There was an advertising saying somewhen, I don’t recall where I first heard it, that you aren’t selling the steak, you’re selling the sizzle. Needless to say, making books smoke and sizzle isn’t the way to sell them, but adding some polish is.
To return to the metaphor I started exploring last week, of books being marketed not in a monolithic marketplace, but in a bazaar, a fair full of fantastic wares full of shoppers who are on visual overload – how do you make your book stand out? One of the first things I can tell you is that it’s not all about the writing.
Don’t get me wrong: I am NOT saying the story doesn’t matter. It does. It’s vital. If that steak comes out of the kitchen sizzling merrily and smelling great, the
reader’s eater’s mouth starts to water. But the plate is plunked in front of him by a surly server who grunts something about gender inequality and then disappears for the rest of the meal (or worse, hovers and critiques the eater’s taste in food, apparent privilege, neo-nazism, and so on). On the plate is a paper-thin cut of meat, cooked until it’s grey all over, maybe a hunk of charcoal on one corner, and it tastes like cardboard. You can bet that eater isn’t coming back unless there are no other choices.
Fortunately for readers, there are other choices. There are books that have been edited with care, wrapped into professional-looking covers, with proper layout and design throughout. It’s the equivalent of walking through that marketplace and being offered a really great taco from a street vendor. It smells wonderful, it tastes great, and you don’t have to pay for the expensive meal with the disgusting steak.
Don’t like tacos? Or steaks? You have choices as a reader in the new marketplace. As a writer, you’ve got the readers headed toward you hungry and looking. What are you going to do?
- Either learn how to be, or hire, a professional cover artist. No, wait, let me explain. You don’t want an artist (well, you do, but I digress) you want a designer. Beautiful design will make up for lacking art.
- Have your book edited. Structural edits if needed, proof edits for sure, and as I mentioned last week, you can either hire someone, or you can barter for services. The book might look beautiful but if it leaves the reader with mental indigestion they won’t be coming back.
- Learn how to make keywords work for you. Readers don’t just browse the marketplace, they search out what they want. If your wares are with, say, the taco vendors when the readers are looking at silk scarves, you’ll be left wondering why your sales are so dismal.
- Spend time on crafting your blurb, or find someone to hire/help you with that. The MGC commenting community has been helpful to folks with this in the past, so today if you have a blurb, put it in the comments for critique.
- Don’t make your book look too different. Readers use certain cues, often unconsciously, to assess the worth of the product in front of them. Take the time to look at the top sellers in your specific sub-genre and break apart the components which are similar, dissimilar, and then look at your book to see how you can both signal “this is a zombie romance” and still look new, different, and you.
Don’t offer just one thing. Yes, I know everyone has to start somewhere. But be ready to keep writing once you put that first book out there, and be prepared to not sell much until you have enough to make your booth look interesting to readers who prefer to know there’s more where that came from.
- As a corollary to that last, make your series look coherent. Covers should have a common design thread (typography and similar art styles are good ways to accomplish this). Somewhere on the book, indicate that it is part of a series. Somewhere on the sales page, let the reader know which book in the series it is – most readers hate to pick up book three and feel totally lost in the story. Amazon has gotten very good at pulling series together and offering them as a bundle, but you must make it clear in your set-up or this won’t happen.
- Do some active marketing. It need not be time-consuming or expensive. There are many different options from blogging to buying slots on promotional mailing lists, and we have talked about them here at MGC a few times!
Once you are up and running in that virtual marketplace, other options become available. You can ask your regular customers what they’d like to see you offer. I did that earlier this week on my blog, asking if there was interest in an omnibus version of my completed Pixie for Hire Trilogy. You can offer wares directly from your website for more personal touches, as I’ve started to do with signed books and original art. Now, I’ve gotten some interesting suggestions, like the requests for coffee mugs and t-shirts with my artwork on them. And I have thoughts on what may be marketplace mistakes (a coloring book?). But you don’t know what will work until you try.
You can also talk to your fellow vendors. Sure, just like in a real fair environment, some of them will be paranoid and suspicious and assume you’re trying to steal customers from them. Others will be gracious and helpful, and you’ll find yourself doing what I used to do: “Oh, yes, it is a beautiful scarf, isn’t it? And so warm! You’ll find them at the book an aisle over and four booths down. Enjoy!” Only now I acquire, read, and review books I think my readers will like. I know I can’t possibly write fast enough to keep even the slowest of my fans amused all the time. So I make sure they are happy by sending them to other authors too. I’m also doing this quirky thing called Eat This While you Read That, where I highlight an author’s food suggestion along with a book to read while the meal is prepared/eaten. It’s been fun!
Your fellow marketers can also help with finessing your set-up and delivery. That’s part of our mission here at the Mad Genius Club. I can’t speak for the others, but for me, I do this to pay back, or forward (longitudinal diffusion – it goes in every which direction!) the help that has been given to me over the years. I like being helpful. Plus, in the principle of ‘see one, do one, teach one’ I am in the teaching stage, and learning as I go. It’s all good, and the new authors who come comment here make it a joyful and fulfilling experience.
Huh. I wandered a bit off track there. Ah, well! See you in the comments.