The climate of writing and publishing has changed dramatically in the last few years, with more books being published today than ever. According to Bowker, traditional print book output grew six percent in 2011, and that publishing mainstay and largest genre, Fiction, turned around a multi-year decline with a 13 percent increase—a growth spurt driven almost exclusively by a strong self-publishing market. According to Kelly Gallagher, Vide-President of Bowker Market Research:
“Transformation of our industry has brought on a time of rich innovation in the publishing models we now have today. What was once relegated to the outskirts of our industry—and even took on demeaning names like ‘vanity press’ is now not only a viable alternative but what is driving the title growth of our industry today. From that standpoint, self-publishing is a true legitimate power to be reckoned with. Coupled with the explosive growth of e-books and digital content – these two forces are moving the industry in dramatic ways.”
In other words, there is more competition than ever to get your work read and enjoyed by others. If you have contracted with a publisher and they own the print and electronic rights to your book, even if you give input, they will have the final say about how your book appears to readers. But if you are an independent self publisher and have retained your rights, you are the one in charge of catching the eye of your reader. And to do this, the same way you would want to dress up for a new job interview, you will want to take care to “dress up” your book to have its best possible chance in the current publishing climate.
You can’t put a sweater on your manuscript and click a cute photo (well, maybe you can), but you can focus on a few key elements to make your work as attractive as possible to potential readers.
Write a Compelling Story
This, of course, is the “biggie” and goes without saying, but many times when we think we have written the very best story we can write, there is still plenty of room for improvement. When you are ready, give your manuscript to a few trusted readers who you feel will give you clear, constructive feedback. Also, at some point, have a professional editor go through it to help you pin down the structure and conceptual soft spots. Find an editor that fits within your budget and use them to full advantage. Consider editing as a long-term investment in your book.
Formatting the Manuscript
For your print version, format your book as if it were formatted by the slickest New York Publishing house. Include a complete Table of Contents and front matter. Use headers and footers in the chapters and sections. Leave plenty of white space for the reader and use an easy to read typeface. Begin each chapter on its own odd-numbered page so that the beginnings are always facing the reader. A good way to decide on your format is to find a book that you feel has a layout you would like to see in your own book and use that as an example. Just about any format you find can be done using Microsoft Word.
For your ebook version, you won’t be able to use the headers, footers, and page numbers because ebooks consist of free-flowing text. But if you use photographs in your ebook, because of the now-prevalent color ereaders, always use color photographs in the ebook version if you have the choice. Also, a linked table of contents in your ebook makes it easy for the reader to maneuver back and forth through your book. Otherwise, it can seem cumbersome to the reader.
A well-formatted book creates a slick, professional look to your book, and caters to your reader. They will appreciate it, even if they don’t realize it. A poorly formatted book will likely be noticed by the reader.
Create an Enticing Book Title
One thing that can draw a reader to your book is the title. The title should relate in some way to your story, and hopefully, provide a hook for the potential reader/buyer. Make a list of titles you think may work for your book. Look at bestseller lists and try to think why those titles work. Try out titles on your friends and family to get their reaction. But in the end, your title must work for you, your book, and for the reader. Coming up with a good title that will entice your reader can be fun, and difficult.
Create a Pickable and Clickable Cover
The first thing a potential reader will notice about a book besides the title is the book’s cover. If they see it on a bookstore shelf, you want them to pick it up. If they see it on an online bookstore webpage, you want them to click on it. The cover gives the reader her first impression of the book, and as the author, you want it to be a positive impression.
If you are an independent self-publisher, you are in charge of your cover. You can do it yourself using design software, or if you are not inclined to tackle it yourself, there are many book cover designers you can find for reasonable prices with a little searching. Whichever way you go, create a cover for your book that entices the reader to reach for it, either by hand or by mouse.
Put together a promotion plan before your book is published and revise it as needed as you go. These days, it is easier to promote your book online by building yourself a platform that includes social media, websites and blogs, and promotional tools that are made available through online booksellers, such as Amazon’s free promotions, which will help with your book’s visibility and sales. Get into the habit of consistently promoting your work in some way. Try to do at least one thing a day that will help promote your work.
Even with consistent reading and research, it’s difficult to keep up with today’s fast-changing marketplace, but focusing on these key elements for your book, will help your book compete in its best light as the climate continues to change.