Home > Writing > So What Really Sells a Book?

So What Really Sells a Book?

I’ve reached some preliminary decisions regarding cover art. It’s a huge boon to have good cover art – I can’t find anyone who disagrees. But I still see books rated much higher than mine in the ranks on Amazon that have downright horrible covers. So what gives? Is it the blurbs? In most cases the blurb is inconclusive, at best. In some cases the blurbs are outright horrible and filled with errors, yet the sales are vastly superior. Back to WTF.

Reviews come to mind next. First my definitions:
Editorial Review – this is a review done by a reader or a blogger (or somebody at a reviewing firm). It is not necessarily attached to a book at a point of sale with a rating associated with it. Typically these are longer reviews with more thought and, potentially, spoilers attached to them.

Reader Review – these reviews are done at the various points of sale on the web and have a rating assigned to them. For exapmle, Wanted on the Kindle has two 4.0 rating reviews. There is often a brief bit of text associated with these as well.

When I launch Ice Princess, the sequel to Wanted, next month I’ve got a couple of editorial reviews ready to launch with it. This is a first for me – coordinating a book launch like that. We’ll see how it goes. Anyhow, the point is that I’ll have some data to assimilate at that point about launching a book with an editorial review. A few of my other books (Voidhawk, Human Nature, and Wanted) have editorial reviews as well and they get the most sales for me. So yeah, editorial reviews help a lot. New Beginnings, book 1 of my Vitalis series, has no reviews associated with it yet (some pending), and similarly I have no sales on the Kindle yet (Smashwords and Barnes and Noble, on the other hand, have seen some action).

Reader reviews give the book a rating on a scale (typically) of 1 to 5. The higher the number the better. Of course individual tastes may vary, but it stands to reason that the higher the rating and the more people that rate it, the better the book will be exposed and received. I believe this can sway a potential reader into buying the book. It’s reassuring to know that a few other people thought it looked good enough to buy – and if it’s not well then at least they weren’t the only one suckered into buying it!

Cover art?
Editorial Reviews?
Reader Reviews? Uh oh…

So how do we get reviews? Editorial is done by finding bloggers and people willing to do just that, then going out there and submitting your book to them for consideration. Typically there’s a wait involved. That’s okay, good things come to those who wait (or so my bottle of ketchup tells me).

As for reader reviews…that’s a bit trickier. Short of begging and pleading there’s not much we, as writers, can do to get our readers to take time out of their lives to click a button and jot down a few words. But for the readers out there reading this – support your favorite authors (or those who haven’t made your personal favorites list). Take that time to rate their stories you’ve read and let them know what you thought about it. Heck, “Good book, thanks!” is a great review if you don’t want to take time explaining why Shirley should have stabbed Brian after he slept with Tammy instead of asking to join them next time. Or just click the number of points / stars / whatever you think it’s worth. This helps the writer in many ways: it helps them by letting them know whether they did something right or not and it helps to potentially draw in more sales. A writer without feedback (and sales ARE a form of feedback) will lose interest sooner or later.

If you’ve got all of those (and they’re positive), but still not making sales then there’s not much left outside of shouting to the world that your book is out there and the said world should check it out.

In spite of the links and the preference for mentioning my own material, I’m not trying to drive anyone to buy my stuff (at least not any more than usual). I’m using it as examples of the data points I have, and how my barely modest success can be of use to others struggling to write and make a name for themselves. Oh – there is also no relation or involvement in any of my books to a Shirley, Brian, or Tammy, or at least none that I can recall.

  1. September 8, 2011 at 12:43

    I think the title of the book matters more than people give it credit for and also I find that there are two types of readers–the ones who love character and the ones who prefer plot. For me, if I think it’s plot driven it really doesn’t matter what you do, I won’t read it. I just don’t like that approach to writing. If someone says in the review that the characters moved them then I might be down for sample. And I love two and three star reviews better than four star reviews. Most of the time they’re more revealing.

    • September 8, 2011 at 12:47

      Great points and I won’t disagree with any of them! 2 / 3 star reviews often explain the reasons why the rating is what it is, to your point.

      I suspect you’re on to something with the title angle as well. Methinks we writers might out-think ourselves when it comes to some titles.

  2. September 8, 2011 at 13:03

    I’m finding that it’s not getting four and five star reviews that matters. You have to generate quality reviews. I’d rather have 10 reviews that say slightly different things rather than 50 reviews that say “I just couldn’t put it down.” I actually got a really good two star review. I actually use it at my website as a pull out quote, just because it describes the level of the story superbly. The stars just didn’t matter. Please stop by http://ulharper.com/ and don’t read anything but the pull out quote and you’ll see what I mean.

    • September 8, 2011 at 13:15

      Some good thoughts there! I’d argue (weakly) that the quality of the review is in the thought put into it, rather than just the rating assigned to it.

      But, given the dearth of reviews I’ve seen, I’m trying to motivate readers (including myself) to leave reviews behind. Starting them out with a rating and a few simple words is better than nothing at all. Sure, I’d love to see dozens of thoughtful review with appropriate ratings, but given the current state for most people we’ve got to start with baby steps.

  3. September 8, 2011 at 13:24

    yeah, you’re right there, without question. Good luck!

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