First, as I’ve covered in my last article, Why Do 99/100 Book Projects Ultimately Fail? to focus the majority of your time on crafting a remarkable book.
That is, to become a better writer. A professional who gets to work every day, and writes. Until they have a book so good readers can’t ignore it. Authors tend to fail because they don’t focus on the major factors that lead to perennial book sales.
This article follows on from my last to show you what to do after you’ve survived writing your great book. The work is far from over. You’ve got the words down and now you must package those words in the best light.
You have seven more keys to unlock a bestselling book.
The 7 Book Marketing Keys
- Book Cover
- Book Title [+Subtitle]
- Book Description
- Book Layout
- Author & Publisher
- Reviews [Editorial, Consumer]
- Marketing Strategy
#1 Judge A Book By Its Cover
We say “ Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but this doesn’t apply to sway a reader to give your book a chance.
Think about it: How do you pick the books you buy? You see the books laid out on the stand at your favourite book store. Or, you scroll through pictures on Amazon.
The clear point is: You see the book. With the cover being the first thing you see before you ever get to read the book. It’s the face. Even more, it’s the whole body.
The book cover is not to look pretty. Its job is to get people to give your book a chance and sell. You must get the cover right and make it look like a bestseller.
Christiana Miller from Self-Publishing On A Shoe String says it well: “A book cover is an invitation — a way of seducing the reader. It beckons, inviting them to enter the world of your book and dance with your characters for a while. It makes a promise about what kind of music they’ll be dancing to. Your cover should convey the tone and genre of your story, be eye-catching and, most importantly, look like it’s been professionally done.”
What’s the formula for creating and assessing covers?
First, we look at the synopsis. What is the book about? Understand the places, objects and character traits.
Second, you want a better idea of what you are designing for. Do your research. Look at bestselling comparative and competitive books in your relevant genre. What else is out there that fits the genre? Match covers on the styles, such as typography, visuals, colour scheme etc.
Recognisable design is important. Bookstores lay books sitting next to other books that look similar. It’s a split second emotion or thought. When readers see something that looks familiar to something they’ve bought and liked before, they’re more likely to buy.
You match readers expectations. When someone looks for a crime novel, there’s a certain look and feel that they expect. You give you readers the thing they want in the way they’re expecting.
Then, once you know the rules of that genre, you can break it. Give them what they’re expecting in an unfamiliar way; a purple cow – as Seth Godin puts it – in a field of brown cows.
What are you trying to stand out from? Who’s the competition? What are they doing and how is this design going to stand out and catch the eye ahead of its competition?
Title + Visual Match
Next, you want to communicate the benefits and match the book title and visuals. What’s often overlooked, but also critical, is to match the title with the visual. There must be a symbiotic relationship with the title and visual.
The title must contain the core benefit. e.g. 4 Hour-Work-Week.
In most cases, you can include a subtitle, which does a better job of communicating the promise to the reader. e.g. Escape the 9-5, live anywhere and join the new rich.
Even so, genre-matching, title/visual matching, and benefits communication are not enough. Even with these, you won’t stand out. And book publishing is so competitive that you have to stand out. You need to catch the reader’s attention as they browse through the list on Amazon or walk through a bookstore.
Book Cover Formula:
+ Title/Visual Match
+ Unique Twists
= Wow Effect
Apply the formula to your book cover and see how well they perform.
D.I.Y Book Cover Design
If you can afford to pay someone to design your cover then go for it. Though, more than likely, you will be designing the cover yourself. The most accessible way to create digital covers is to use Adobe Photoshop.
Confidence, as with anything, comes with time and experience – so to start – keep it simple. Don’t push yourself too much. Do your research and look at what your comparative and competitive titles are and see what’s out there.
Know what your typeface is. Don’t try and be too creative with it, it doesn’t need to be that. All you’re doing is trying to inform people. Familiarity again, layouts and everything, they’re all out there you go into a bookshop and you can see what works and what doesn’t work. What stands out to you. And then try and emulate it.
- How your cover design can increase book visibility by 50% (or more)
- How To Design A Book Cover Based On Its Genre.
- Creating A Best-selling Book Cover with Stuart BlancheTranscript
#2 Book Title [+Subtitle]
A good title is important. In most cases, a book sells more on the promise of the sub-title. E.g. 100 Tasty, Slimming Recipes All Under 400 Calories.
A catchy title will capture the attention of the reader. But, the subtitles express what the reader can expect to gain from reading it.
“Authors often agonize when creating the main title for their book. Some high-profile authors pay thousands and thousands of dollars to experts just to come up with a catchy main title. But when it comes to the book marketing of nonfiction books, the subtitle is the most important element.”
– Smith Publicity
Magic Book Title Formula:
- Characteristic (Y/N)
- Short and memorable (Y/N)
- Unique and attention-grabbing (Y/N)
- Story match (Y/N)
- Built-in benefit (Y/N)
Don’t agonise over your title, yet make sure that it is short, memorable and easy to read and pronounce. Also, that it is unique and attention-grabbing.
