As a book professional I deal with lots of different personalities. An author phoned me a few days ago seeking help with an already published ebook that wasn't selling well. I get calls like this all the time. According to most of these callers, "Writing a book that sells well is easy. Right? Just look at all those rich authors like Stephen King and that woman who wrote 50 Shades of Grey. They're selling a ton of books without really doing anything."
After a good chuckle, I start asking questions. I also look up their book on Amazon while we're talking. I want to see the cover design, analyze their title and subtitle, and skim through the free preview. I've been in publishing for a long time , and I'm an avid reader, so can usually get a feel for why the book is struggling just by looking at these things.
As a book professional, what am I looking for?
Here's the list:
- Does the cover look professional and is it genre-appropriate?
- Is the title too long or unpronounceable/difficult to spell? Is there a subtitle? If there is, does it help to clarify what the book is about?
- Is the text formatted professionally in the free Amazon.com preview?
- Are there typos and grammatical errors?
- Does the story grab you from the first paragraph or is the reader treated to boring background information, overuse of adjectives, poor sentence structure, verbs that don't agree, etc.?
Let's expand on these
Does the cover look professional and is it genre-appropriate?
First, the cover. If the cover looks "homemade," that's a potential reader's first clue that this book might not be all that good. Why? Because the author/publisher didn't care enough to make sure the book's first impression was a good one. If the cover doesn't adhere to what's expected for books in its genre, that's another warning flag showing the author doesn't understand what his or her readers are looking for. Finally, a poorly done cover sends the subliminal message that the book is a substandard product.
Title and Subtitle
Next, the title. Back to the conversation I mentioned earlier. The book in question was a fantasy story with an unpronounceable title. While fantasy books tend to have made up words for many things, it's probably a good idea to create a title that's easy to search for (i.e. spell) and pronounce — otherwise no one will ever be able to find the book. I also recommend using a subtitle for all books because it gives you a chance to explain what the book is about and gain some more keywords with Amazon's search.
The free preview provided by Amazon and other booksellers is a great promotional tool, as long as the book has been professionally edited and formatted. This free look has the opposite effect if the book has obvious problems. Many authors think they're being smart and saving money when they bypass book professionals like editors and professional book formatters. They're usually causing potential customers to pass on their books by doing this because the corners they cut make a bad first impression.
Is it well-written and edited?
Using a book professional like an editor will eliminate the problems mentioned in #4 and #5. Editing is the most important thing and author can do for his or her book. There is no substitute for a professional editor. Yes, editing is expensive but it's also necessary and worth it in the long run! Bad reviews earned by poorly edited text will NEVER GO AWAY on Amazon, and they will continually stop potential readers from clicking the buy button. If you spend money on nothing else, save up and pay a professional editor.
Back to my caller
Acting in my best book professional mode, I mentioned all of the above to my frustrated caller. He complained about the cost of using book professionals, and told me he didn't care that readers don't like to read present tense books. He finished up by saying, "I'm tired of dealing with this book because no one will help me with it unless I pay them. If people don't like it, then that's just fine with me."
This scenario is frustrating for me and other book professionals because most new authors don't acknowledge reality. They have a preconceived notion about how things work in the publishing world, and even when they're confronted with reality they just don't want to believe it. I'm sure this author will forget all about our conversation in a week or two and be back to wondering why no one is buying his book.
The moral of this long post? Successful books don't just happen. Successful self-published books have authors who researched the publishing industry and treat their writing like a career. A serious author should create a business plan and budget for each book, learn everything they can about their chosen genre and what their readers will expect from their book. Finally, they consult and pay book professionals to do the things they do best — create a beautiful, professionally written book.