The Two Biggest Book Sales Killers

The Two Biggest Book Sales Killers

What Are Book Sales Killers?

In fact, there are three book sales killers, which will either drive potential book buyers away, or worse, fail to gain their attention.

The obvious reason a book fails to sell is because it is a bad book. There can be a hundred reasons why this is the case, but the most common problems are that it’s badly written, with obvious typos, grammatical and spelling errors, or it has an awfully weak first chapter that fails to grab a reader’s attention or interest. It could also be because the book about a topic or genre that is not at all popular, such as home blowfly breeding, or My Life as a Saab Mechanic – A Memoir.

There is little that can be done to save a very bad book, but if a book is reasonably good, very good or even fantastic, and it is not selling, there are two problems that could be causing the lack of sales, and these can be quickly and easily remedied.

It has an awful cover and a lousy book description.

Great book covers sell books

I see a lot of books, which are perhaps quite good and very well written, but suffer from the author’s idea that apart from being a great writer, they are also a very good book cover designer. Sadly, this is rarely, if ever the case.

Unless you are skilled at using Photoshop and have some basic knowledge about design principals and focal points, forget about going to all the trouble of designing an awful cover yourself, and get a professional. A pre-made cover will almost always be better than what you can do yourself, and at between $40-60, they are extremely cheap. Even a custom designed cover at around $250 is still cheap, as it will attract far more attention than a homemade cover.

The other reason to have a professionally designed cover is that the image has to work in many sizes, and particularly as a thumbnail image. This is the first thing a potential reader comes across as they scan for a new book to read, so how your book cover looks as a thumbnail is absolutely vital. It needs to attract attention, among a long list of other thumbnail images.

So as not to embarrass anyone by taking book covers from Amazon to show as examples, I will totally embarrass myself here by showing you an example of how I learned my lesson, from at first using a disastrous homemade cover or two, through to finally being sensible and getting a professional cover designed for one of my books. Here are the three versions, with thumbnails.

Do you see the problems with the first two covers that I designed myself? Ok, you can stop laughing now. Yes, my author name is unreadable in thumbnail view, and the title is hardly much better while the subtitle disappeared in the second version. As well as these obvious problems, the first two images are single layered, boring, uninteresting and utter failures at attracting attention. The third cover was of course professionally designed and cost me $240. Oh, and yes, the book started selling much better after I had the cover professionally designed, and people could at last read the book title and my name.

A book description needs to hook a reader, fast.

It’s an old truism that authors are particularly dreadful at writing their own bios, and the same can be said of book descriptions. I really do see some terrible attempts. The most common problem is that they are far too short as if written as an afterthought, and without much care. The second is that they fail to give a reader anything of interest, or ask them questions. After the cover, which does its job to attract attention, the book description is there to ‘hook’ a reader. Read these two examples.

This is a story about a man who is dying and he meets a woman, who he falls in love with. They share their thoughts about life, and how they have been wrong about many things.

Rather awful, so now let’s get a copywriter on the job.

And in the end… he found true love.

Imagine being transferred to a hospice to live out the last days of your life, only to find the love of your life you know you cannot enjoy forever?

This is a story of finding love within boundaries, as the main character is at the end of his life. What happens when people have come to that place in their lives where to do not regret anymore what they have done or had not, and finally accept life’s true intend of having reached the end?

Find out how an interesting twist so close to the end gives a man a completely new but short purpose in life, something others might never find throughout their whole life?

A story in where romance meets drama… A story about reflective thoughts… A story about finding love at last…

Do you need any convincing of which book description would attract a reader’s attention and interest? The second example asks a question, which involves the reader, and then later has a ‘call to action’. I purchased this short piece from a copywriter on Fiverr. A quick search of this site brings up a long list of copywriters, who offer their services at a very reasonable price. While Fiverr is known for $5 tasks, expect to pay around $30-$40 for a well-written 300-word book description. That’s still awfully cheap.

So if your book isn’t selling so well, would a $40 pre-made cover and a $15 book description be a good investment?

Derek Haines

Derek Haines is an Australian author, living in Switzerland.

8 thoughts on “The Two Biggest Book Sales Killers

  • I find a few problems with the paid version of the book blurb. Though agreed it is a better take on the novel’s description, there are repetitive words and ideas that read as if this blurb writer has a stock go-to used for every one he writes. For example, the “Imagine this” scenario as an opening introduction. Why not cut to the chase and state the novel’s description as it is?

