Judging Books By Their Covers

Juding Books By Their CoversBook covers matter. Every potential reader forms their opinion of a book based in part on their impression of the book’s cover. That opinion helps them answer the following questions:

Is the author credible?
Is the book high quality or low budget?
Was the book professionally produced or created by amateurs?
Does the value of the book justify the price?
Should I buy this book?

In my various roles at Thomas Nelson over the past 20+ years, I have seen thousands of book covers. As an author, one of your responsibilities is to make sure you avoid making common errors such as neglecting to communicate important information that readers hope to obtain from the cover.

5 things a potential reader is looking to decipher from your book’s cover:


Ingredients of a Bestseller

Ingredients of a BestsellerJames Hall’s book Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the 20th Century’s Biggest Bestsellers attempts to do what publishers and authors have failed to do since Gutenberg:  identify what determines whether or not a book will become a bestseller. While Hit Lit focuses on novels, much of what he attempts to do should go into every author’s thinking as they determine what to write, how to write it and how to get readers to buy it.

Five tips for writing a bestseller:

1)      Identify what readers want and need. Bestsellers tend to include similar themes and elements that appeal to common wants and needs of the readers. What are readers fascinated about right now? Readers want to learn something along the way and even gain an understanding of current issues. Readers cheer for characters that take risks and act decisively as they work through conflicts and dilemmas.

2)      Write well. As editor Michael Korda said, “At least half the books on any given week’s bestseller list are there to the immense surprise and puzzlement of their publishers.” If a book triggers an emotional response in readers, they will mention the book to others, which helps boost the book’s sales. Many bestsellers deal with common wants and needs in new ways. While there is “nothing new under the sun” there are new ways of saying things.

3)      Get readers excited. While publishers and authors that have connections with millions of readers have a distinct advantage, they do not have absolute power to drive the sales of an inferior book. The most important thing is getting the book in the hands of influential individuals and communities that have a natural affinity for the book. If they get excited about it they will tell others about the book.

4)      Get lucky. It is easy to find books that are similar to any bestseller, so what caused one to ignite while the others fizzled? A book that provides a new approach to addressing a common need and is in the spotlight just when the urgency of that specific need increases can become a bestseller.

5)      Repeat. The good news for successful authors is that readers that like a book typically want more from that author.

Since much of what determines whether a book sells well or not can’t be controlled, or even influenced by an author or publisher, it makes sense to focus on the few things that can be impacted.

What are you doing to improve the likelihood of your book becoming a bestseller?

The Big Trend in Book Publishing

The Big Trend in Book PublishingTim O’Reilly recently gave an interesting speech and interview at the Tools of Change conference on the future of book publishing. Following are some key points that I took away from them:

  • Obscurity is the biggest threat that authors face.
  • Things change because creative people see problems to solve and are not afraid of the future. The people who face those problems are searching for solutions and turn into problem solvers.
  • Cross-media creators collaborate with others to develop synergies between formats to increase the success of each format – videos referencing the book increase book sales, book references to the videos increase video views (and ad revenue) and a brand’s overall popularity enables it’s owners to explore new opportunities such as events.
  • Reviews are imperative for a book, and now fans are rating and reviewing books on Goodreads more than they are on Amazon. (A good possibility as to why Amazon recently bought Goodreads.)
  • Self-publishing is the wave of the future.
  • Media trends seem to follow cycles where innovative artists operate independently for awhile but then consolidate on the few platforms that are aggregating the most attention; driving traffic for your book is difficult and expensive – especially for the first million viewers.
  • Focus on your vision rather than copying others; it is much more fun to be the leader.

Recent research from Digital Book World points out that authors still look to traditional publishers for the following:

  • A seal of approval to help legitimize their book
  • Sales and distribution into bookstores
  • Marketing to help rise above the crowd

WestBow Press is uniquely positioned to help authors ride the wave of self-publishing while experiencing the benefits that come from being affiliated with a traditional publisher. Look for news on what this can mean for your book in the weeks to come.

What problems are you trying to solve through your writing?
What do you want in a book publisher?

Ten Commandments for New Authors

Ten Commandments for New AuthorsOver my past 20 years in the book publishing industry, I have seen many new authors make the same mistakes. These mistakes seem obvious to industry insiders, which is perhaps why we have not done a better job of helping authors avoid making them. In this era where most new books are self-published, to some degree, an author is responsible for several functions that are normally outsourced to their publisher. As a result, these mistakes are becoming more common.

While not nearly as important as the original Ten Commandments, these guidelines can determine an author’s level of success. (more…)

Book Marketing: Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishers

Marketing SupportOne reason authors want to have their book traditionally published is to capitalize on the publisher’s marketing resources and experience. Traditional publishers, such as Thomas Nelson, have a staff that focuses exclusively on driving sales through advertising, publicity and other marketing tactics. They have connections with various media and sales outlets that very few self-published authors can even begin to develop. These connections can help make a book successful.

Although traditional publishers have a staff focused exclusively on marketing books, most new authors would sell more copies of their books if they were self-published.



What a Year!

It’s that time of year when many of us tend to look back and think of what has happened and what we have accomplished. For WestBow Press, Thomas Nelson and book publishing in general, 2012 has been a year of change and growth.

WestBow Press continues to help a record number of aspiring authors fulfill their dreams of publishing their books. We launched several new services including book signings at Women of Faith conferences, and book signing and stocking packages with Berean Christian Stores. The winner of the second Women of Faith Writing Contest was acquired by a traditional publisher shortly after being announced as the winner, and William Sirls’ book, The Reason, was acquired by Thomas Nelson and has sold nearly 30,000 copies since it was released in September. Perfectly Unique, by Annie Downs was acquired by Zondervan and the new edition has consistently ranked in the top 15,000 on Amazon.