Check your book titles and see how many times they get a yes.
What can you do to improve your book title/subtitle?
#3 Book Description
Bestselling author Sarah Gribbles gets it right when she says: “Your book description isn’t a summary of your book — it’s an ad meant to hook your readers and sell your book.”
The main point is to get targeted readers to buy the book.
The Book Description Toolbox:
- Scribe Book Description Writing Method for Non-Fiction Books
- Who, Why, What & How
- Albert’s Non-Fiction Technique: Hook, Blurb, Benefits (bullets) + CTA
- AIDA: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action
- Cialdini Principles
- Readers perspective.
#1 Scribe Book Description Writing Method for Non-Fiction Books
How to hook readers, how to create pain and pleasure, legitimacy, and an open-loop as a closing. It’s a solid method you can learn more about by visiting the Scribe website.
#2 Who, Why, What & How
Use a simple formula to answer the following questions: Who are you? What is the book about? Why do they need to read it? Or why it is relevant and necessary? How they can get it?
#3 Albert’s Non-Fiction Technique: Hook, Blurb, Benefits (Bullets) + CTA
This technique is as follows; use a great first sentence to “hook” readers. Then explain what the book is about in the next two sentences, a “blurb,” followed by bullet points that present the benefits. Then, you close with a strong call-to-action.
#4 AIDA: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action
- Attention / Awareness: What message will hook your reader in to read further? Maybe a burning question they have.
- Interest / Inspire: Challenge the norms of the topic and explore counter-intuitive perspectives.
- Desire: Entice! Build the allure of your topic or product by appealing to the emotions of the reader: what’s the big win for them?
- Action: Point them in the right direction and get them to take action. What should they do next? Where do you want them to go?
You’ve cooked up a delicious meal, now let’s add some spice to your book description.
#5 Cialdini Principles
There are many ‘mental shortcuts’ you can use to tap into your reader’s minds and persuade them to buy. Though, we’ll go over the most relevant and practical. Caution: Use these powerful psychological tools for good.
In Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence, he describes the 6 principles of influence: Reciprocity, consistency, social proof, liking, authority and scarcity.
Use all 6 principles to be most effective.
- #1 Reciprocity: If you give something to your reader, they’ll feel obligated to repay the favour; which is to buy something from you.
- #2 Consistency: The simplest way to incorporate this into your writing is to make sure everything is congruent.
- #3 Social Proof: When readers don’t know what to buy, they look to other readers. A concrete application to include in your description is to include “best-selling author” (if you are a bestseller) as well as getting as many reviews as you can.
- #4 Liking: Give every reason for people to like you. You can’t make people like you but, ensure that at least you don’t do anything for people to dislike you. This could mean inject some humour into your writing or show that you are a fun author. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Also, consider your genre; humour may not be appropriate with a romance or crime novel. Much like salt – or any spice – a little goes a long way. The reason is readers are more likely to buy from people they like.
- #5 Authority: Readers are conditioned to listen and follow leaders. They look to experts or authorities for a valuable short cut for deciding how to act. You must become an authority in your reader’s mind.
- #6 Scarcity: Products a.k.a your book will seem more valuable if there is less of them. Though it is not to only sell 100 copies at £1,000 each, yet you can include a bonus one-time offer, limited book edition, or introductory price.
#6 Readers Perspective
Write your book description from the reader’s perspective. You have to make sure that your prospective reader understands what is in it for them. Enter the mind of the prospective reader. Read the descriptions from their perspective.
Your reader is not interested in you. They are only interested in themselves. The simplest way to do this is to look for I, me, my in your description and swap those out for you, your, and yours instead.
Use “You” to communicate with the reader e.g. you will learn, your best read of the year, etc.). You can do some keyword research to gauge what people are actively typing into Google to find answers and use the language they use to directly speak to them. Once you know exactly what terms your readers are looking for, you can use them in your copy.
This ensures that when someone types something into Google, you appear at the top of the results.
Pick one of the tools of the “Book Description Creation Toolbox” and start to write a description for an upcoming book project you have in mind. Check if your book descriptions apply some of “Cialdini’s Principles” as well as the “Readers Perspective Cooking Tools.”
- How To Write A Book Description That Will Captivate Readers (And Sell Books!)
- How To Write A Book Description That Sells.
#4 Book Layout
The interior design of your book is also key. This refers to how well the book is formatted. Which influences the experience a reader has when reading your book. Both as a paperback and as an ebook. Of particular importance for us are typography, images, and the use of quality elements like drop caps, breakout boxes and sidebars. Also, the absence of typos, widows and orphans.
A good layout makes a big difference in the perception of a book. Often layout is not treated as importantly as it should be. In my experience, improving the layout is often a quick win, especially compared to re-writing manuscripts.
First, look at formatting the first couple of pages. They are especially important to online copies, as retailers allow readers to look at your first pages and get a reading sample for free.