    I would have cut the first sentence, first paragraph, and gotten straight to the point without trying so hard to push a vague description and focused more upon the real parts of the novel. Begin with using the lead character’s name and include more story description rather than using bland terms such as “This is a story”- which is repeated several times. We know it is a story.

    “What happens when regrets cease to exist and the will to live must be replaced with acceptance of death?”

    And i would cut out “Find out how an interesting twist so close to the end…”- the words “life” and “lives” are too repetitive.

    Here is a rough draft idea off the top of my head:

    “So near the end of existence, Louis discovers true love while waiting out his final days in hospice.
    He’d assumed death would be the last heartbreaking experience to endure until he met the very reason his heart had kept him alive this long.”

    Hope I didn’t over-step my boundaries by this opinion!!

    Have a great day! Keep writing!

    Reply
    • No, no over-step, Juliet. I selected it purely as an example, which could of course be improved. Perhaps I have better if I had hunted further. But I thought it was a reasonable short text to show how asking questions and making a call to action can be included in a book description. A lot of book descriptions I read have neither.

      Reply
  • Ok glad it wasnt taken negatively. Most people rely on a book’s description as to whether or not they think it will be an interesting enough read. Making sure you have a tone of interest, perhaps mystery or suspense, will be what draws them in. I’d also include a small set of sentences describig who Louis is, his background, to help readers know if this character will be someone they can either relate to or be drawn in enough to want to know more about his life, past and present. The theme of realizing a true love so close to the end will melt the hearts of romance novel enthusiasts and the fact he was a spy will catch the eye of those who have always yearned for a more excitig life than the ones they presetly lead. I have your blog posts tagged in the Flipboard app so I read your posts regularly.
    Just thought I’d add my two cents, I was previously a magazine editor and syndicated columnist and write for myself- going through frustrations of writer’s lamet at the moment- know my material as good as memorized but just can’t force myself to sit and write. Almost tempted to strap myself to the chair to force it. My editing skills are trying to trump my ability to let the manuscript flow and edit later. Must remember to never expect a perfect first draft! Thanks so much for your reply, hope I helped some, if any!

    Reply
    • I believe people buy books in three steps, Juliet. These are no different for printed books in a bookstore, or ebooks online. The first attraction is the cover, so they pick it up. Then they read the blurb, and if they are still interested, they will glance at the first chapter, or thumb through the book, before making a buying decision.

      Nothing much has changed, except that traditional publishers know this, and work very,very hard at the 3 first impressions, offline and online. But many self publishers have a long way to go yet to come to grips with this.

      Anyway, good luck with your writing. :)

      Reply
  • The second blurb is vastly better than the first, but that wouldn’t be difficult to achieve. It could be more condensed, it is somewhat stilted … and it needs editing. And that’s the copywriter’s version.

    Reply
  • Thank you for your many helpful articles on writing, though I disagree about your second blurb, only because of the five grammatical errors I immediately stumbled over: I’d assume that the author also did not understand them. “Imagine” would have to be “Can you imagine” to make the sentence a question.
    “where to do not anymore” should be “where they do not any more”.
    “what they have done or had not” should be “what they have or have not done”.
    “others” is plural, so it should be “throughout their whole lives” (not “life”), and that sentence cannot end with a question mark as it isn’t a question.
    Perhaps, as the previous commenter mentioned, a copy editor would be helpful too :) Thanks for giving me a morning puzzle (*trying not to mention your misplaced commas*). Best wishes!

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment, Maggie. Yes, I agree there are errors or changes that could be made to this text. However, as I noted, this text was used as an example, and also that it was purchased on Fiverr, obviously for $5, which is really on the cheap, so hence the result. But I also suggested paying more for a better job.

      The thrust of this post was not perfection, but to highlight the need for some self published authors to think about improving both their covers and book descriptions, by making a modest investment in hiring people with the appropriate skills.

      Reply
  • Excellent information Derek, thank-you. As I will be publishing my first novel this year I still need to find a book cover designer – who did your’s it’s brilliant. I had never thought of a copy editor for the blurb though so thanks for the heads up. These are both small but highly important things for any author to remember.

    Reply

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