I swear this really happened. I won’t name the book or the group I was in because I don’t want to shame the person. They asked why, when they’d spent years working on their book, and if “hundreds” of people had read their book, why wasn’t it selling?
I don’t know where or how the “hundreds” of people read the person’s book, but I did instantly note a few things right off the bat. (And yes, I was polite and generic when I replied. I didn’t eviscerate them.) Also, the book is available in KU, but its rankings are in the absolute deepest bowels of some hell-residing toilet. I’ve got books that sell in the single digits every QUARTER and have higher overall rankings than this book does, so it’s not even being read as a free check-out on KU.
No, the answer isn’t simple. But I immediately spotted several problems that, collectively, are undoubtedly massive contributing factors to why the book is NOT selling.
1) The cover was a landscape. Generic picture of a landmark. Nothing remarkable about it at all. And the font for the title (which I’ll get to in a second) and pen name blended in so much you could barely read them. Looked like a bad Paint mock-up. (And yes, it was a self-pubbed book, so the author absolutely had control over the cover, unlike books published with a publisher.)
2) The title on the cover was different than the listed Kindle title. Which itself was…a trainwreck. It had a looooong subtitle that would have worked okay as their hook line for their blurb (which I’ll also get to shortly).
3) The blurb was nothing more than a hot mess on a skillet that you wouldn’t feed a dog. Probably close to 1,000 words of typo-filled rambling about the plot and why the main character felt the way they did and reacted the way they did, and how YOU, TOO, would and should react and feel about reading this missive, and why it was important for you to read it–
4) Clicking on the Kindle preview revealed yet another hot mess that was starting to bump this masterpiece into toxic waste territory. No standard formatting, no interactive table of contents, and chapter two was in a different font than chapter one AND ALL IN BOLD TYPE. (No, I’m not kidding.) Thankfully, that’s where the preview ended. And the story itself, what I skimmed through, was filled with editing issues. It literally looked like someone dumped their rough draft Word doc into Kindle’s meat-grinder and let it go.
BUT, they were also happy to announce in the group that it was available as a script and a screenplay, in addition to e-book format…
NO, I am NOT making that up!!!! I wish I was.
(Again, yes, I was polite, and I treated myself to a cookie for not asking what the hell was wrong with them.)
Listen, there are NO magic bullets to selling a book. There aren’t. There’s a good bit of luck and a helluva lot of hard freaking work involved in the process.
BUT…I can tell you things that absolutely will tank your book before it even gets out of the starting gate. (SPOILER ALERT: Read the top part of this post.)
So what could they do to fix their book’s problems to give it a fighting chance, at least?
Let’s start with editing and proper formatting. Seriously. ‘Nuff said.
Secondly, let’s start with a TITLE and not a long, rambling subtitle, either.
Third, how about a cover that works? Heck, maybe the picture they used is completely relevant to the story. I don’t know. Okay, so if it is, how about running it through a filter of some sort to give it an “artsy” feel, make it look like a painting, etc, and font type and placement that doesn’t just curl up and hide and make it look totally…blah? Now, if your book is with a publisher, you might not have control over the cover’s final look. I get that. But in a self-pubbed book, there’s no excuse for a shitty cover, and a shitty cover will turn readers off, because they’ll think you were too broke/lazy/dumb to get the book edited properly. (As will a blurb that’s a hot mess.)
The blurb. Holy fucking shitballs, the BLURB. I got BORED just reading the blurb! I know I’ve got a lot of blurbs under my belt, but seriously, had the author in question READ any blurbs from ANY number of books in their entire life, they would have seen what they needed to do. For starters, they would have edited the blurb it to make sure there were no typos or errors. Of which there were a metric shit-ton. Your blurb format should roughly follow this skeleton, and I’ll sort of hint around at what this particular blurb should have looked like, instead of the hot mess it was:
Main Character (MC) is a person with a problem. This isn’t how their life was supposed to go, but now they’re stuck. What to do?
