Judging a Book by its Cover

My latest romantic suspense series, The Seven Trilogy, came out in 2015 and 2016. The books received great feedback, including a 4 ½ star, Top Pick rating from RT Reviews. They were finalists for several awards, including two Daphne du Maurier awards for excellence in suspense, and a Carol Award. The second book in the series won the Word Award for best inspirational suspense novel in Canada in 2016 and book three won a Cascade Award for best published contemporary fiction.
I was equally thrilled and mystified by what was happening with the books.
Thrilled by the great critical response, and mystified that the starred reviews and awards did not translate into sales. I conducted a poll recently in an effort to discover why. More than a hundred people responded, and about ninety percent told me what I had long suspected, that the problem was the covers.
I love the publishing company that put out this series, and the designer on the team is fabulous, so the fault is mine as they used my ideas and suggestions in coming up with the covers. If I had consulted a marketing expert, he or she would have told me that while the covers were great, they missed my target market entirely. The novels looked more like fantasy or science fiction than romantic suspense, so any potential readers of my genre simply passed them by.
I am extremely grateful and excited to report that the books are about to come out with brand new covers. Time will tell if that makes a difference in sales, but at least at that point I will feel as though I have done everything I can to reach the right market.
We’re told repeatedly not to judge a book by its cover. Of course this directive doesn’t usually refer to actual books, but to situations or people who may not be what they appear to be on the surface. The trouble is, just as readers have been doing with my books, we very often do just that. We don’t open the “book” to see what is inside; we make snap decisions about whether or not we want to read something, or eat something, or buy something, or even get to know another person better based on our initial first impressions.
As a believer, this sobers me. Pondering the situation with The Seven Trilogy has led me to ask myself two questions: Do I make snap decisions, especially about others, that keep me from interacting with them the way God would have me do? And does the way I live my life and therefore present myself to others, draw people to the God I claim to love and follow, or cause them to pass Him by?
My prayer is that, when others look at me—at how I act, speak, and think—my “cover” will accurately represent the Holy Spirit within me. As C.S. Lewis once said, “We must show our Christian colors if we are to be true to Jesus Christ.”
I’m thrilled with the bold colors of my new covers (shown below); may my life, inside and out, reflect always the bold colors that mark me as a follower of Christ.

The Seven Series (1)

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3 Questions to find your “value added”

Value-added describes the enhancement a company gives its product or service before offering the product to customers. Value-added applies to instances where a firm takes a product that may be considered a homogeneous product, with few differences (if any) from that of a competitor, and provides potential customers with a feature or add-on that gives it a greater sense of value….Investopedia.com

There you have it, folks – a clear definition of “value added,” a key concept in today’s marketing strategies. If you’re a hotel, your “value added” may be a free breakfast, or bonus loyalty points. If you’re a tire dealership, your “value added” may be a discounted  fourth tire after the purchase of three. If you’re a writer…..ah….if you’re a writer….what if you’re a writer?

I’ve been grappling for years with the idea of my “added value,” and I’ve finally come up with a few guidelines that might help you work on your own. As the definition above points out, we writers offer a fairly homogeneous product – writing – so our challenge is to distinguish ourselves from other writers by offering readers something in our work that makes it stand out as having more ‘value’ than other similar products of writing. To identify your “added value”, consider these questions:

