Authors and publishers who want to sell more books should look to librarians for suggestions. Every single day, we see patrons selecting one book over another. We help them make decisions of what to check out and what to pass up. Here are some tips to help your readers find your book and choose it over another one:
- PUT THE SERIES NUMBER ON THE SPINE. Surprisingly, many publishers do not include the series number on the book at all. Every single day, I answer questions about which book is next in a series. I don’t mind helping at all, but how many students are NOT asking for help? How many are simply passing up your series because they don’t know which one is first?
- USE SIMPLE COVER ART WITH LOTS OF NEGATIVE SPACE. Negative space means a lot here. In my experience, good-looking cover models or close-up, simple line drawings are the most successful. Also, sticking with one or two colors (plus black and white) also helps. Some of the most popular books in my library include Flinn’s Beastly, Garcia’s Beautiful Creatures, Collins’s The Hunger Games, Bodeen’s The Compound, all of which feature lots of negative space and monochromatic covers.
- USE COVER ART THAT REFLECTS THE BOOK. Heard in my library–“Is this supposed to be Annie? She’s supposed to have dark, curly hair, not blonde!” “When does Sophie wear this green dress? She never wears that!”
My students hate it when book covers don’t go with the book, and we often talk about how frustrating it is when you as a reader don’t know which character is depicted on the cover. Cover art is not always designed to go with a particular story. Considering the number of “cover couples” out there right now, it’s obvious some publishers make good use of stock photography. What a shame that authors do not always have control over their own book’s cover art. The cover is the first (and sometimes the only) thing a potential reader sees. Do everything you can to make it count.
- INVEST IN A PROFESSIONAL BOOK TRAILER. I know that the effectiveness of book trailers is controversial. I can only speak for myself and my library, but every time I show a well-done book trailer, the kids go wild for whatever book it is. I can’t keep it in and often end up ordering more copies because of it. In my library of 6th-8th graders, book trailers are golden. No matter how many I show, the kids always beg me to show “just one more.” I use 10 book trailers each year to do a lesson on summaries every year just before our state test. The students have always said mine is their favorite of the 15 test review stations.
That said, do NOT rely on cheesy, fan-made trailers, which are sometimes so bad that they could have a negative effect on your book. They are not all terrible, but many, many of them are just horrid and will make your book look awful. All the more reason to counter-balance the bad ones with a very well-made trailer.
- PUT A SUMMARY ON THE BACK COVER OR DUST JACKET. It’s surprising to me how many books do not contain a summary on the book itself. Books without summaries tend to only contain a quotation from the book or words of praise from other authors or reviews. If I haven’t read the book (alas, I can’t read everything) and there is no summary, how are readers supposed to know what it is about? An unknown plot is a gamble. If potential readers don’t know what your book is about, how likely do you think they are to put the book back and pick something else?
- GENRE SHOULD BE OBVIOUS BY LOOKING AT THE COVER. My fiction section is organized by genre, as are many bookstores. The chances of librarians and booksellers placing your book in the wrong place increase when we can’t easily tell what genre it is. The same goes for readers. If they are looking for a mystery, and your mystery book’s cover art makes it look more like science fiction, they are more likely to pick something else. Something that looks like a mystery.
- WATCH YOUR LENGTH. In my library, students definitely consider a book’s length when making book selections. Unless you are writing for reluctant readers, a good length is 300-450 pages. Any more than that, and you risk limiting your audience to only the very best readers. In middle school, only a small number of students are really looking for books more than 500 pages (although a very select few do ask for those every now and then).
- PAY ATTENTION TO LINE SPACING AND WHITE SPACE ON YOUR PAGES. I love reading so much that I read professionally. Even so, I still sigh a little when I start a book with a small font or tightly-spaced lines. I also get a small thrill when I start a book with lots of white space or widely-spaced lines. I’ll finish it faster because my eyes can read longer. Imagine how a 14-year old kid–who may be still trying to decide if he likes reading–feels when he sees pages that are heavy with text. Do you think he will still choose your book when this other one also looks good and won’t give him a headache or take him a month to read?
- KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. Your protagonist’s age should be the same or slightly older than your target audience. High school readers don’t want to read about 12-year olds. Middle schoolers don’t want to read about fourth graders, but they don’t mind reading about other middles or high school students.