Archives: Selling a Book

Marketing begins with an immediately accessible concept. As more books go digital and jacket art becomes a less important draw to readers, your title becomes your best (or worst) marketer. Look at the New York Times Bestsellers list each week: you’ll see common words repeating almost formulaically by category. How can one tap this formula? Simply by paying careful attention, even just looking at your own bookshelf or Kindle queue. Here are some of the top-selling titles we found to guide you in the right direction. Some might surprise you!

1. Guide to, Ways to, How to: 1,638,764 / 194,230/ 584,472

Practical titles caught us as the most prevalent: promising to fulfill something you need. But you don’t necessarily need to have written a self-help book to use these phrases.  Toby Young’s memoir How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, a spin-off of the famous prescriptive business title: How to Win Friends and Influence People picks up on these buzzwords. Even fiction authors can take advantage: think of Melissa Bank’s breakout book, The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing.

Get creative with nonfiction help titles too by remixing classics like “What to Do When…” (119,112 in Search Results on Amazon) or calls to action, like: “How to Start…” (107,615 in Search). Readers browsing for particular information, whether for personal or professional interest, will respond to both the authority of a “How to” title and the originality of your spin on it.

2. Lives/Life: 1,665,413/1,665,455

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry: A Novel, Life Beyond Words, My Horizontal Life, The Secret Life of Violet Grant… We were surprised by the number of books on bestseller lists containing these words. Three possible reasons: the word “life” implicitly suggests an arc, or progression, or wholeness to a story; it caters to voyeurism, an intimate look at someone else’s life; and finally, it brings a kind of drama through that voyeuristic lens. Many readers appear to respond to a title that feels both honest and sensational.

3. Children: 1,649,100

Everyone love talking about kids: Their kids, other kids, genius kids, and “those darn kids!” So it’s no surprise “children” is a popular search title. There are plenty of self-help books on how to raise a child (The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children). However, other popular fiction writers are also quick to play to our parenting sensibilities, like bestselling YA author Ransom Riggs’ novel Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, or Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children.

4. House/Home: 1,124,405/481,749

A house: one of the most basic units of life. Houses and homes are close to our hearts as well as our wallets. A self-help or style book focused on the house or home would do well to include these keywords, but even fiction books like House of Leaves by  Mark Z. Danielewski and Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch can capitalize on the ubiquitous and comforting nature of these words.

5. Perfect: 1,057,687

Are we more perfectionist than ever? Apparently so! Popular book titles reveal a lot about human psychology. Using the word “perfect” seems to automatically guarantee a better shot at bestsellerdom, from the book-to-film, A Perfect Storm, to self-help (and in this case self-published) bestsellers, like Creating Your Perfect Lifestyle.

5. You/Your: 776,534  / 486,158

Frame the topic of your book around a well-placed “you” or “your” and you have immediately established a connection with potential readers. You can go the more traditional route: Seeing the Big Picture: Business Acumen to Build Your Credibility, Career, and Company, or… Welcome to Your Brain and Don’t Look Behind You are playful takes on this tactic.

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Lately, I’ve been admiring the craft of representation in my friends and colleagues. One agent with whom I’ve had the opportunity to work has been particularly inspiring. Like many agents, she’s witty, charming, and able to make wise decisions and thoughtfully field questions at an impressively fast page. There’s a subtlety to her manner that I can’t quite describe, except to say that her emails never jar me; never rub the wrong way. Remarkable, because being an agent requires both delivering good news and bad, and often disproportionately. This person has achieved a certain delicacy with both – never over-promising, nor glossing or muddying her words. But what I admire most in said mysterious agent? Read more »

Marketing yourself to find an agent or marketing your book to find a reader are two sides of the same coin. All the same rules apply. If you’re weak on either side…the journey becomes much more trying.

An agent can usually see marketability in a proposal right away. Does this book fall within a greater context of other books that have fared successfully? Is there a clear reader for this book—is that readership wide enough? Is the author well-regarded or well-connected? Where is the evidence of future readers?

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Books are made on word-of-mouth.
At least those books that receive critical acclaim or top the bestseller charts. Think The Help or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and countless others.

This is more than publicity. This is the unquantifiable magic of human capital. No matter how much you spend, it can’t really be predicted.

