I’ve mentioned before the importance of setting readers’ expectations as part of my article on how I review books. This is a companion article for indie publishers and authors, about what you can do to make sure that your book hits the right target audience, for best reception.
First for foremost, it should be absolutely clear that no book is ever for every reader. Don’t believe me? Just pick a book you cherish, and go to Amazon to read all the 1-star reviews. 40,000 people thought The Lord of the Rings was such a snooze-fest, that they felt compelled to say so on Goodreads. Thousands of people think Harry Potter is juvenile trite. Don’t even start looking at less popular classics, acknowledged as influencing modern literature. Your brain will cringe.
So with this understanding, we can realise also that in order for a book to be well-received it needs to hot its target audience. Those people who would appreciate its style and theme. This is rather ambiguous, so let’s look at the reverse – it should not pretend to be what it’s not, so as not to disappoint people. This is sometimes a bit easier to work with.
In this post, I’m going to look solely on the elements that go on your Amazon sales page (or any other store, for that matter). This is the point that converts people-who-browse to people-who-buy. I’ve blogged about how you get them there on my sales models posts, and there’s always advertising – but I’ll assume that however you got them there has some bearing on your book (and probably used the hook, or other elements below). I’ll use the Amazon page for Murder In Absentia to highlight how I use all those elements to increase conversions (visitors to customers) – and won’t shy away from noting what I’ve done wrong and how I fixed it.
Many words have been written about the importance of a slick cover image. It makes a tremendous difference with how a book is perceived, with an amateurish cover screaming a sub-standard book.
That said, a professional cover has certain requirements that most authors find surprising. Besides quality of execution (can’t be stressed enough), there are two main points that are relevant to this discussion:
Yes, the cover should be a bit bland. It needs to tell the browser (potential reader) at a glance what genre it is, and therefore what to expect. Getting too cerebral, referring to things that only make sense after you read the book, is counter-productive.
- Recognisable at thumbnail size
If you’re an indie author, or even a budding traditionally published author, it’s likely that your main market place is Amazon and other online venues. This means that the cover will most likely be viewed at smaller sizes, and needs to be recognisable at them. High contrasts, large fonts etc all contribute.
(Big-5 publishers, on the other hand, compete for visibility on a shelf in a physical bookstore. This leads to different design criteria).
Take the cover for Murder In Absentia, for example. I’ve done everything wrong with the first cover. It was a commissioned illustration that would only mean something to those who finished the book and looked like a blue smudge on Amazon lists. Yuck.
For the redesign, I found the wonderfully talented Ellie Augsburger (tell her I sent you). I told her only “ancient Rome, detective mystery, and fantasy”. She came up with a couple of concepts, we refined one them a bit, and got to the gorgeous modern cover: a mysterious figure in front of a Roman aqueduct, with a griffin on top. Images, contrasts, atmosphere, titles, everything coming together to tell the reader – no matter the image size – what to expect inside.
You’d think that was simple, right? And yet I often see things like “Fluffiel and the Squeaky Toy: A Fluffy tale (Fluffiel Tales Book 1)”. It’s displayed in the format of “title: subtitle (series)”. However our intrepid author has not given us much beyond fluff, and the repeating terms don’t actually add anything.
Instead, consider the following:
- Title: a unique(ish) name that would be easy for readers to communicate, write and search for. (Yeah, guilty on that one, what with the whole Latin theme).
- Subtitle: elements that will help highlight the tones and themes or the novel. ‘Togas, daggers, and Magic’ works well.
- Series: don’t repeat the title or subtitle, but find something meaningful that will link the books and add a bit more info. I hope ‘Felix the Fox mysteries’ would one day be as recognisable as ‘Dresden Files’.
Description Copy / Blurb
At a bookstore, once the cover catches the browser’s eyes they’ll likely read the back blurb. On Amazon, this is the book’s description (or copy, to use the publishing term). With a physical book, you have one full page and need to work with your cover designer to lay out elements in the correct fonts for maximum efficacy. With Amazon, you have a few lines above the fold (the ‘read more’ break), plus other elements further down.
