Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What Sells Books?

Happy Tuesday! I hope everyone has recovered from the long weekend. I've plunged back into revisions... sigh. Still, I'm starting to catch a faint glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel, although it still seems some way off.

Anyway, I wanted to blog today about something rattling around my mind: what exactly is it that makes books sell? As more and more books flood onto Amazon (and fewer and fewer onto actual bookshelves), it seems almost every author out there is pushing their masterpiece. And rightfully so -- we all want our work to be read, right? But why do some books flop while others become bestsellers, despite authors' publicity efforts?

I'd argue that any book needs four things:

1. A great concept
2. An easy to read blurb that hooks the reader
3. A cover that immediately signifies the genre (notice I don't say a good cover, because that may be a completely different thing!)
4. A reasonable price point -- particularly important for ebooks.

Without these four things, a book may sell a limited number of copies within the author's immediate circle through efforts like blog tours, Twitter, Facebook, etc, but it's never going to achieve bestseller status because it simply won't catch on with the general public.

Take, for example, my debut novel The Hating Game, which launched back in December with a totally different cover. Not to toot my own horn, but my publisher and I really did believe we had great concept, a good blurb, a fantastic cover and a reasonable price. Through my websplash, I was able to push the novel into the bestseller's list the day of the launch. But slowly, over the next couple weeks, the book dropped lower and lower as people in my immediate circle stopped purchasing -- and the general public didn't start buying. My publisher and I racked our brains, trying to figure out why the novel wasn't catching on. Finally, we changed the cover and within a week, the novel was back in the top 100, where it stayed for the next two months. Even now, five months after its release, it's still in the top 200 on Amazon UK (although now that I've written this, it probably won't be!). And all because we changed the cover.

So, what's my point? Yes, blog tours, Twitter and manically hitting every social media site known to humankind can help make your book visible to your circle of pals. But if your novel lacks a critical element, its success will likely be limited. Write a good book with a killer concept, a great cover and solid blurb -- then cross your fingers, because there's one thing we can't control: luck!

59 comments:

  1. This is GREAT advice... Thanks Talli! A cover is a major thing. It's the first thing that catches the reader's eye.

    ReplyDelete
  2. That's interesting to know. I liked your first cover, but once you got the new one, I could see it had more appeal.

    How cool you're still selling a lot of books.

    I saw the cover of a book called Haven, and was surprised the publishing company went with something that didn't have much pizazz.

    ReplyDelete
  3. You're dead on, Talli. Your current covers have a great, fun style, and you can clearly tell that they're both by the same author, just by how they look.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Really interesting! And, duh, of course the cover would have a huge impact! I've always heard the author doesn't have much control over that part--sounds like you did! I'd love to hear more about that process!

    ReplyDelete
  5. This is great advice Talli and I am hanging onto your every word! And wishing you continued success with The Hating Game... hugs x

    ReplyDelete
  6. I admit that even though I've been buying more ebooks lately that the cover of a book can be important in making my decision of what to buy. Good post.

    ReplyDelete
  7. The book cover is the first thing to attract someone and encourage them to pick up the book and read the blurb. Hope your sales go onwards and upwards:-)

    ReplyDelete
  8. So true! I loved the cover for The Hating Game. Then I saw the new one and that really blew my socks off. Well, not literally, but you know what I mean... :)

    ReplyDelete
  9. I really wonder about this sometimes! Especially because books will blow up in the blogosphere/twitterville, but... that's just one huge circle of people, mostly. I always wonder how much reach it actually has out into the rest of the reading world...

    ReplyDelete
  10. I've always like my cover and hope it did catch reader's eyes.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I love it when authors covers have a 'theme' like yours do. It makes me gravitate towards them to at least check them out.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Very true.
    I remember how your book had 3 different covers!

    ReplyDelete
  13. I agree with Sarah. If I see a coherent theme to a cover style I'm much more inclined to check a book out.

    ReplyDelete
  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Your current covers are wonderful! They are uniquely yours, convey the genre and sense of fun to be found inside, and I think they are fantastic! Whoever did them did a fine job. Concept and blurb are all rather lovely too. :)

    ReplyDelete
  16. Talli, friend, to me this speaks that your success is both deserved and earned.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Wow. We all hear this but to actually have proof (by changing your cover) is wild.

    ReplyDelete
  18. SO SO true. I pick books based on covers and titles ALONE so often. IF there's a few I want, and can't afford them, I'll check the blurb.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Hi Talli .. great to hear your sales are still going.

    You know if I didn't read about someone's book - I almost certainly wouldn't buy it .. because I use bookshops as my discovery source ..

    So in the future I don't know what I'll do .. live in the blogosphere - sounds good to me.

    It's an interesting post - what does sell books? Still print - the newspaper and magazines .. and word of mouth .. and Twitter and FB ..

    Sure look forward to some more informative comments .. cheers Hilary

    ReplyDelete
  20. Your new cover is indeed engaging. The title is also an essential to hooking a prospective reader. Add a reasonable price to the mix and hopefully you will have a great seller, Roland

    ReplyDelete
  21. That is a great point to make Talli- Thanks for posting.

    ReplyDelete
  22. ooh yeah i agree with everything you said. For me, cover is HUGE! It's what gets me to pick up a book first

    ReplyDelete
  23. Well said. What gets me to pick up a book is a recommendation from a trusted book blogger or friend, or a connection to the author. That keeps me occupied with more than enough books! Very rarely do I pick something up without those elements coming in to play.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I liked both covers for your book, but I have to admit that I liked the second cover a little better. When I ordered your book, they sent me the copy with the second cover. I think what also draws my attention to a book is a catchy title. For example, one of my favorite chick lit books is titled The Smart One and the Pretty One, by Claire LaZebnik; it was hidden away on a bookshelf at the store and there was only one copy. I might not have noticed it otherwise if it wasn't for the title. Likewise, I really like the title of your book, The Hating Game, because it's original and it definitely relates to the plot of your story.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Excellent topic! I think it's very important to have some great concepts and ideas for what will make your novel sell and keep selling.