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A tweet can make a difference.

I see this happen all the time. But many writers I’ve advised to blog and tweet, will grieve: “no matter what I do, I don’t see anyone coming to my blog!”

But then, suddenly, one day, one hour, and within ten seconds, that changes, and one of the most influential Twitterers falls upon your blog, and tweets about it to his thousands of followers. And suddenly, you see 20 new follows and an unprecedented spike in your web traffic; if you’re published, maybe even a spike in your Amazon ranking.

In publishing today, there is no such thing as “build it and they will come.”

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I was speaking with a young friend of mine, an artist and aspiring children’s book writer, about his day job: the one that pays the bills, and a necessary evil for most creatives. I’ve encountered three types of people in my life. The first are those who grow up with a hardworking parent — by hardworking, I mean a hospital doctor, a successful banker or lawyer, a diplomat, or a parent who worked multiple, more menial jobs to make ends meet. These children tend to follow in those footsteps, often making great sacrifices, because hard work and often, the compensation for it, was the greatest value they were taught. As the great filmmaker Michael Apted said, quoting a Jesuit proverb, about his now famous 7 Up series, “the coal miner’s son becomes the coal miner.” To a large degree, don’t you find this true in yourself, in those you know?

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Categorized: Authors and Writers

Why Book Blogs Matter

I recently interviewed with a blogger I like, and met on Twitter, on how I see book bloggers changing the business of publishing, and why social networking, or utilizing social media for actual networking purposeshas become a new way of “storytelling” for authors. You can read the rest of the interview here.

Q. How do you see the role of social media play­ing in book mar­ket­ing today and in the future?
A. 
I believe that suc­cess­ful books are made on the basis of word-of-mouth: whether your book club, a friend or fam­ily mem­ber, a movie some­one loved that was adapted from a book.

Word-of-mouth has never been quan­tifi­able. Nei­ther has social media.

Nor has pub­lish­ing ever really been all that inter­ested in quan­tifi­able value—that’s not where our pride is.

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Here is the last segment of this week’s social media series before we say sadly say goodbye to Man of la Book. If you missed prior posts in the series you can find them here and here. And we’ll be back with more interviews with authors, bloggers, and publishing experts on in our next series on Authors and Social Media, coming soon.

First question: are there any favorite author Twitter feeds you follow? Why?

My favorite authors to follow are Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself), Chuck Palahniuk (@chuckpalahniuk) and Jason Pinter (@jasonpinter). They talk about writing, life, research, and you can always find them engaging with their followers.

It seems that the most popular tweeters constantly a) tweet constantly and b) link to breaking news, blogs, etc. According to your profile, you are a book blogger, engineer, “wood worker,” father and husband. How is that you can also tweet with such enthusiasm?

My secret is that I’m pretty good with technology. Combine that with obscene laziness and you find good solutions for such issues. I use the cotweet online utility to send out tweets at intervals (30 min. to 1 hour), but check Twitter several times a day to answer questions, interact with others or see what I might be missing (sometimes not much, but that doesn’t stop all of us on Twitter from checking anyway).

But don’t be fooled: it takes great patience, persistence and hard work. Though often a great substitute for real work.

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Authors on Twitter: A Weekly Series
In the next month, I’ll be interviewing authors, book bloggers, and other experts in the entertainment industry on best practices for using Twitter to grow a following, in all of its myriad promotional and informational ways. I’m launching this series with Man of La Book, who I first noticed on Twitter. His tweets encouraged me to look, to link, and to read–whatever he was telling me to. And at 3,000+ followers, I couldn’t have been the only one who felt similarly compelled…

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With a bit too much time on my hands one day recently, I decided to conduct a poll on the most overused terms in the industry. Fortunately, the exercise proved fun, if not helpful: the 10 editors and agents I asked must have been procrastinating too, or eager to vent their job frustrations, have a cathartic laugh among colleagues feeling the same pain, because I received 10 responses in the span of 5-10 minutes. (I want to hear yours, too!) Here they are:

platform
electronic
price point
platform
“spec it up”*
a buck a book **
platform
zeitgeist
voice
“show don’t tell”
fresh
accessible
heart-wrenching
stunning
platform
sexy
mediagenic***
positioning…
and platform

Anyone see a trend?

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