“A book without a book launch plan is just a fantasy.” Did I hear that someplace, or am I making it up? In any case, I’m launching a new book on April 17, 2020, and I thought it might be helpful if I take you through this journey with me. I am by no means an expert at this, just trying to get better. So, for the next two months, I’ll be doing regular posts and sharing some of the tricks and tools I’ve found useful.
The Cover Image
Apart from your writing, the number one thing authors must get right is the cover. Self-published authors are not going to find their books in bricks-and-mortar bookstores, not without a whole lot of effort. Hence, it’s super important to nail the cover. Here are the criteria:
- It must look good at postage-stamp size.
- It must be right for the genre.
- And, it must present an image that telegraphs the content of the book.
Here’s a YouTube video by Joel Friedlander and Joanna Penn. Pro art director for Simon & Schuster weighs in here. The folks at Penguin Random House share insights into some of the intangibles of good cover design.
Some covers feature people. Others feature art. Some designs rely on graphics such as slanted text to convey energy and draw the reader in. Each cover style is going to be familiar, on the subliminal level, to a certain kind of reader. You need to make sure you understand the reader’s unstated expectations about what a book in your genre should look like.
Joanna Penn has put together a resource page where authors can shop for various inexpensive cover designs. Amazon has its own cover design app, along with helpful videos on how to proceed. If you want to have an independent designer come up with something unique for you, I recommend either 99Designs or DesignCrowd. Here’s an article comparing the two.
Most important, however, is that you have three to five prototypes. If at all possible, show them to readers of books in your genre. Allowing readers to participate in cover selection can help build anticipation prior to the book’s release.
Creating a poll isn’t as hard as your might think. This article explains how to create a Google poll. The cover design and polling needs to be scheduled months in advance. You need to settle on a cover and get your book ready to send out for review.
The Book Title and Subhead
So, okay. You have an image, but you’re a wordsmith, right? Is your book title going to draw readers in? What about the subtitle?
Let’s start with the title. Look at books in your genre, and remember that Amazon is the biggest search engine in the world. Readers’ fingers are pecking away, even as you read this. Type the word that sums up your book in Amazon’s search box. Is it a thriller? Literary fiction? Romance? Young adult novel? Click on each search term to see what comes up. You’ll notice that mystery authors often use the word “mystery” in the title.
Many authors are now using the subtitle to drill down into a particular niche, such as “cozy mystery” or “Book 1 of the Yada Yada series.” Technically, Amazon wants to see the subtitle on the book cover, but the more text on the cover, the harder it is to get a clean design.
There’s an additional reason for the subtitle. Authors who write books in series may want to clue readers in to where a particular book falls in that series. The idea is to hook the reader with Book 1, and then keep them turning pages until they reach the end of the series. One series that I’ve particularly enjoyed was written by Patrick O’Brian. After reading Master and Commander, I was hooked. A series can ultimately lead to greater profitability because authors can market not just the individual books, but a box set.
Amazon’s Subtitle Strategy
If you can find some way to telegraph to the reader that this book is one that might engage them emotionally, then they are more likely to press the “buy” button. Amazon’s own imprint, Lake Union Press, is doing that for every one of its books. Unlike the subtitles based on keywords, Amazon’s strategy relies on “tearjerker” words. These aren’t so much keywords–no one is going to search for a book using the word “heartbreaking”–but the subtitle does suggest whether the book is going to be a comedy or tragedy.
The Back of the Book
At this point I’ve talked about the cover design, the title, and the subtitle. A couple of years ago, I heard a wonderful lecture by Amy Collins. She talked about how people decide to buy a book. They look at the cover. They flip over the book and look at the back. Then, maybe they’ll skim the first page. If you grab them by then, you’ve made a sale.
Remember that sequence. Cover. Back of book. First page. You have–gasp!–five seconds to get their attention. The text on the back of your book is your second most important marketing message. It will tell the reader whether the book is for them or not. What has to go on the back? Three things:
- a paragraph giving the reader a sense of what they will experience if they read the book;
- blurbs from third-party sources;
- an author bio.
Figuring out what to put on the back of my book took me a week. Here’s how I went about it. I cruised over to Kirkus Reviews and looked at comparable books of literary fiction. I cut and pasted snippets of text that sounded like the book I’d written. I dug out a press release from an author who is sadly no longer with us. Somehow, when I’d bought his book, the press release had been tucked inside. Then I sat and played with the language.
Here’s what I came up with:
Welcome to the short stories of Marylee MacDonald, where spiritual sojourners seek their hearts’ desires. John tries to be a faithful husband, but can’t say no when the love of his live invites him on a fishing trip. Deep underground in a Spanish cave, a spelunker risks her life, only to discover that the miraculous and tragic coexist. Seeking answers to her brother’s disappearance, Sunny find out why he never came home. Epic in scope and confessional in tone, the stories in Body Language are so beautifully written that the characters will stay in your mind long after the book is done.
As my grandma used to say, “Don’t hide your light under a bushel basket.” I believe in this book. I want my utter commitment to shine through.
Are you connected to authors who might be willing to write a testimonial? How about a local writing group? If not, then there are plenty of places you can get professionally written reviews. One, of course, is Kirkus Reviews, but many self-published or independently published authors find their price prohibitive. I would recommend that any author get reviews from Readers’ Favorites. As a source for professional reviews, they aren’t allowed to post on Amazon, but they can post to Barnes & Noble and Goodreads. It’s a big help to have five reviews flash up on the screen the day of the book release. Please be aware that all of this scheduling must be done three to four months in advance.
This week I’ve dealt with the cover, subtitle, and back of the book. Next week, I’ll talk about Amazon’s book page, book descriptions, and how to optimize them for sales. Amazon’s book page is where you’re going to post your professionally written reviews. Read my post about book reviews and how to get them. That way you’ll be prepared.
Marylee MacDonald is the author of MONTPELIER TOMORROW, a novel, BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD, a short story collection, and THE RUG BAZAAR, a chapbook. Her books and stories have won the Barry Hannah Prize, the Jeanne M. Leiby Memorial Chapbook Award, a Readers’ Favorites Gold Medal for Drama, the American Literary Review Fiction Prize, and many others. She holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State, and when not reading or writing books, she loves to walk on the beach and explore National Parks.