Monday, September 10, 2012

Selling Your Book - Hook, Line, and Sinker

fishies
“Poorly tied knots will mean lost fish and aggravation.” - Killroy’s Fly Fishing

Readers are not fish, but if you want to entice them to nibble on your novel, you need to take as much care as an OCD fly-fisherman tying knots. (Note: I know nothing about catching fish, but I’ve learned a great deal about hooking readers in the last year of self-publishing).

The Hook
I have great respect for my readers’ time. They have busy lives, and if I want them to spend hours and hours reading my novel, I need to show them, up front, that it will be worth their time. A great (professionally designed) cover is required to visually draw people in. But readers are literate creatures—they want words that beguile and speak to them, and it is your words that will hook them.

I’m a big fan of tag lines, those pithy nuggets of story that light up the curiosity centers of your readers’ brains. If you blanch at the idea of distilling your novel into a paragraph-long blurb, try writing 12 words or less that describe it. No, seriously, try. Even if you do not use the tag line in your marketing (but you will), the exercise will encapsulate the key reason to read your novel. Your tag line should work alone, as well as coordinate with your title. Like a good fly-fishing knot, it will take time to craft, but it will be worth it in the end. I’ll use one of mine as an example to deconstruct how/why it works:
When everyone reads minds, a secret is a dangerous thing to keep.

From just 12 words, the reader knows the novel is science fiction/paranormal (“everyone reads minds”), there’s tension between the (unnamed) character (with a secret) and the world (where everyone reads minds), it’s specifically intriguing (a telepathic world— how does that work?), and it’s high stakes (“dangerous”). So I’ve communicated genre and conflict with a specific twist. Add a title (“Open Minds, Book One of the Mindjack Trilogy”) and a succinct blurb (95-130 words max), and you’ve hooked your reader. Even more importantly, you’ve made a promise. You’ve whispered into your reader’s ear, I can intrigue you in just twelve words—imagine what I can do with more.

How can they resist?

The Line

“If you want to fish, go where the fish are.” - Everyone Who’s Ever Tried To Fish

You can have the most alluring of marketing packages (cover/blurb/price), but if you try to catch fish in a desert, you’re going to be bummed. Likewise, don’t keep fishing in the same tiny creek that runs along the edge of your backyard (translation: don’t keep marketing to the same people over and over; social marketing can help, but keep it primarily social). You need to constantly cast your line into new ponds to find new fish.

Sounds exhausting, yes?

Fortunately, Amazon does a lot of the casting for you. Their algorithms (and to a much lesser degree, other online retailers) perpetually try to match your book to readers. But their algorithms are fueled by two things: sales and reviews. Book bloggers are a great source of reviews, as well as representing new ponds to fish in (note: blog touring on your friend's blogs is fishing in your back yard again - some is fine, but you need to reach beyond that). Some paid advertising, combined with discounts (including a free book, when it's the first in a series), can be extraordinarily effective in spurring sales, but look for recommendations (Kindle Boards is a good place to start) as to which ads can deliver results. The only ads I've ever seen deliver, personally, are Pixel of Ink (which you cannot purchase, but your book may get picked up if it's free) and Kindle Fire Department. The best ads are ones with subscription services, i.e. readers have subscribed to receive emails about books that might interest them. This is an audience that is looking for books to read. Perfect! The fish are ready and waiting, and if your hook is well baited, they might just bite.

And The Sinker

“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” - Henry David Thoreau

You’ve found your reader and hooked them with a great cover/blurb/tagline. They’ve paid for your novel (or perhaps downloaded it for free) and they are expecting some entertainment.

You need to deliver on that promise you made in your hook.

This is how you turn a customer into a fan. Because we’re not just after readers, are we? We want people who will be moved to laughter and tears and write five paragraph reviews and tell all their friends. That connection with the reader, at least for me, is the reason I spend crazy amounts of hours toiling over my manuscript. How do you create a novel that will turn readers into fans and build the word-of-mouth that is the only true marketing your book needs? This is where the craft of writing comes in.