Enter meeting Mr. Wrong, and MC has now dug themselves a deeper hole while thinking Mr. Wrong was handing them a rescue ladder.
But when it comes down to making a hard choice, sometimes you need to sacrifice the things you wanted most for things you never even knew you needed.
Basically, I’m trying to be generic, but after slogging through that long-ass blurb they used, the above is something similar to what they could have distilled their blurb down into.
If the reader gets BORED reading the blurb, they WILL NOT BUY YOUR BOOK. And don’t tell them how to feel, or tell them about some great personal epiphany they’ll have while reading your book, or look like you’re trying to control their reader experience. Don’t do it. (The blurb in question spent about half its existence doing just that.)
Standard blurb format:
Paragraph 1: Intro the MC, and ground us BRIEFLY with only what we need to know to anchor us in the story.
Paragraph 2: Intro the antagonist or love interests/s or main problem.
Paragraph 3: The hook, the push, the thing that will make the reader want more.
You can vary from this formula a little bit, depending on the book, the series, the genre, etc. If you can’t keep your back cover copy under 200 words, you’re doing it wrong. 150 words or so is ideal. That’s fifty words a paragraph for three paragraphs. It needs to be written in an active way, in the present.
Here are a few examples from my own books:
From Switchy (Suncoast Society 34):
Em Woodland’s parents moved in with her three years ago, and it wasn’t her idea. Her mother’s meddling has killed Em’s love life. After her busybody mom calls the cops on the two new guys next door, Em has apologies to make.
Jarred and Garrison are thirteen months into grieving the death of their love and Owner, Janis. Then Jarred inherits his uncle’s house next door to single cutie, Em. They’re willing to overlook her mom’s antics for the welcome distraction Em brings to their life. As the three grow close, the men admit their desired dynamic to independent Em.
She’s willing to try it. Two hot and sexy Alpha hunks at her beck and call? Yes, please!
But family drama and deadly close calls take Em over the edge and leave her unable to care for herself. Can she let go and let her two switchy men take the reins and prove to her that they want her for life?
I veered a little from the three-paragraph blurb, but I did it intentionally to highlight it. I could have merged paragraphs 3 and 4 and not lost much, but I wanted the visual break-up.
First paragraph: Introduces the heroine and her immediate conflict.
Second paragraph: Introduces the heroes and a hint of their backstory/conflict.
Third paragraph: Highlight. (And I use the, “Two hot and sexy Alpha hunks at her beck and call? Yes, please!” line as a short hook teaser.)
Fourth paragraph: Hook.
Here’s another where I veered slightly from the three-paragraph formula, but again, as a highlight, and the first line is one I use as a hook when I have limited space (like on Twitter). From The Reluctant Dom (Suncoast Society 4):
Love hurts…if you’re lucky.
Kaden’s dying, but before he goes he has one problem to solve–he must ask his oldest and dearest friend, Seth, to take over as Dom and Master to his beloved wife, Leah.
Seth has always seen himself as the perpetual screwup and Kaden as the strong and steady one, so his friend’s request rocks his world. He also knows there’s no way he can refuse Kaden this.
Now Seth finds himself immersed in a role he’s far from comfortable with–inflicting physical pain to provide emotional comfort to the woman he’s secretly loved for years. Can he deal with his crushing grief over the impending loss of his oldest friend and still learn the skills he must master in time to become The Reluctant Dom?
And see how I even worked the title into the blurb? You get bonus points for that.
Eh, well, not really. Don’t force it. Plenty of times I can’t work the title into the blurb. It’s not a big deal if you can’t. If you do and it sounds hokey, then you’ve failed.
Less is more. Do NOT give away your whole plot, or think that you have to explain every last dang point in the blurb. NO. *smacks bad writer on the nose with a rolled-up manuscript*
BAD writer. NO cookie.
