cooper and Quinn, Dark Past involves a family history, a secret past, genetic research, and a multi-million dollar shipping company. New team members join old favourites as the Homicide Squad delve into another mystery in Catherine Lee’s page-turning Dark Series.
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Barnes and Noble
- A Cooper & Quinn Mystery Book 1
Could you live with the heart of a killer?
A mystery always begins with a murder – but what if it's the killer who turns up dead?
Detective Charlie Cooper is on the verge of leaving Homicide to spend more time with his young family. But when the serial killer he's been chasing for a decade is murdered, Cooper has the chance to save the killer's final victim and atone for all the ones he's failed.
After a life-saving heart transplant, Eva Matthews just wants things to get back to normal. But when she learns she's received the heart of the serial killer, she can't ignore the strange dreams that now haunt her. Is the killer's heart telling her where his final victim is hidden?
DARK HEART is the first book in the Dark Series of contemporary mysteries set in Sydney, Australia. If you love a tough, clever detective, a loyal sidekick, an evil villain, and a twisting plot, you'll love the first book in Catherine Lee's page-turning series.
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Barnes and Noble
- A Cooper & Quinn Mystery Book 0
Families, greed, corruption, murder. How well do you know the people you love?
Charlie Cooper has been a homicide detective for nearly a decade. He’s about to head off for a well-earned break with his young family, but a call from his partner about a missing woman soon puts paid to that. With the vicious Adultery Killer due to strike at any time, all missing women get top priority from Homicide.
Cooper and his partner, Stocky, soon find themselves knee-deep in a baffling crime where everyone close to the victim has something to hide. As they criss-cross the city of Sydney, Cooper and Stocky put their own lives on the line to save another innocent victim from an especially evil villain.
Dark City is the prequel novella to the Dark Series, but it also works well as a stand-alone story.
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