19 June 2013

SELL YOUR BOOK! Luck Factor and "The List."

One of the best things that happened to me after I published The Girls from Alcyone was getting to meet all sorts of new writers. Those of us who attempt to write love talking with other writers - for the simple reason we're the only ones willing to put up with each other.

I was extremely flattered when writers started to ask me questions about writing and publishing. And when my book started to take off, I was even more flattered to have people ask how I'd managed to sell it.

My first answer is always, luck. I know I got lucky.

If you've been on Amazon then you've seen that thing on every page where it says, "People who bought this item also bought..." (let's call it the List for simplicity) Well, when my book first started to take off I noticed the book at the top of the list was a best seller. In a few days, there were two best sellers, then three and then four on the list. I started following those books and saw my book was at the top of their lists as well.

The significance of this is pretty clear. And This is why I know I got lucky.The more best sellers you have on your list, the more readers you've got seeing your title. My book was selling because people were seeing it. A lot of people. Were they seeing my book because of the other books on my list, or were those books selling because people were seeing their titles on my list? I think it's a bit of both. It's the 'chicken and the egg' factor.

I tell everyone about this phenomena. I think it's important to understand how Amazon works if you expect to exploit the workings of that giant-mega site. And it is a giant. Amazon still claims 90% of the eBook market.

So, yes, I admit to a huge amount of luck. On the other hand, I know I made an effort to use this list and these best sellers to my advantage. At least, I know I did what I could to get those specific books on my 'List.' Here's what I did:

Before publishing, I took a long hard look at the independent books that were having success in my target market of Science-Fiction Adventure. My specific target market was readers who wanted books featuring female heroins, guns and adventure, with a bit of space opera thrown in. I specifically researched best selling independent titles that fit that criteria.

I looked at everything from the quality of their writing, their covers, their titles, the authors' websites, how many books they were selling, their blogs and their twitter strategies.

When I released The Girls from Alcyone, I had those books squarely in my sights. I wanted the readers of those books to be my readers too. I did my best to understand what those authors were doing right, and where I thought they failed or missed opportunities.

These books had several things in common. They were in their top 100, and they featured original covers and compelling titles. It was for that reason I decided to invest in a unique and original cover (no stock photos!). The books I mentioned didn't do that, so neither would I.

And, I put a lot of thought into my title. Which leads me to the other question I get asked by writers (all the time!): Why are their books not selling?

My first answer always focuses on the cover - it's the first thing readers see. I won't go into covers here (I wrote a HUGE post on that already, so if you're interested, go check it out on Kathryn Hogan's site).

The second thing that catches my eye is their title.

I think titles are hugely important and drastically underrated. And, after the cover, the title is where I see most writers fail (as marketers, not writers).

Writers have a tendency to create titles based on some aspect of the book; a theme, a place, or an event. This approach makes perfect sense - from a writing perspective. But it has absolutely nothing to do with marketing, and it has nothing to do with creating a compelling moment - the moment where the reader first reads the title and thinks, hey, I want to know more about that! That's "The Hook." This is marketing at it's most basic: creating an emotional response with a potential reader. Ask yourself, does your title have a hook?

Your book might be about a guy named Trent, but calling the book "Trent" won't do you any favours. It's not going to sell your book. Especially if the cover features yet another stock photo of a shirtless underwear model showing off his six pack. *ducks* Sorry, I wasn't talking about your cover. I was talking about the other cover with the model with the six...well, you get my point.

This exact same example came up in a conversation with a writer (okay, I changed the title to protect the innocent). After I told him what I thought, the writer said, "I'm not sacrificing the integrity of my book to change the title just so it might sell."

I think he missed the point. It doesn't matter what he thinks about the title - he's not the one buying the book! If I thought I could attract twenty-thousand more readers by changing my title I'd do it in a heart-beat. I want people to read my book. I write the content. I'll let the wizards in marketing worry about the title.

This example is especially true in Science-Fiction. Science-Fiction is all about creating new worlds. This makes titles even more of a challenge, not less. Your book might be about a new world called Rangathragar or Broomsplendor, or who-knows, but using that as your book title is going to leave most readers out in the cold. Why? Because, WTF is Rangathragar?

"But, my book is about 'Rangathragar,'" you might say. "It's the perfect title."

Well, from a thematic point of view, you're bang on. From a marketing point of view, you're missing the point! On its own, out of context, it means absolutely nothing. It's not going to sell your book. You can't expect readers to have an emotional connection with a title that's meaningless to them.

Imagine if 'Lord of The Rings' had been called 'Sauron.' Or worse, 'Rings.' Sauron means nothing if you haven't read the book, and rings - well, rings could mean anything. Both choices amount to zero emotional response. That's all I'm trying to say. Did you know that 'Alien' was originally called 'Star Beast?' Blech. Sometimes writers are the last people who should be choosing titles.

I almost called my own book 'Alcyone.' Why not? It makes sense. But, I knew it was meaningless if you weren't familiar with the context of the book. For the title to be effective I had to give the reader context. Thus, I chose 'The Girls from Alcyone.' This gives a much stronger hint to what the book is about. It means something. Put in context with the cover - two girls, armed and standing alone on an alien world - creates a far more compelling picture than 'Alcyone' ever could. The weapons speak to the fact that it's an adventure as well. Sure it's pulpy. The book is pulpy. I'm pulpy! It all has to work together.

Why did I choose those elements? Because I had a specific target market in mind. As I mentioned earlier, I was aiming directly at readers who wanted books featuring female heroins, guns and adventure, with a bit of space opera thrown in. I wanted the title and cover to hit all those marks.

What does your cover and title say about your book, and who does it appeal to?

Lastly, when considering a title, make sure you do a search of that title! I'm amazed this doesn't occur to more writers. If you do a search of your title and four, six, twelve other books come up, well, perhaps you might want to rethink using it. It doesn't matter if it fits perfectly. If there are already two hundred and fourteen other books out there called 'Bloodletting' (honestly, I lost count) then perhaps throwing your book into this confusing mix isn't in your best interest.

Is your book not selling? Maybe consider a new cover. And, yes, maybe even consider a new title. What's the worst that can happen? Nothing. But - you might find your book finally finding an audience.

Let me know what you think. But more than that, let me know what you think about your book's title and cover!

Oh, and hands off Rangathragar! I'll be using that. Just not as a title.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks! It's a subject that seems to be coming up a lot lately, so I thought I'd post.

  2. I remember helping JC find a title for her second novel - that was a lot of brainstorming of stuff that just didn't work, until we went "bingo!" :-) It isn't easy, and yeah, most writers I know hate choosing titles, which is why the stuff comes up drab.