And blurbs can be fun. This is one for Hope Heals, which I honestly wasn’t sure if Siren would let go through as-is (and you’ll see why). I was delighted when they used it exactly the way I wrote it:
Sarah’s world shatters when her husband is killed in the wreck that injures her young son, Jason. Worse, Sarah discovers painful betrayals that make remaining in New York City with her hateful mother-in-law impossible. Moving home to Florida to live with her widowed father is their only option.
You can go home again, but it’s not the home she remembers. The hunky next door neighbors are also her new employers, cousins Sam and Pete Hope. She went to school with the men, but they’re all grown up. It’s soon clear they have their sights set on winning her heart.
Unfortunately, her mother-in-law doesn’t give up quite so easily. She’s determined to get Sarah and Jason back to New York by any means necessary. Despite an escape-artist steer nicknamed Moodini, asshole ninja assassin pet goats, and learning how to love again, Sarah rebuilds her and Jason’s lives and soon discovers that, just maybe, two Hopes can heal her heart better than one.
Yes, asshole ninja assassin pet goats. (No, I’m not going to tell you. You’ll have to read it. LOL)
But notice while in this blurb I didn’t force the title, I hinted at it by naming the heroes. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce where the title came from.
But even better, unlike with The Reluctant Dom (yes, a heavy read), while you can see this book has the potential to be heavy, the blurb itself hints at the fact that there’s a lot of humor in the book (which there is).
You’re setting the reader up for an expectation they’re going to have about the book’s tone without beating them over the head with it.
If your book is a swords and sorcery fantasy book, you can’t be generic. You need to find something unique, even if it’s a sweeping epic, to set your book apart immediately in the reader’s mind and make them want to open the front cover (or click on the sample, if it’s an e-book). Instead of talking about how your hero or heroine must fight the horrible dragons to save their land from a dark menace controlled by some unknown third-party, go a little (LITTLE) quirky.
How do dragons mate and reproduce? It’s a question plaguing the kingdom of Cinnabar because they have a really bad dragon problem. It’s up to Princess Farfegneugen to figure it out fast, before their entire realm ends up little more than a s’more in a dragon’s gut.
Shadowy figures rumored to be controlling the dragons seem to play a role, so Princess Farflungagain sets off to solve the problem, save her people, and prove to King Daddy Dearest that her dumbass brother isn’t fit to take the throne.
But when Princess Floofygin finds out the darker truth, it shatters everything she thought she knew. Now she’s in a race against time to match wits with an older evil than anyone ever dreamed of.
And it sits right next to the throne.
Okay, see what I did there? (I mean, besides getting silly. Duh.) But if this was a stuffy blurb detailing a long-running fight against evil and darkness without pinning a face to it, you’d probably put it back down, right? I know I would. I would crack the cover on this alone just because it caught my attention.
There’s part of the battle.
Real-life example that’s even shorter (and better) from Undead and Unwed by MaryJanice Davidson:
First Betsy Taylor loses her job, then she’s killed in a car accident. But what really bites is that she can’t seem to stay dead. And now her new friends have the ridiculous idea that Betsy is the prophesied vampire queen, and they want her help in overthrowing the most obnoxious power-hungry vampire in five centuries.
Of course I bought it.
See, you should have three versions of your blurb. The “back cover copy” which is what you put on Kindle, your website, etc. It’s what would be on the back cover of the print version.
You should have a shorter one (like the above example) that runs no more than 50-60 words.
And you should have the hook, which is 25 words or less.
Love hurts…if you’re lucky.
There’s only one rule–Cardinal’s Rule.
Kinky never looked so normal.
Two hot and sexy Alpha hunks at her beck and call? Yes, please!
Those are all examples from my own books.
Now, let’s be honest. The author could fix ALL those problems with their book and it still might not sell, for all I know. But I can guarantee you a major reason it’s not selling now is because of all those problems combined. Once those problems are corrected, the author might find their sales go up. They still need to promote themselves and build an author platform and find a way to brand themselves to stand apart from other authors.