  1. What do my readers want from me that they won’t get from someone else? In the case of my murder mysteries, I relied on detailed accurate information about birds to appeal to my readers, so that reading my novels was like a virtual birding trip. Readers often told me they knew the restaurants where my characters ate, or that they had actually visited the real locations named in my books. That familiarity made the books personal for readers, and even inspired a few vacations for readers who wanted to add bird sightings to their life lists. That’s added value.
  2. Do I provide unique extras along with my book? A common extra is a Reader’s Guide at the end of your book for book club discussion. If you are tech-savvy, you can even offer to “attend” book clubs via Skype or other online meeting platforms. That’s a valuable benefit for many readers! Other extras include links to online journaling or videos that supplement your text. Even questions for personal reflection (and the space to answer them) is a nice extra used by many nonfiction writers in their books.
  3. What does my reader need? Ultimately, “value added” is about giving your readers more of what they value. To do that, you have to know your audience and consider what they would regard as additional benefit from reading your work. When I wrote my memoir about overcoming anxiety thanks to our adopted rescue dog, I included endnotes to refer readers to research into depression and anxiety; I’d found those resources helpful in my own recovery and wanted to share that with readers. I also invited readers to email me about their own healing experiences with adopted pets to broaden the conversation about the therapeutic effects of animals (and three years after the book’s publication, I still get wonderful emails from readers about it).

Have you identified your “value added” yet?

 

Marketing Beyond Your Book Launch

Now that I’ve submitted my latest book to my publisher, marketing is on my mind. I know from past experience with my other titles, the book launch will arrive sooner than I’ll ever feel ready for.

Some authors seem to think marketing fits in a neat little window of time, however, this limited view can inhibit opportunities to move more books for a longer period. Like a “new to you” car, if your title is new to book reviewers, book clubs, libraries, organizations and associations, churches, or book sellers, you have an untapped market potential.

For almost four years now, I’ve researched, accumulated, and culled lists of those who can influence more book sales. Many nights, I’ve stayed up an extra hour or two, so I could add to my lists. To date, I have over 1,200 relevant reviewers, book clubs, libraries, associations, churches, and book sellers organized by genres and specific interests. (I ultimately invested money into training and paying people who could help me organize my lists faster.) I’m now developing relationships with many of these reviewers.

You can do this for yourself, but it does require a lot of dedication and persistence. And there are some important things I’ve learned a long the way. Maybe by sharing, I can save you a few expectation headaches.

Important things to remember about influencers:

  1. It takes time — getting your book noticed by influencers is not a microwave process; it requires crock pot patience. But the good news is, you can put your ingredients in place and let them simmer while you attend to other things. Come back and stir on occasion, and eventually, your efforts can reach a rolling boil if you have quality content. (No matter what you try, if the content is not of interest to readers, marketing will not get you very far.)
  2. There are a lot of reviewers and other influencers out there, but not all are still actively writing reviews, many are not a good fit for your title, and some with smaller followings are actually more effective in their reader reach. Literary matchmaking is one part art and one part due diligence.
  3. Many influencers have a back log of commitments, so it can take months before they are able to get to yours. But just because you don’t hear anything right away, does not mean they are not interested. I recently got this great review from a query I sent over a year and a half ago.

My years of hard work have widened the sphere of influence for my latest book, and my sales definitely reflect it. The foundation and process for generating interest are now in place, and something I can easily duplicate.

Connecting Authors and ReadersRecently, I also realized this was something I could duplicate for others. From my desire to help fellow authors and the publishing industry at large, bookinfluencers.com was born. It bugs me that the closure of book stores has left many readers challenged to discover “new to them” great books. So I’ve created an online community to bring authors, publishers, influencers, and readers together. We put our clients’ books in front of those who can reach more people on their behalf.

I’m not trying to sell you a service, frankly you can do this on your own. But if you are an author who wants to save time and energy while widening your reach, help is available. Check out bookinfluencers.com to find out more.

The important point here is not so much how you connect with influencers, but that you do. Long after that 30-90 day book launch window closes, there are many readers who won’t have heard of you or your title. So don’t give up. Keep at it. Get your book in front of influencers who can help market your book beyond the launch. You never know what one person with a spotlight can do a year and a half later.

Have you had success in getting book reviewers and other influencers to help spread the word about your book?

Crafting Compelling Titles and Subtitles

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Great advice for human interactions. Less useful for actual books.

Not only do we judge books by their covers, but when we read a book’s title we decide in an instant whether the book is for us or not.