A recent survey shows that the most successful self-publishers spend 24% more time per word than their less successful self-published colleagues. I believe this is the first key to creating a book that sells well. The second is multiple rounds with critique partners (preferably writers like you, not family/friends). I usually have at least three rounds of critiques, with 2-5 different critique partners each round (and I return the favor whenever possible, not least because I learn as much by critiquing my friends’ novels as I do from their critiques of mine). My novels are profoundly better with their help. Write, revise, rewrite again until that novel is shiny and ready for the world (and a good copyeditor wouldn’t hurt either). Keep your focus on delivering a satisfying story for your readers. Then publish, and let your readers decide if your novel has them clamoring for more. If not, learn from their feedback and write another one. And another. Want to know the secret to doubling your sales? Write another book. When you have a dozen fishing poles in the pond, you’re much more likely to hook a passing reader.

Refining your craft is a lifelong process. Your first book will not be your best (at least, it shouldn’t; hopefully you will continue to learn and improve). However, every book you publish should be the best you can produce at that time.

Your readers deserve no less. And dedication to a quality story, more than anything, will keep them coming back for more.

What do you think are the key factors in selling a book?

~*~
Susan Kaye Quinn is the author of the bestselling Mindjack series. Her most recent releases are the short novellas The Handler and The Scribe. You can find all her books on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and iTunes. Susan's business card says "Author and Rocket Scientist," but she spends most of her time writing, because she loves it even more than shiny tech gadgets. When she's not writing, you can find her wasting time playing on TwitterFacebook, and her blog.


31 comments:

  1. Thank you for the advice, I think the best way to market is advertising and blog tours. I would also like to mention you have to constantly spread your nets far to reach readers you've didn't reach in previous tours. I'm going through this now.

    Also, don't forget relaunching, we self-published authors have the luxury to relaunch an older book. Especially, when it becomes relevant in the news again.

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    1. Advertising and blog tours work for some books, less so for others - advertising spots and blogs vary widely in their reach. But I like the image of spreading your net far! That's exactly the right perspective to take, especially when it's much more comfortable to keep your fishing boat close to home.

      Best of luck with your book(s)!

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  2. Great tips Susan. I think they apply to both traditionally and indie published book. Your hook is really great. I need to figure out a good one for my story too. It's hard but you make it seem easy.

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    1. I worked, literally, for weeks on that hook, trying several DOZEN out before I found the right one. The hook for the second book ("When you control minds, only your heart can be used against you") was even harder. It's a sign that something is working when it LOOKS easy, though, so that's good. :) Good luck! I don't think you'll regret the time you put into it.

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  3. I'd say having a good 'product' would be key to selling a book. Perhaps it won't make a difference for people buying one of your books, but I think we need to be thinking long term and getting return readers! Do you think finishing your books to a high standard is just as important as a catchy title, a pithy cover and a succinct tagline?

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    1. Sally - A high quality book is the "sinker" part of hook, line, and sinker. And it's the most important part. In fact, having a great title/cover/tagline can work AGAINST you if you don't deliver on the promise of those things, because you've set the reader's expectations high, then failed to follow through. That's what gets books thrown against the wall (figuratively speaking, in the ebook era)! :)

      A high quality book can succeed without any of the marketing package. But why handicap it, when those things are in your control?

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  4. You made writing the tagline look easy. Ha! I wish.

    Great advice.

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    1. Part of my evil plan to lure you into trying it. :)

      Thanks for stopping by!

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    2. To clarify: I'm trying to lure Stina into writing a tagline. I would never lure her (or anyone else) into self-publishing. That's something you need to do with your eyes wide open!

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  5. This is some great advice. I've actually been working on a tagline for NEVERLOVE since I'm in the midst of trying to entice readers. And your mention of time is important. Time is a very important investment. Unlike requesting a refund and getting your money back, time is something that can't be retrieved once it is spent. And in enticing a reading with something quick and delicious, I want them to feel that reading my book was worth the time spent.