See, there is NO magick formula for making a book sell.
There are, however, easily corrected reasons for why a book WON’T sell. Until those problems are fixed, sales won’t improve anytime soon, either. That means you can’t half-ass it, even if you’re on a tight budget. You must put effort, money, sweat-equity–SOMETHING–into your book. If you can’t do it, hire it out. If you can’t hire editing out, join a critique group to help you out (which means helping in return). Find someone who does decent cover art, find out how much, and save up your pennies. Research how to properly format a manuscript.
Because you might think you have a masterpiece posted for sale, but if you don’t take care of these problems immediately, you’ll never sell, guaranteed. Once those problems are solved, then you’re back to visibility, marketing, and author platform. It might not guarantee you a bestseller, but at least you’ll know you’ve done all you can to not shoot yourself in the foot before you even started the race.
Other recent releases you might have missed…
- Rhymes With Orange (Suncoast Society 35, MMMF, BDSM)
- Dual Porpoise (Placida Pod 5, MF, IR, shifters)
- Switchy (Suncoast Society 34, MMF, BDSM)
Coming Soon From Siren-BookStrand…
- 7/25/2016: The Fire Road (Triple Trouble 10)
- 8/29/2016: Beware Falling Ice (Suncoast Society 36)
Tymber’s Amazon Author Page | Lesli’s Amazon Author Page | Tymber’s Siren-BookStrand Author Page
9 thoughts on “#WritingTip – “Why won’t my book sell?””
I’m not a writer, but I do read a lot of KU books and since I’m really digging the MM genre I see a lot of subpar work from first time authors. Expecially when I compare them to an author I’d pay $5 for their book(you for example). Don’t get me wrong there is plenty of great KU books/authors, but I see a lot of first time publishing. I often wonder if they had anyone read their books before they put it out there. Although I am far from the grammar/spelling police. Super excited for your next Suncoast Society book!
@Tiffany – Thank you. 🙂 Sadly, some of them honestly don’t have a thorough edit before their books hit KU. And that drags the rep of self-pubbed authors down. But I’m seeing more sub-par editing coming out of traditional houses now, too, unfortunately.
Great stuff Tymber. I’ve never been happy with my blurbs and this gives me a structure to think about when putting them together. Thanks.
@Rushmore – Thanks, glad it was helpful. 🙂 I have more posts over on my WriteYourAssOff.com blog about creating blurbs as well.
As a voracious reader, I gotta say, if the blurb is boring, long winded or, worst of all, filled with errors, I skip right over it. If in doubt, check out the sample. I have a tight book budget and I prefer to read quality. Thanks for the tips!
@Kelly – Ditto! Life (and money) is too short for bad books, and a blurb that’s filled with errors doesn’t fill me with confidence.
I have to admit that if I see a single mistake in the blurb I immediately question if I really want to buy the book. I will research the hell out of the author on Goodreads, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The few words required in a blurb can be reviewed and corrected by several people for free, like your bestie, your mom, your grade school English teacher. (They would be so proud and happy to assist.) I would have broached the subject with this newbie writer and asked them if they wanted an honest critique of their writing. Then as gently as possible I would have pointed out all of the things you listed that were wrong with the book. As a non-writer even I can get a sense of how to do a blurb and create a book cover. Of course 55 years of reading and taking a couple of semesters of desktop publishing classes helps. I hope this person gets their aha moment.
@Kathryn – No, I just replied with a generic message pointing out “common” things (which were this author’s issues) to look at. It’s not worth getting into an argument with them, and I don’t have the time to dedicate to the help the author would need. And, frankly, after reading other comments the author made, it’s obvious they’re looking for someone to wave a magic wand and make their masterpiece sell better. Meaning they probably won’t take kindly to the fact that they’re their own worst enemy. :/
That’s too bad but in the long run maybe it’s for the better. The world might not be ready for this author’s message. 🙂
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