As you’re crafting a title for your own book, keep in mind this general rule of thumb:

1. The title communicates the book’s “premise.”

2. The subtitle communicates the book’s “promise.”

Now that I’ve put it out there, I’m sure you’re scrolling through all your favorite titles that break this rule. Fine, be that way.

What can be learned from the thumb-rule, is that the best titles communicate to a distracted book browser something of what is inside the book.

The title lets the reader know the general premise of the book:

And the subtitle lets the reader know what the book promises they’ll get from it:

So as you craft your title, you want to be sure that the reader knows what the book is about (premise) and what’s in it for them (promise.)

Of course there will be those bestsellers that no one can account for, like Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz, but it’s more likely that you’ll serve your readers and your book if a reader who’s scrolling through titles on Amazon, or flipping through pages at Barnes & Noble, can know—in an instant—that your book is for her or him.

I learned this rule about titles and subtitles from my savvy friend Jonathan Merritt a few years ago…after I’d published a bunch of books.

Here are my titles (excluding collaborations/ghost writing). If the title is a win, credit goes to the publisher. If it’s a fail, probably mine. So judge me…

Which of my titles communicates what you’ll find inside and meets a need readers actually have? Too late to change ’em, so hit me with your best shot…

This post first appeared on Margot’s blog, Wordmelon

Defining Real Writing Success

The new year has come and gone, and we’re in the full throes of fresh starts, new goals, and updated resolutions. This has me thinking about the definition of success — and more specifically, defining real writing success.

Most authors would say success is selling thousands of books, which means reaching thousands of people. It’s a worthy goal and necessary if you want to write professionally, long-term. But lately, as I’ve considered the time and energy required from an author, I realize the importance of balance. I’ll explain.

The more contracts I sign, as speaking engagements multiply, and because I’m selling more books, I’ve gotten a glimpse of the future. And it can go in one of two ways.

I don’t struggle with self-discipline as some do; instead, lately I’ve noticed my struggle to relax. When I can’t unwind, it’s time to make a change.

I have a choice. I can pour even more of my time and energy into my writing and speaking career, and to a degree, I need to, but I must exercise caution. As a natural workaholic, I could slip into a regular routine of fourteen to seventeen-hour work days. Because of deadlines, commitments, and special opportunities, there are times when I need to pull a writing day like that, but if it becomes the norm, I’m in danger. There’s a fine line between protecting your writing/speaking time and neglecting your family and close friends.

Life is Better with Friends

Recently, I imagined what it might look like to work myself into a frenzy, reaching success as many would define it, only to realize I might stand alone at the top. If we don’t have friends and family to share and celebrate with, what are we working so hard for?

This epiphany has put me on a mission to usher some balance back into my life. I adore the days I get to sequester and write, but I equally love spending down time with my family and friends. Both are valued activities to me, and they deserve equal time.

My work ethics and integrity are intact, but I am choosing to slow down enough to breathe  deeply, while on this crazy, thrilling, and daunting writing ride. To me, defining real writing success is simple.

I have goals to write and sell many more books, but part of my planning strategies now include more time set aside to enjoy walks with friends, cups of coffee with people I respect, and to laugh often with my family. I want to catch up on life, and I believe by doing so, I’ll have even more to write about. I don’t want to “make it” as a writer, only to look around and discover I’m perched in a precarious position — standing all alone.

How do you maintain balance between your writing and real life? 

One Surprising Thing I Learned About Marketing

I recently participated in a marketing class taught by my former WordServe agent, Alice Crider. She gave us the tools needed to take control of our careers and the motivation to create opportunities.

Release Day

There was, however, one thing about the class that shocked me. In fact, if more writers knew about this before they got started, then they might have reconsidered their career choice. Here it is:

To sell your books, you need to be a likable character, and one of the requirements for becoming a likable character is to be polarizing.

