How to sell books (part 1)

books on shelfIt’s a widely accepted view (I’ve read it in so many places I can’t even remember them all, let alone list them) that there are 3 main drivers that books book sales:

  1. Write a good book (a great one would be even better) get it edited, proof read and properly formatted
  2. Get a professional cover designed
  3. Put together a compelling product description (or blurb) for the book

Now obviously I would say that I’ve already achieved no.1 (there’d be no point in this Big fat Experiment if I thought my books were rubbish) and I’ve recently completely overhauled  the blurb for both The Loyal Servant and The Senior Moment. But I’ve been holding off on redesigning the covers as I knew what a big job it could be. But as the experiment is all about going the extra mile, sleeves rolled, muscles flexed, I finally accepted the mission.

Covers that work for ebooks
There are a few key elements that should be considered when designing a cover that will not only fit the book you’re selling, but also work well online (whether that’s at Amazon, Kobo, iBookstore or Smashwords). Here’s a lits of the big ones.

What’s on the tin
The image/design should fit the genre – there’s no point in having a pink cover featuring a woman in high heels swinging a handbag if you’ve written a gritty noir-ish thriller. The cartoony pink thing would work with cozies (more popular in the US than the UK, hence the spelling), but the only way for a reader to know they’re getting what they hope for when they click on that thumbnail image is making sure what’s on the tin matches what’s inside. I know it’s plain common sense, but the same mistakes are made over and over again

A sense of story
It also helps if the image picks up on elements from the book – a character or a location or an important object. You don’t have to be literal, but getting a sense of the story from the cover never hurts (didn’t someone once say something about a picture painting a thousand words?)

Fit for the front table at Waterstones/Barnes and Noble
It must look professional. This can be a tad controversial – what seems like a swanky bells and whistles cover to one person might look completely amateurish to another. And that’s just down to taste. But what you can’t do is throw something together in Microsoft Paint or even worse, Powerpoint (!) and think that it’ll cut the mustard.

One of the most neglected elements of cover design and the thing that will identify an indie author as an amateur faster than anything is bad typography – not just the use of unsuitable fonts (please: no more Comic Sans) – but also the positioning of the title and author name and the technical stuff like kerning and leading (basically the space between letters and the space between lines, respectively).

You have to be honest when you ask yourself whether your cover would look out of place in a long line of ‘also bought’ thumbnail images.

The Miniaturist
Talking of thumbnails… there’s no point in beautifully rendered titles and author names if they’re unreadable when the image is resized to postage stamp dimensions. Some people may say that any other text should be excluded from the design for this reason too – you just can’t make it out. But I think the addition of a tagline or a glowing quote from an established author adds to the professional look of a cover, without it an image can seem strangley naked.

Black and white
Choose colours that display OK in black and white. I’m not sure what the statistics are for readers browsing Amazon et al directly from their ebook reader (ie NOT from a tablet or via their laptop) but it doesn’t do any harm to cater for them when considering the elements of your design

All of which leads me to the redesign of The Loyal Servant. The cover has already been through two iterations (you can see them both here) but the one I’ve been using for quite a while now didn’t really suggest to a casual browser (they do exist, don’t they?) that the book was a political thriller set in Westminster. So I fixed that. I also tweaked the design for The Senior Moment so that the font choice and word placement matched more closely than they had previously – I wanted to make it clear both books are part of the Degrees of Separation series.

So now… the big reveal (I feel strangely nervous)

The Loyal Servant


The Senior Moment

I’d love to know what you think.


Self publishing and discoverability & an introduction to the big experiment

Old typewriter

I heard an amazing statistic at the London Book Fair last week: 30,000 books are published every week. That’s every week!

Writing a good book is hard. Publishing it (at least if you choose the indie route) is easy. Getting anyone to notice once it’s out there is proving to be more and more difficult with each day that passes. That goes for traditionally published books too. We all want discoverability. But what are we prepared to go through to achieve it?

With this blog I intend to chart my progress while I attempt to gain some visibility for my books, focusing on one book in particular – the one I am about to write.


I’ve spent months researching the ‘best’ ways to market ebooks, running around like an over-excited puppy from one fabulous sure-fire technique to the next without actually implementing any of them. One thing I do know: there’s a hell of a lot of work involved whichever way you go and for possibly very little reward. Tactics and scammy practices come and go, real traction takes time, tireless enthusiasm and probably a little luck.

Given the graft involved, I have always chosen to subscribe to the opinion that there’s no point in marketing if you only have one book to sell. Much better to write the next one and don’t start all that marketing nonsense until you have three to sell. That way all the effort can work three times as hard. That’s the theory at least. And I have to admit it really appealed to me – I could put off the evil marketing deed for another day.

So while I’ve seen self publishers get one book up on Amazon, plug it to within a millimetre of its life and watch it rocket up the bestseller lists, I’ve been sitting back, marvelling at their achievements and doing precisely nothing to emulate their success. And so, as I’m nearing the completion of book three…

It all changes here.

It’s time to roll up my sleeves and get stuck in.

Week by week I will report back on which techniques I’ve tried, how they’re working (or not) and whether it’s possible to sustain them and still have the time (and energy) to write the next book.

Speaking of the next book… it’s time to start a new series and though I’ve had a number of ideas, I’m not sure which one will fly (or at least not sink without a trace). So this big self publishing experiment will follow the evolution of an idea through to a finished novel. I’ve not exposed my writing process to any kind of scrutiny before, so this will be quite a departure. And scary as hell.

I’ll list the resources I’ve used, websites, books, seminars, podcasts, whatever and you can decide which ones might suit you. Maybe you’d like to start a big self publishing experiment yourself.

Be warned: it might be a bumpy ride. Better hold on to something.