    I think you nailed the four key points and when I need the reminder I'll know to stop by your blog for assistance!

    ReplyDelete
  26. Really good advice here Talli. Covers definitely are what catches my eye so for me personally, so if they're exciting or intriguing enough - I'll pick up or drill down on the blurb. Simple as that. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  27. Your book arrived in the mail today. I can't wait to read it. And I love the cover, Talli. This is wonderful advice.
    I wonder which cover I got?
    karen

    ReplyDelete
  28. It's finding that tipping point...

    ReplyDelete
  29. This is really great advice! Hope you are well! :)

    ReplyDelete
  30. Great advice, you're so right - it's all important. And, of course, luck. Luck helps. :D

    ReplyDelete
  31. You are so right - every element has to work. You are a great example to follow, Talli.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Fantastic observations and advice. Thanks for sharing your personal experience. :)

    ReplyDelete
  33. Good luck with your revisions!

    Excellent advice; I definitely agree with the points you made!

    ReplyDelete
  34. All so true. And I'm one of those people who are attracted to books because of their covers...

    It's amazing a new cover made such a difference for you, Talli, but that's one more piece of evidence that you just never know what's going to work.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Fab advice, and very pertinent on the eve of BuNoWriMo where one hopes one will stop talking about wanting to be a writer and actually writing something. Writing anything frankly will be a good start.

    I think your cover is brilliant. As an avid chick-lit reader, I almost never read the blurb. I'm ashamed to admit that 99% of my book purchase is based on visibility and whether I take to the cover or not.

    Keep at those revisions, I can't wait for WWW!
    Lx

    ReplyDelete
  36. Perfect timing...just trying to evaluate my situation. I appreciate it!

    ReplyDelete
  37. Changing your cover did great things for you, but a self-pubbed author would not have had the expertise to realise you needed the change. I remember the post of yours about it. So many self-pubbed are struggling to get through the morass of Amazon. I wish them well and am so pleased that you had such a great debut success. And that your revisions are going well. (I'm sure you won't mind my using your story in a post soon.)

    Denise<3

    ReplyDelete
  38. Oooh also word of mouth maybe? Excerpts too help!!!

    Hope you had a fantastic bank holiday!! Take care
    x

    ReplyDelete
  39. Interesting point about your cover. I have to say I think the second one is way better, and that you saw a spike in sales when you changed it just shows how important the right cover is!

    ReplyDelete
  40. I definitely agree that a great cover makes for a second glance. When you have the reader at the second glance, then you can showcase your writing talent. Luckily, you have no problem in the talent department!

    ReplyDelete
  41. One assumes that everyone has a huge set of friends that will follow but the art of finding followers is also a factor. Some of us tend to be hermits. I tweet yet my followers are minimal. I fbk but only with close family.
    How well is your book doing?

    ReplyDelete
  42. I'm glad the cover swap worked so well for you. Though I hate to admit it, I always judge a book by its cover.

    ReplyDelete
  43. So many little pieces have to come together to get a book sold, it seems! And I can see why your second cover gave your book a better shot--it's so cute!

    ReplyDelete
  44. Ahem, I hate to bring up this teeny tiny little detail, but, er, I kinda, sorta remember saying that cover wouldn't work. Toooo pink, toooo office girl.

    ReplyDelete
  45. Great advice. It took courage for you to take a plunge with the new cover - so glad it paid off! :)

    ReplyDelete
  46. I must admit I do look at the cover. If it doesn't catch my eye then I move onto something else. I do like the new look on your covers, it is very Talli.

    ReplyDelete
  47. I had no idea re your cover. Very interesting.

    ReplyDelete
  48. I think your covers are awesome! And I love how both of your books have the same theme.

    ReplyDelete
  49. Wow, I'm so glad you changed the cover and that it made such a big difference. I believe a book's cover is super important, but it can be subjective sometimes. Yay for your book doing so well! I hope you sell millions.

    ReplyDelete
  50. Hi, Talli. Interesting post. Glad you found what worked to keep your book selling.

    ReplyDelete
  51. Your lucky your publisher was open to changing the cover art!!

    ReplyDelete
  52. Awesome post, Talli. I agree that all those things probably help novel sales...and luck seems to be an essential component, too! That's one thing we can't control, booo! Though some people think you create your own good luck, so that's something to think about...

    ReplyDelete
  53. Such great tips! Now all I have to do is actually get a book published so that I can use your wonderful advice. :D
    nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

    ReplyDelete
  54. Great tips. Will definitely keep them in mind.

    ReplyDelete
  55. So interesting that the cover made that much difference! You did such a fabulous job with the websplash, but that sustainability is big! You know what ELSE I think helps with sustainability? Growing your list of titles. I think people go to OTHER books by an author if they like one, so the more titles you have, the more routes readers have to stumble back on another.

    ReplyDelete
  56. They're always pounding that classic mantra of "Don't judge a book by its cover" into our heads from the tenderest of ages, but if we're honest with ourselves, we know that people just can't help it. The visual aspect of the novel, the representation of it, is just as important as the work itself in many regards, especially coming from that business angle. We judge on what we see. Give me the prettiest typography in the world, but if you've got it slapped atop a cover that's got nothing to do with anything, or is simply unappealing, that book's all the more likely to just remain shelved...

    ReplyDelete

Coffee and wine for all!