Thomas Nelson’s acquisition by HarperCollins was finalized in July, and HarperCollins Christian Publishing was formed by combining Nelson and Zondervan shortly thereafter. Nelson CEO Mark Schoenwald was named CEO of the combined operation, and all the product groups within the imprints continue to operate as distinct entities with a healthy level of in-house competition. Sales of Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young have continued to gather steam as sales of Heaven Is For Real, by Todd Burpo have slowed.

The book publishing industry continues to experience dramatic changes driven by consolidation and the impact of e-books, online retailing and self-publishing. Pearson, Penguin’s parent company, acquired Author Solutions (Thomas Nelson’s partner in its WestBow Press division), and now Random House and Penguin have announced plans to merge.

This year several new self-publishing ventures were launched. The biggest titles of the year, the Shades of Grey series, emerged from self-publishing. E-books, while no longer growing at a triple-digit pace, are up nearly 50 percent, year to date. E-books also make up over 30 percent of printed trade book sales, which have also grown by over 6 percent.

What events from the past year had the biggest impact on publishing from your perspective—and what do you think will be the big events during 2013?


How to Communicate so People Will Listen

One of my greatest joys is helping authors publish their books, and my mission is to make publishing a great experience. In the course of my work week, I receive hundreds of emails, dozens of phone calls and attend several meetings. Time is my most precious resource.

Every week I am contacted by people who want my time. Many need assistance with something that is important to them. Some communicate in a way that is professional and efficient, making it easy for me to help them. Others seem to quickly assume that I have nothing else to do but to listen to their story, help them think through it and coach them along the way until their situation has been clarified and resolved in the way that best meets their needs. Some even become belligerent if I am not available to pick up the phone whenever they call or if I can’t give them what they want. It is much more difficult to help these people.

I have identified six steps to ensure I am communicating efficiently:

  1. I determine what I really need. Yes, it would be nice if the person or company I am contacting would give me everything I want, but they rarely are in a position to do so. So what can I realistically expect?
  2. I figure out who is in the best position to meet that need. Interestingly, it is not the president of the company, rather it is the person directly responsible for meeting that need. I have found that starting too high in the company does not put me with the person that is in a position to help me.
  3. I discover the best way to communicate with that person. Some people and companies prefer email, while others make it clear that they want you to call them. If they make it easy to find their phone number but difficult to find an email address, they are letting me know they prefer a phone call. Even though I find email to be more efficient, I need to be flexible and set aside my preference to make it easier for them to help me.
  4. I consider the situation from their perspective and determine how they can benefit in the situation. Many times the biggest benefit I can provide is simply offering an issue they can resolve quickly and easily so they can be productive. We all need to perform well at work so helping somebody be more productive is appreciated.
  5. I get to the point. I provide just enough of the story so the person can understand the situation and then I ask for what I want. For example, if I bought shoes but they were defective, I simply say, “The shoes are defective and I want a refund within two business days.” They don’t need to hear about how my morning run was spoiled by the shoes. I have found that communicating clearly and efficiently will get faster results.
  6. I document what I have done and schedule a time to follow up. If I leave a voice mail for somebody I also send a quick email summarizing what I’ve said so there is a formal record of the communication. I create a reminder based on when I said I would like things to be resolved so I can follow up if necessary.

I have also found that these steps help me communicate better as a writer. Identifying how I want the reader to benefit from what I am writing and getting to the point quickly helps keep me focused on writing in a way that people will read.

How could applying these steps help you in your journey as an author?


Getting Endorsements and Reviews

One of the top reasons readers purchase a particular book is the book’s endorsements and reviews. Yet many books don’t include a single endorsement on their cover or have a single review on the major online retailers’ sites.

Endorsements and reviews provide confirmation of the book’s quality and remove uncertainty from the transaction. Online reviews also serve as a point of comparison with other similar products and help the reader quickly make their selection from all the available options.

If you want your book to stand out, you must obtain endorsements and reviews. Of the two, reviews are easier to obtain due to the BookSneeze program we offer in partnership with Thomas Nelson. By posting 50 copies of your e-book on BookSneeze, it is available to thousands of bloggers who read and review books.

Your chances of developing word-of-mouth viral marketing increase with each review. Of course there is no guarantee that every review will be positive so the most important element is a good book that is well-edited and professionally designed.

On the other hand, obtaining endorsements can be difficult and time consuming — especially if you don’t use a proven process — but the increased credibility is well worth the effort. Following are four steps to streamline the process.

  1. Create a list of potential endorsers by brainstorming as many people as you can think of as quickly as possible. List both well-known individuals in the field of your book and other people you know personally who are influential in their circles of influence. Don’t worry whether or not you can get the person to endorse your book — just list everybody that comes to mind until you have at least 50 prospects identified.
  2. Obtain three endorsements from people you know well. These are your seed endorsements that you will leverage to obtain other endorsements. People who don’t know you well will be much more likely to consider endorsing your book if they see that others have already done so (see the “First Follower” video from Derek Silvers for an entertaining explanation of this phenomenon). They also are more likely if they know one of the endorsers so ask your first three endorsers for 10 people they know who might consider endorsing your book and add those people to your list.
  3. Ask for an endorsement from each person on your list. Send a brief letter with a sample of your manuscript, a short description, an example of the two- to three-sentence endorsement you are hoping for and a deadline in two weeks. In your letter, offer to send the entire manuscript. Follow up in one week with a phone call if possible.
  4. After you gather all your endorsements, provide them to your publisher to include in the book and on your marketing materials. When your book releases, send a signed copy to each endorser to thank them.

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