1. Avoiding book cover conventions of your genreYou’re strolling through the cookbook aisle of a bookshop. As you scan the covers featuring close-ups of delectable dishes, beautifully set tables, and laughing celebrity chefs, you stop when you come across a dark cover featuring gold embossed lettering and some sort of shadowy creature. You think to yourself, “that must have wound up on the wrong shelf,” and continue on your way. The moral of this little scenario? A book cover that stands out might catch a readers’ eye, but if it grabs their attention because it looks out of place, they’ll quickly move on. While this might sound obvious, it can be a tricky line to balance. Your cover should immediately give readers a sense of what genre it falls into by incorporating at least a degree of that genre’s visual conventions. You can simultaneously ensure your cover stands out by including key story elements, and, of course, making sure it looks polished and professional. Consider these regency romance covers: A quick glance immediately reveals a few conventions: a woman with her back to readers, flowers, Victorian dresses, and Garamond-ish typeface. Chances are you didn’t need me to tell you you were looking at historical romance covers to immediately know the genre. Now let’s take a look at some of the contemporary romance novels currently topping Amazon’s Best Sellers list: Here we see illustrated covers and bold typeface that fill the majority of the space. Contrasted against the regency covers, these feel decidedly modern. Whether you’re hiring a professional cover designer or going the DIY route and designing your own, look through other books in your genre to get a sense of what readers will expect to see. Then when you decide which story elements to feature, work it into the framework of those expectations.
2. Giving too little — or too much — info in the book descriptionBook descriptions have a reputation amongst authors — and not a good one. After writing and revising every single detail of your book, it can be hard to accurately judge what information is totally necessary to include in the book description. How can you really sell your story to readers without at least mentioning the various subplots that bolster the main narrative arc?! A good way to walk the tightrope of providing enough information without veering into dreaded infodump territory is to use this basic structure:
Start with “The Hook”There are a few different approaches you can take in regards to the hook. If you have an effusively positive review, you can start with that as a way of delivering prospective readers social proof that others have enjoyed your book right off the bat. Alternatively, you can give readers your book’s elevator pitch, incorporating key details such as genre, major themes, series name (if your book is a series installment), or any awards you may have won. Here’s a great example of an opening hook that includes theme, accolades, and genre from The Raid by Steven Konkoly: A Border Patrol murder exposes a high-level conspiracy in USA Today bestselling author Steven Konkoly’s explosive thriller.
Follow up with “The Blurb”Here’s where you want to continue painting the picture for readers by providing them with key story details. Need help defining ‘key details’? Well, a good rule of thumb is to stick to these three elements:
- The protagonist. Give readers a birds-eye view of who they are.
- The conflict. What is the major challenge facing your protagonist?
- The stakes. What does your character stand to lose?
End with “The Wrap Up”Here’s where you want to give readers an idea of who should read your book. Are you writing a historical romance with shades of sci-fi? Let readers know that fans of Outlander will enjoy your novel. Writing a dystopian novel with teenage protagonists? Mention that your book might make a great gift for teens who enjoyed Maze Runner or The Hunger Games. The wrap up is another great place to include positive reviews, if you’ve got them!
3. Not setting up a mailing listIt’s not easy to build a readership as an indie author. It takes a lot of effort and determination. There may be no shortcut when it comes to marketing to (and connecting with) readers when you publish your first book. However, you can make life a lot easier the next time you publish a book by setting up a mailing list. That way, when publication #2 comes out, you’ll already have a list of people to tell about it. And if they already read and enjoyed your first book, they’re going to be much more likely to buy your second book. (And, of course, if everyone on your mailing list rushes to buy your book, you’ll help it climb of the Amazon Best Sellers list, allowing new readers to discover your latest title, too!) For a step-by-step guide on how to set up your own list — as well as tips for getting people to sign up to it! — check out our free, ten-day course on mailing lists.
4. Not seeking pre-release book reviewsAmazon gives special treatment to new publications. But if you don’t take the time to lay the groundwork for a strong book launch, you may squander those precious first days after hitting the ‘Publish’ button. One way to ensure you hit the ground running is to seek out pre-release book reviews. This way, the extra visibility your book receives upon launching will not only ensure readers are finding your book, but the social proof provided by your reviews will encourage them to also buy your book — providing it with even more visibility, so on and so forth. Here are a few ways to find pre-release reviews:
- Reach out to existing followers. If this isn’t your first book release, you may already have an existing base of readers. Or perhaps you have a mailing list set up, or an active social media account. Reach out to those followers and offer them advanced reader copies (ACRs) in exchange for early user reviews.
- Book review blogs. There are tons of bloggers out there who are willing to provide editorial reviews in exchange for an ARC, and you can find a whole directory of them here.
- Reedsy Discovery. Ahem, allow us to plug for a moment our own book review platform where authors can submit newly published books and get matched up with a reviewer in their genre for $50. Learn more here.