So here is the structure I came up with, which seems to provide the best flow (and, hopefully, conversions):
- Hook / tagline: This is the single line hook of what it’s all about. This should immediately set the context.
For Felix mysteries, it’s ‘This is a story of Togas, Daggers and Magic – for lovers of Ancient Rome, Murder Mysteries, and Urban Fantasy‘. Right off the bat, you know what you’re getting into.
It can be hard to come up with something concise. It certainly took me a while. Authors seem to be able to pour out 100,000 words a lot easier than reducing them to a 300 words blurb, let alone a 25 word tag line. But make no mistake, this is even more crucial than your opening line.
These are one-line, highlight reviews (the full ones go below). These act as ‘social proof’, showing that others have already tried the book and found it good. It makes the reader feel more secure in making a purchase.
Keep this to 2-3 of the absolute best reviews: either ones that provide good value (‘just like Harry Dresden in a toga’), or ones from reputable sources (such as well known authors or magazines).
- The blurb
Your main blurb goes here. A lot has been written else where about the art and craft of writing a good blurb. I’ll just say: keep it short, punchy, and intriguing. This is not the place to survey your varied characters and the wonderful world you built for them. This is the place to expand the tagline, and show the themes running through the book.
Awards, notable citations, whatever. Anything that adds more depth to your argument that this book is worth the reader’s time. (More than money, in this day and age you’re competing for people’s time. More on that in another post).
And yes, these go at the bottom. You may be very proud of your awards (and you should be!), but for the potential reader this sort of social proof helps more when they already now what to expect. Putting “award winning” and “best selling” at the very start is meaningless, because everyone claims that. Rather than make them gloss over it, show the actual awards once they’re already convinced this is for them.
All it takes is a little HTML wizardry, and you can make it all looking snazzy and eye-catching, further reinforcing the message you want to send to the reader.
Editorial Reviews & Categories
This is the last section you can control in the Amazon page. Put your best reviews in more detail here (the ones you used for their highlights above). They will help with keyword loading on the page and the rare reader who reads them, but mostly they get skipped over.
Categories are important, and aid in reaching the right target audience for your novels. A lot has been said about them elsewhere, which I will not repeat here.
Sample / Opening
Lastly, and not strictly related to the Amazon page, are the opening lines or first chapter of your book. Quite a few readers might check out the ‘Look Inside’ feature, or download a kindle sample. Your opening should make the readers keep reading (duh), but more than that they should reflect the tone of the rest of the book.
A lot of words have been written about how attention spans are declining and how you should grab the reader by throat and not let go, jamming the action right in their faces. But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Not every book is a thriller, and not all readers are looking for such (I mean, look at you – you’ve made it so far down this fairly technical post). Your opening should reflect the rest of the novel in tones and themes, so that readers who choose to continue will not be disappointed.
Not every book is for every reader. You need to set expectations correctly to draw in your ideal target audience, and prevent disappointments (and thus avoid bad reviews).
The natural progression in a book store is: eye-catching cover, engaging blurb (with hook, copy, and social proof), and opening lines that will keep them reading on the way to the checkout. On Amazon, the concepts are similar even if the mechanics are different. A cover that’s recognisable at various scales, and tells the reader immediately what genre it is; A hook, blurb and social proof laid out well on the page, with keywords worked into the titles and text; a sample that will keep them reading and buying.
Once your page is optimised to encourage (the right people!) to buy it, all you need to do it drive traffic to it. That can be done through advertising – which is the subject a later post.
Hope this was of value to you. You can (and should) take a look at the Amazon pages for top selling books in your categories, and then at your Amazon page. Bear in mind that ‘big name’ authors and publishers may get away with things you can’t, but do analyse the differences and see what you can improve.
Then tweak, and test, and tweak, and test, while you keep writing more novels. If you need help optimising your Amazon page, just reach out.