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    1. I have no doubt that reading your book will be time well spent - because I've spend time on your blog and seen your writing there. But each new purchase is (hopefully) someone completely new to you - you have to start from scratch each and every time, with every reader. Which is why the tag is so helpful, on both sides.

      Can't wait to see what you come up with! :)

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  6. such a FABULOUS post, Susan. I really hope Indie authors out there are paying attention.

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  7. You are a blog writing ninja!

    Great stuff as per usual :)

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  8. Great stuff! Thank you so much~
    I need to work on my bait!
    Such an informative post, I really
    enjoyed it!

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    1. It will be time well spent, I can promise that. Good luck!

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  9. What a great way to put it, I love that analogy. It works perfectly! To me the most important thing is knowing my readers and understanding what they want.

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    1. I agree! And publishing, getting your work out there, getting reviews, is the best way I’ve found to truly understand who your readers are.

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  10. Great post, Susan. I feel like whining but it's so hard to come up with a hook! But I know how excited I feel when I read a great hook, and if I want readers to be excited about my book...

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    1. It is really tough to do. If you need something to get you started, I would take a couple that you like and deconstruct why they work FOR YOU (the film world is probably better for this than books). Then try to reconstruct that same feeling about your own work. Here's a couple I like (besides my own!):

      Erin Brockovich: "She brought a small town to its feet and a huge corporation to its knees."

      I Am Legend: "The last man on Earth is not alone."

      Highlander: "There can be only one."

      Notice how the title works with the tagline.

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  11. Such a fantastic post! And I have to say, I love your hook, btw!

    I took a writer's intensive down in Florida in January, and they gave us the tagline task. I'd never tried it before, and actually found it easier to do than the pitch or logline. Where with everything else, I had to juggle character and story and theme and ... with the tagline my poor tired brain went straight to what my subconscious must have considered to be the most important thing. Who knew it was going to be character :)

    Thanks for sharing, Susan. Your posts always rock. And Laura, this was doubly delightful because I got to read the indychat transcript too :)

    Best,

    Martina

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    1. Sometimes our subconscious is SO much smarter than we are! :) I like the idea of unhooking from trying to hard and just letting things flow. Thanks for the great comment!

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  12. Great article. I find that writing that blurb is not only a great exercise in writing, but it's also fun. It's like flash fiction. Can I tell it all in so many words? Or like Scrabble. Regardless, breaking 140k words into 12 or 15 is daunting, but with some time and effort, it can happen.

    Still working getting myself out there for the first time, so I'm reading up on everything I can to make sure I get as much out of my first indie book as possible, and I've heard from others that having more than one book is as important as anything; as you said, the more poles you have in the water, the more fish you can catch.

    What's your opinion on having multiple poles in multiple ponds? That is, I have both a mystery (first of a series) and an urban fantasy about ready to go. I'm halfway through a sci-fi adventure, and I'm also writing an erotic short that I'm gearing towards a series of Kindle Singles. I like challenging myself and going in different directions. Could this be a problem?

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    1. Scott - Thanks for the great comment!

      Branching into different genres is an advantage of being indie - in the sense that you're free to do it. And I think there is definitely an advantage there - one story/genre you write may catch wind, while the others aren't as popular. But there's also something to be said for building a fanbase around works that are related. I think you can do both, and I recommend all indies at least start or try a series to see the effect. So, your mystery series sounds like a great idea. Keep on that! But if you want to dabble in other things as well, you never know... that urban fantasy may take off and you may want to write more of that. Indie is all about experimentation. :)

      p.s. You know that Kindle Singles is an apply-only program, right?

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  13. I am struggling to write a good hook. I have written my first novel and submitted the first 50 pages to an agent. She wrote back asking for a hook, then resubmit. The paragraph below is what I've come up with. How can I improve it?
    If someone had told her she would live without sex for a decade, she would have never believed them. She liked sex. Loved it really. But sometimes, life gets in the way of things you enjoy.

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    1. You can improve it with specificity - give your character a name and a defining characteristic (other than liking sex, because who doesn't?). And give us some of the specific reason why should would have to live without sex for a decade - the conflict (and interest for the reader) is in the details. Good luck!

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