Optimising your beginning pages can have a profound impact on your book sales, not to mention your publishing business as a whole. Every Amazon reader uses the “Look Inside” function before purchasing a book. Communicate visually-striking bonus content within the first couple of pages (normally before the actual content), to give people added value to the book purchase.
Take one of your most important books and make a list of layout elements that can be improved. Read your books reviews to see if any of them are referring to the layout. If yes, Take appropriate action, such as fixing typos or adding drop caps.
#5 Author & Publisher
Now, let’s look at the perceived quality of the author/publisher. First-time authors do not have a lot of credibility in the market and are shy to compete with big household names.
It’s as important to show readers who you are as well. A strong story can have such a profound effect on sales, authors and publishers must think about how to present themselves favourably.
You should create a strong author biography. Explain who you are, why you wrote the book and why it’s important, what is in the book, how your readers can buy it, get the most out of it, connect with you, etc.
You do not need to be a rock star right out of the gate.
A good story behind your book and why you wrote it can make up for a million sales. Include your author biography in your book, as well as online on your webpage and via online retailers. Very often the reason someone purchases a book, or why they don’t, is because it is “all about the author.”
Take a look at your author/publisher profiles on your webpage, Amazon, LinkedIn, etc., and make a list of elements you can improve. Think about the reasons why you wrote the book (your story) and credibility factors you have. Improve your story and add credibility to your author biography.
#6 Reviews [Editorial, Consumer]
“Reviews are the lifeblood of books in the digital age.”
A study by the Spiegel Research Center in 2017 showed that 95% of buyers read online reviews before making a sale.
We’ve covered this earlier when we looked at adding social proof to your descriptions. Think about how you buy anything online. Most likely you will look at the reviews before purchasing a product.
Having lots of good reviews is one of the most important books marketing keys to focus on. So, it is best to start collecting them as early as possible. There is no better time to get reviews than before you launch it. These first reviews pride you with real-life feedback to improve your book. Also, they set the tone for what’s to come.
The best way to get reviews early is to invite potential readers early in the writing process. You are engaging your “followers” or whatever you want to call then before you launch.
Not only to get “editorial reviews” from respected players in your field that you can use for your blurb and in your marketing. But also “customer reviews” that you can “activate” when you launch your book.
Take a look at the reviews your books have received. Rank them according to their average rating. Then rethink your book prioritization based on customer feedback.
Make sure that before any book launches you make getting editorial and customer ratings a priority. Take appropriate action.
#7 Marketing Strategy
Over the last 10 years, I have created more than 100 book marketing strategies for clients from all over the world.
Simply put, a book marketing strategy is about providing a clear step-by-step action plan for how to reach the marketing-related author/publisher goal within a predefined time frame and a given budget. The crucial question in most strategies is how to reach a large number of targeted readers most cost-effectively.
Marketing strategy is about using the right channels with the right tactics and messages. You can see book marketing strategies as stand-alone products. They have value regardless of the quality of the underlying book.
Yet, every skilled marketer knows that you base each strategy on the power of the product. Success or failure depends on that quality.
That’s why it is no secret that every strategy will enjoy a fantastic book and already-optimized book marketing keys as a foundation.
Below, you’ll find a simple “book marketing strategy creation cheat sheet” that includes 4 questions to answer to come up with a basic strategy. By answering these questions, you will already have made significant progress toward creating a winning strategy for your book.
However, I recommend authors and publishers without much experience in book marketing to reach out to a book marketing expert for advice in this important strategic area.
Book Marketing Strategy Creation Cheat Sheet:
- What is the goal I want to reach? (eg. sales numbers)
- Who are my perfect readers? Who likes my book?
- How many people do I need to reach? (to reach my goal)
- What are the channels I have to use? (to reach my audience)
- How well does my product need to be? (to reach my goal)
Having the right strategy means being able to do the right things from the start. Which results in dollars invested the right way and increased chances for success.
Take a book you are marketing, and answer the 5 questions in the “Book Marketing Creation Cheat Sheet.”
By mastering the 7 book marketing keys, you will be able to reach targeted readers with a product that they will buy. Once you have achieved this, it comes down to your manuscript and the inner power and beauty of your book. Master book marketing Secret #1 (the book is the star) together with #2 (the 7 book marketing keys), and you will have everything you need to create a true bestseller.
Master the 7 book marketing keys, and be able to sell solid books with ease. Know the 7 book marketing keys by heart and optimise them relentlessly.
Get a pen and paper and take notes: List the 7 book marketing keys which of the 7 keys can be improved for your books?
Make a list of steps to improve your keys by doing the 7 exercises described in this chapter.
Do You Need to Hire Someone?
Book Marketing Secrets : The 10 fundamental secrets for selling more books and creating a successful self-publishing career
Founder & CEO of the book publishing startup Scribando & Novelify.
Previously Albert was Head of Digital at Dorotheum and consults companies and authors in digital strategy, digital marketing and book promotion.