Written by A Guest Author May 14th, 2020

How the Coronavirus Turned My Puzzle Book Into an Amazon Bestseller

By Michael Wiesenberg

Two years ago I assembled 105 Canadian-themed crossword puzzles that I published as an 8.5×11” soft cover book on Amazon’s self-publishing facility. The book did moderately well, until the coronavirus came along.

A lot of people were finding themselves with a lot more time on their hands. In these times of self-isolating, people are actively seeking out activities for their excess leisure time. There’s only so much reading a person can do. Crossword puzzles and crafts are the activities that stay-at-home folks are embracing.

Sales took off. The book achieved bestseller status (#1), not just in the Crosswords category, but even #1 of all books sold in Canada. Also, it hit the tops of Canadian History, Puzzle Books, and Crafts and Hobbies.

I did my own publicity for the book. I announced it on the mailing list for cruciverbalists (crossword puzzle constructors) and on relevant Facebook groups. I had done this when I first released the book, but did it again when I realized an opportunity had presented itself.

The Canadian-themed crossword puzzles book sold so well in several categories because I had chosen keywords and categories judiciously.

When you publish a book on Amazon, one of the steps is selecting keywords. You get seven slots to fill in. Those fields can all be single words, but there can be multiple words in each field. So rather than filling three slots with “Canadian crossword puzzles,” “historical puzzles,” and “xwords,” I put “Canadian historical xword crosswords puzzles” into one slot.

Another step is to choose two categories. I chose Nonfiction > Games > Crosswords, as well as General and Nonfiction > Games > Puzzles. Amazon then puts your book into multiple categories (some of which may surprise you—Amazon’s algorithms sometimes seem like magic), which explains how my book made it to #1 in Canadian History. It helped, of course, that the categories are all niche markets. Amazon.ca was the natural choice for my main market, and that’s a lot smaller market than Amazon.com.

As soon as I realized what was driving the sales, I constructed 125 poker-themed crossword puzzles, assembled them into a book, and published that on Amazon. Now that book is taking off.

While I was promoting the poker crossword book, I also put in links to the Canadian crossword book, and that caused a renewed spike in sales for the latter.

Another of my books got swept up in the buying surge, The Official Dictionary of Poker: Second Edition.

The advice I would give is that this is a good time to be producing puzzle and craft books, and self-publishing on Amazon.

You don’t need a “name” publisher. Negotiating for and getting a contract generally takes months and book production months more. Now is the time to get those books out there. From uploading a book to seeing it published and available for purchase can take as little time as three days. It’s not very difficult, and Amazon provides lots of help, plus there is lots more available elsewhere on the Web.

You can create your book in Microsoft Word, convert to PDF, and upload that to Amazon (kdp.amazon.com). Just make sure that when you convert to PDF not to use the Acrobat>Create PDF facility; instead, use Save As, specifying Adobe PDF, and, under Options, select ISO 19005-1 compliant (PDF/A).

The hardest part is creating a cover that fits the specification requirements. For this, I recommend hiring a graphics artist who has experience in producing such covers.

Your book may not make it to #1—unless you find a niche market—but it should sell.

Bio: Michael Wiesenberg was a Technical writer in Silicon Valley for most of his career. Author of eight books. Published in A+, inCider, Dr. Dobb’s Journal, Gambling Times, Card Player Magazine, Gambling Scene (and many others); also a columnist for all. Constructs crossword puzzles, for NY Times, LA Times, and hundreds in magazines, newspapers, and online.


We Send You Publishers Seeking Submissions.

Sign up for our free e-magazine and we will send you reviews of publishers seeking short stories, poetry, essays, and books.

Subscribe now and we'll send you a free copy of our book Submit, Publish, Repeat