Design Your Book to Sell

buy my book its awesomeWhether you design your own book exterior and interior or are working with a professional, here are a few precepts that will guide you towards a better product, and thus more sales.

Lesson Number One: Think of the Reader’s Experience

As you write your manuscript, in the back of your head you consider the emotional experience the readers will have as they progress through the story. So when you design the look of the final product, you should likewise take careful account of the process the buyers go through, from the first awareness that the book exists to that final, “Yes, I’ll buy it!” Which is about 2 – 15 seconds, so you’d better do a good job of it.

Approach it as a quick back-and-forth communication. The prospective buyer looks, and is entertained. So he’s willing to look a little longer. Each time he moves to a different level of involvement, you have to provide a little more entertainment to keep the exchange going.

First Chance: The Exterior  – Go from General to Specific.

Think of your customers approaching from a distance. The first glance appeals to their emotions. This draws them closer. Now you can give them information as the game moves into the close-up phase.

1. Cover

Whether it’s across the aisle in the bookstore or a thumbnail on the Internet, your first image has to be emotionally strong and easy to decipher. Sometimes the title can do the job (Why Are People So Stupid? grabs a lot of attention for my table at craft fairs), but an image usually appeals at a deeper level. When they move in to see what it’s all about is the time for other cover details, subtitle, genre, and author.

2. The Short Blurb

If the cover attracts customers, they will look closer: either the back cover or the Internet blurb. In each case, there is a temptation to say, “Now I’ve got them, I’ll dump a whole bunch of great information on them, and persuade them to buy.”

Gently, now. The fish has not taken the bait, yet. Time to set the hook later. You’re still appealing mostly at the emotional level.

So keep it short. Two or three powerful sentences. Appeal to the intellect later, if you have the opportunity to put in a long blurb.

Lesson Number Two: Be Honest.

There is a temptation to show off some of that wonderful action you created, because all readers want to know about the action, and that’s going to hook them, right?

Wrong. A huge number of 2- and 3- star Internet reviews come from buyers who got a different book from what the promotion promised. If you see a review that says, “Boring, boring, boring!” I’ll bet the front material spotlights the only racy love scene in an otherwise chaste and deeply psychological romance. The readers have been hit with the old bait-and-switch, and the author pays the price in upset responses.

So make it balance. Give them something good, but make sure it’s representative of the book.

Second Chance: The Interior – Don’t Waste Pages

1. First Page Teaser

The next thing the customer does is open the book to the first page. Or, in the case of Amazon, open the “Look Inside” function.

And what do they usually see on the first page? The title. Mistake, on an eBook. They already know the title. (If they don’t, you’d better speak to your graphic designer about the cover fonts.) You have wasted a tiny fraction of the few seconds you have to sell this book.

Inside the front cover is a great place to put some material that will really grab their attention. Some people like to put a whole bunch (I’ve seen three pages!) of quotable quotes from reviews. News for you; people don’t believe reviews anymore. Too many cheaters.

It is a standard technique in genres like Westerns and Sci-Fi to put a one-page teaser at the front, a short scene from the story, usually a climax event that stops before the denouement. This sparks the reader’s “What happens next?” reaction, and can be a powerful hook. Remember, be honest about it. If your book is about a moral quandary, don’t put in a sword fight.

2. Table of Contents

This one causes great arguments: is a Contents page useful or not, how the reader uses it or doesn’t use it ad nauseum. (Some publishers, i.e. iTunes, require a T of C, FYI.)

I have news for you. It doesn’t matter what the readers do once they’ve bought the book; The T of C is the next thing they look at when they turn the page. And if your Contents looks like “Ch. 1, Ch. 2, Ch. 3,” you’re missing a big sales opportunity. I know it’s extra work, but if you take serious thought to your chapter headings, you’ve got another hook waiting to grab the unwary prey. Sorry, I mean enthuse the potential customer.

And if you put one of those “Ch. 1, Ch.  2” tables at the front of an eBook, you’ve used up one precious page of “Look Inside,” and an important millisecond of your customers’ time while they click or page past it.

So what’s it going to be? “Ch. One,” or “A Deadly Mistake”? When it comes to a choice between a good reader enticement and a waste of space, it’s a no-brainer to me.

(BTW; the Contents page is not labeled “Table of Contents.” Everyone knows it’s a table. It is called “Contents”.)

3. Prologue and Other Stuff

Another topic for numerous posts and off-the-cuff comments. “I hate them,” “I love them,” “I never read them,” “I always have one,” etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseum.

Laurie Boris did a good rundown on prologues a while ago, and Melissa Bowersock added forewords, prefaces and epilogues later. So I’m not going to spend time on them.

Needless to say, a dynamite prologue that lays out the tone of your story, pinpoints the genre and leaves the reader screaming to find out more is another great selling point. And if it’s short and complete, the reader might even read it all.

And Then There’s the First Chapter.

Which is outside the scope of this post, I’m happy to say. But do I feel a pressing need to scream, “Don’t fill it up with a huge info dump of backstory!” ‘Cause that’s rather important. But I won’t because I know you never do that.

So there you have it. If you have set up your book keeping the experience of the reader in mind and playing the game fairly, by now you’ve got a good chance of making a sale.

Author: Gordon Long

Gordon A. Long is a writer, editor, publisher, playwright, director and teacher. 
Learn more about Gordon and his writing from his blog and his Author Central page.

7 thoughts on “Design Your Book to Sell”

  1. I am going to agree about your assessment of the chapter headings. It’s a missed opportunity if they are labeled chapter 1, chapter 2, etc. Choose this place to add exciting words, it really does draw the reader in.

  2. Great post, Gordon. I already do some of what you suggest – i.e. the chapter headings – but definitely thinking about some of the other stuff.

    By the way, I think chapter headings are also hugely important for ebooks. I read on Kindle only, and it doesn’t always ‘remember’ my place in a story. Having to guess where I was with nothing but Chp 1, Chp 2…to jog my memory is incredibly frustrating. At least with chapter headings, I’ve got a better chance of finding my place.

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