Recently on Gab my Uprising Review co-editor and podcast co-host Stephen Willis hosted an AMA on book marketing. This is because in addition to being an author he also has plenty of experience as a professional marketing consultant. It was a good AMA though not as many people showed up as I thought would, but it did get me thinking about marketing books. It got me reflecting on some of what I had learned over the past almost five years now since I started writing Autumn Leaves. It also got me thinking about what I’m going to do for my next book which hopefully will be out this fall.
Stephen covered many topics that would be of interest to anyone writing a book and trying to make it a success. He covered everything from using keyword searches on Amazon to Facebook advertising. All these are things you will find yourself thinking about but really, we didn’t talk about what I consider the most important things you can do to market your book.
So I want to talk today about two parts of book marketing that most people don’t even really look at as marketing. Rather most authors (or at least new authors) tend to look at the name and cover of the book as elements of creative expression rather than as tools they will need to use to get attention for their book.
First let’s talk about the name. Back when I published Autumn Leaves in 2013 I was a very green writer. I knew a lot about how to write, but I didn’t know anything about how to sell, and that should really have been a skill I was working on along with my ability to tell a good story. I bought into the notion that if you tell a good story people will tell each other, your book will become a success. I was going to rely on word of mouth.
That might work a little bit for some people, but it didn’t work for me. And the reason I don’t think it worked is because no one knows what the hell Autumn Leaves means. See it was a name I chose based on the notion that during the Early Modern period of Japanese history, while they were still under Sengoku (forced isolation) Edo, what is modern day Tokyo, was made nearly entirely of wood and paper and was highly suceptable to arson. And that’s what the book is about. It’s about catching an arsonist. It’s got a fire marshall detective who is personally asked by the royal family to catch the arsonist, a suspicious ronin in town to fulfill a vendetta, a beautiful geisha struggling between what she wants and what is expected of her, and a precocious young woman obsessed with the past and finding a husband. I thought this made a pretty good novel. And it needed a cool name. So I went with something literary.
Especially since I didn’t do a basic search of Amazon. Turns out the title Autumn Leaves is shared by about a half a dozen books full of pictures of leaves in autumn. So I changed the title to Autumn Leaves: A Novel of Old Japan. That helped a little, but it didn’t really solve the search problem. (The fact that no one knew about it was it’s own problem, and it’s own topic for another essay).
The second problem I had with the book is that I had so much going on in the book that I had no idea what to put on the cover. So I made another big mistake – I designed it myself. Now, I’ve actually gotten quite a few compliments on the cover from people but that doesn’t change the fact that just based on the cover, no one knows what the hell the novel is about. See below:
This is actually the second iteration of the cover. The first had a white background, which I thought looked better, but against the white of Amzaon it made the book itself seem nearly invisible. So I opted for a dark gray background… With red lettering…. Another big mistake. It’s hard to see anything. The second problem is that even if you could see the sun, the kanji and the leaves what the hell does it mean? It’s pretty, but it doesn’t tell you anything about the book.
Thus I’m convinced in the future I will be hiring a professional to redesign my cover. It needs it. It deserves it. I love the book, and I want others to as well. If you’re a novice writer just entering the space, shell out the extra $250 and get a good cover. It’s one of the most important marketing decisions you’ll make.
For my other two books, The Storm Fishers and Other Stories and Andy the Ninja I tried to be more specific and descriptive in chosing the title. This brings up something I’d like to talk about that is of a unique concern to people writing genre (SFF, romance, mystery etc…).
You have an additional burdeon when creating your title and cover. You have to let the audiance know your book is a part of the genere. Specifically you have to let your reader know what they are getting when they purchase your book. Romance novel covers are nearly interchangable, same thing with space opera.
So for those types of novels, it might be best to not stand out. Especially as you are starting out. You want your cover and your title to show your potential audiance their money will be well spent.
There is a lot more to be said about marketing and we’ll take it up more on the Uprising Review podcast so check that out to stay up to date.