Polarizing: to cause (people, opinions, etc.) to separate into opposing groups.

This means that if I am polarizing, then there will be people who don’t agree with me, or they could, gasp, even dislike me.

I hate conflict though. Can’t we all just be friends?

The problem with this wish is that as a writer, if I want anyone to stand with me, I have to first stand for something. I have to know who I am. I have to believe wholeheartedly in what I’m saying. And while this may push some people away, it’s going to draw those who agree with me even closer. They will become my true supporters.

For example, Jen Hatmaker recently claimed that gay marriage can be holy. You can’t get more polarizing than that in the church. She was attacked, and her books have since been banned from certain stores. But here’s the interesting part. She has endeared herself to her audience so completely that her latest book is now in the running for Goodreads Best Book of the Year.

Once I understood this, I decided to not only keep yoga in my next novel, but to use it in promotion. My editor was afraid some Christians would be offended, but I explained why I teach yoga and how it is both permissible and beneficial for me. She accepted with the stipulation that I write a reader letter for the beginning of the book.

beach yoga

I shared that letter yesterday online, and it was definitely polarizing. I received a personal message saying that I’ve been warned, and now they were going to wipe the dust from their feet and leave me behind. But I also got messages from people wanting to review the book. Besides that, one yogi reviewer told me Finding Love in Eureka is one of the best books she’s ever read. I’ve found my audience.

My point here isn’t to argue who is right or wrong. It’s to encourage writers to be strong. Of course, that’s going to include being knowledgeable and respectful. (You’re goal isn’t to tick people off but to say the hard things that you might not want to say for fear of ticking people off.)

You’re the expert. You’ve been given your passions and desires for a reason. Don’t let your message be watered down when trying to please people. You have something unique to offer that won’t resonate with everyone.

In fact, Jesus said, “Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” There’s probably never been a more polarizing man in all of history. And His book, you know, is a number one best-seller.

 

4 Things You Can’t Not Know Before You Self-Publish

This post first appeared on Margot’s blog, Wordmelon

Whenever I have a client who’s self-publishing, especially those who are just dipping their toe into the world of publishing for the first time, there is a host of information I want them to know. I can’t communicate all of it, but here’s what you can’t not know:

  1. Editing Process

When a contracted manuscript is submitted to a traditional publisher, the process will typically involve:

  • One or two rounds of developmental editing
  • A round of copy editing
  • Several meticulous rounds of proofreading, looking for the tiniest errors: an extra space after a period, a “zero” that’s really a capital “O,” or a “there” instead of a “their.”

Readers have been trained to expect an error-free product, and even a few errors can cause the reader to lose confidence in the book, and set it down. While this rigorous level of precision isn’t always possible when self-publishing, your readers will be best-served if you put this important work into your book up front.

  1. Book Cover

Whether readers will be browsing through a bookstore, scrolling through thumbnail images on Amazon, or buying from a merch table, the cover matters. It both signals what’s inside and whether what’s inside has value for the reader. Even if you have the technical skills to create a cover using your photo editing software, don’t. Resist the urge. There are tried and true principles relating to images, colors, font styles, and font sizes that make for great covers. Let a professional design the cover of your book.

  1. Book Design

Have you ever noticed that the inside of a traditionally published book, all the pages of content, have been designed? Care and attention have been given to the precise measurements of margins, as well as the size and shape of fonts in the text, chapter titles, headers and subheads. None of this is accidental. Each choice was made to serve the book and serve the reader. Although certain independent publishing options might aid you with book design, it’s up to you to ensure that nothing about the design creates a barrier to a reader reading your book.

  1. Books Are Hard to Sell

Before you sink your own dollars into publishing a book, have a plan for how you will market and distribute the book to your target audience. Don’t just throw it up at Amazon with millions of other books and hope for the best. You’ve been warned.

The purpose of your book is to serve the reader, and a well-written book with a sharp design does that. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.