Indie author R.R. Haywood wanted a zombie outbreak novel that followed the gory action in real time—so each book in his bestselling Undead series takes place in a single day. Readers loved the idea, and the series now stands at Day Twenty One, which became #1 in Amazon’s horror category upon its publication in February.

The success of the zombie books caught the attention of Amazon’s speculative fiction imprint, 47North, which released Haywood’s time travel novel, Extracted, on March 1. The Kindle edition is a top 100 bestseller on both and, and it has risen to #1 in such categories as adventure, superheroes, and time travel. Extracted was also chosen as part of Amazon’s Kindle First program, which allows Prime members to access the book for free before its publication date. As an author with no publishing experience and a background in law enforcement, Haywood achieved his success through a lot of trial and error—and one misguided adventure with real-life zombies.

“I don’t think anyone was reading it when it first came out,” Haywood says of the series. “There were a few reviews, some awful, some quite nice.” It wasn’t until he bundled the first seven books that he began to see an uptick in readers and reviews. He learned from the reviews, his writing improved, and as each new book in the series was released, his readership grew—that’s when he started thinking about getting an agent.

Haywood says he tried everything to get agents’ attention. He hired a mobile billboard and actors dressed as zombies to personally visit offices around London—an approach he does not recommend. “It closed doors to me—it was too in-your-face, too bold, and far too pushy for some,” he says. His stunt did get some media coverage, however, which ultimately led to three agents getting in touch with offers to represent him. “If the obvious routes don’t work then, I’ll look for ways around or over, or just bludgeon my way through,” he says.

Lessons Learned

Haywood has learned a few other valuable things from his self-publishing experience. The first is to never argue with a reviewer. “You are willingly placing your work in the world to be reviewed and discussed, and just because someone says something you don’t like doesn’t mean you can have a tantrum,” he says. He advises writers to move on from negative reviews and to concentrate on improving their writing. He also found that many Facebook groups for writers were a waste of time as authors used them only for self-promotion: “You need to find readers, not other writers.”

Facebook ads have been a valuable tool for Haywood. He has experimented with different sizes, fonts, and text, and has hit on a general formula that works for him. His strategy is to give each new advertisement a trial run, setting his spending limit at $5 per day. “If it doesn’t gain engagements within that first day, then it’s not going to work. End of. Cut it and try again,” he says. Simple, centered, bold images with minimal text seem to work best. “The wrong font, the wrong colors, the wrong wording at the top and bottom will all mean that Facebook users will scroll on past your ad and never think twice about it,” says Haywood. He has also invested in magazine ads, which he admits is an expensive option. “In the U.K. a quarter page can be around £1,000,” he says. “Websites with high foot traffic are also good, but again they charge a fortune, and you need placement on a homepage or landing page.” He also recommends the Amazon author page as an easy way to reach readers. He says his largest demographic is women aged 30–60, so each ad buy is chosen with that group in mind. “Once you have an audience, then Facebook, Twitter, and a website are the best ways to reach out,” he concludes.

Haywood has now taken a sabbatical from his work in law enforcement to write full time.

Jennifer McCartney is a freelance writer and editor, and the author of the novel Afloat.