Key Takeaways of ThrillerFest 2018

If you attended ThrillerFest 2018 (July 2018 NYC), the annual conference of ITW, International Thriller Writers, then you know what a great experience this event is for book people who have a special interest in thriller fiction. The gathering was created in 2004 by successful, bestselling authors to bring thousands of writers, readers, publishers, producers, editors, and agents together to promote and support thriller authors everywhere.

If you did not have the chance to attend this friendly, educational, career-enhancing conference, put it on your list for next July in NYC. For now, I offer a few key takeaways from the various panels I attended that were peopled by high-profile authors and professional book marketers who gave their time over the 4-day event to help newbie and debut authors on their journey to publishing success!


  • Write a good book! This is the most important thing you can do.
  • Hire an editor because family and friends, while good for support, usually can’t help you become a stronger writer.
  • Write a series: this keeps readers coming back for more. Marketing note: be sure to list all the books in your series inside all of the books in the series and tell the reader in what order they should be read; also, include links to buy the books inside your ebooks.
  • Consider working with a book shepherd. This is someone who helps you through every phase of getting your book in shape for publication.
  • Publishing is constantly shifting, so be ready for change at every turn.
  • Switching your writing brand midcareer? Difficult but not impossible. One way to do it is to change your pen name.
  • Create a slice-of-life backstory of a book’s character, including conflict/resolution, around 1500 words to share with fans on social media and in your newsletters and emails to fans.
  • Don’t wait for inspiration: that makes you a waiter, not a writer.
  • Write, then market. Don’t put the cart in front of the horse! Write the best book you can, then build a marketing foundation around it and the books you will write going forward.


  • Offer quality in everything: editing, cover design, manuscript formatting. You are competing with big traditional publishing houses.
  • Branding: use your author name on your social media pages, not your book title, not a series title, not a character name. This keeps all of your followers in one place.
  • Build a website: this gives you control over your brand and information and it’s a place to build your mailing list. Retarget visitors by using a Facebook pixel on your site. Include buy links and social links.
  • Very important: build a mailing list and keep in contact with your readers, but not too often. Once or twice a month is okay. Find readers and turn them into fans, then into ambassadors, and finally, into friends. Use MailChimp or some other email service. Use your list for a) book launch strategies, b) cross-selling other books, c) recruiting beta readers when you need help authenticating your details. Newsletters: you don’t have to do one, but you must build a mailing list and reach out to your fans regularly. Give each new email sign-up something for free, like an ebook. (Note: if you have European subscribers, pay attention to GDPR.)
  • Social Media: you don’t have to engage with every platform. Pick the ones that are right for you, your book, and where you believe you will find your audience. Create a synergy between your various outreach channels so that your author brand is consistent. Limit your time spent on social media but you must do it. Boosting (paid advertising) posts is worth the investment!Answer every comment on social media and via email. Engaging with your audience humanizes you, and in turn, you will gain loyal readers. Get personal with tactics like Throwback Thursdays and TGIF.Involve readers by bringing them into the process.Use the 90/10 rule: 90% of social posts should be about interesting everyday stuff, 10% should be about promoting your book.Always try to get social followers to join your mailing list because you want to control your message and keep them updated on your books.Recruit an “advance readers team” to catch errors, create fan motivation, create fan comradery.Narrowly target your audience with advertising on platforms like Facebook, Amazon Marketing Services, Google AdWords, to name a few.Experiment with Facebook live, it offers high organic reach, very shareable, can be turned into ads and posts.On social media, follow/like people/pages that have something to do with your book’s subject matter. Share bits of any research you’ve done for the book, excerpts, and seductive character dialog are all good ways to repurpose your book’s content as a marketing tool.
  • BookBub offers a great way to run a price promotion of your book to the right group of readers. Many authors love this option, it’s not cheap, but it can pay for itself in sales and in the value of the new readers you will reach for your next book!
  • Are there different marketing strategies for indie vs. traditionally published books? No difference, except there’s really no one who knows the book better than the author and can, therefore, speak in a granular way about it.
  • According to one panel member, Facebook is the #1 place for readers to find new books.
  • Host a book giveaway on Goodreads. It’s not free, but there are affordable options and a great opportunity to reach and acquire more fans!
  • Got an audiobook to promote? Use clips from the recording on social media!
  • Create a weekly game to keep fans coming back, something like “What would (character name here) do?”.
  • Create a giveaway that brings to life something from the book – a talisman or trinket of some kind.
  • For non-fiction, reach out to an appropriate organization who might give your book away as an incentive for their own customer outreach; ask people to share their stories relating to your topic on a special website you create, and link this website to your author site.
  • Author podcasts, are they worth doing? Panel members said they are a big commitment and involve a high barrier to entry, with little return. Unless you are fully committed to this tactic, opt for getting your book featured on an already successful podcast as a guest author.


When asked “what’s next”, authors said…

  • Global distribution
  • Chinese translations
  • More small, nimble presses
  • Using virtual reality to sell books

About the author

Phyllis Azar has worked in book advertising and traditional book publishing for a total of 27 years. Born and raised in New York City and constantly inspired by the city’s abundance of art, she has written and published several short stories, dabbled in crafts, and is currently teaching herself cartooning. Her current motto is “Don’t measure your life’s progress against others, but do learn from them.”