Hands Tied: What Sells?

  What is the selling point of a book?  For you as a reader, what makes you purchase a book?  

Is it the smell of a book?  Maybe that sounds weird, but I know people who think new books have a certain smell.  Maybe it’s the texture.  Do you like holding a book in your hands?  Do you like the smooth texture of the cover?  

A lot has changed in the industry.  People don’t necessarily need to hold a physical book in their hands.  E-books are the craze.  You can read on your computer, your Ipod, even your phone these days.   So, what actually sells?  Or rather, what compels you to buy something?

Obviously, we know that branding is a big thing.  Having a big name in the industry always helps.  But, do you take as much of a chance on an unknown author?  If that is the case, why?  

Are you drawn to a cover because it has been designed well?  Is that the selling point?

Or are you drawn to the blurb, the description of a book?  I think as authors, we’d all like to think that our work speaks for itself.  That’s probably not the case.  It is tough out there.  And to survive, we have to promote like crazy.   But, even before you promote, what is the “selling point” of your book?  What will draw a reader in?

If you are an indie author, you may be concerned about how to sell your book.  Or do you feel your hands are “tied”, so to speak?  They are not.  You have a lot of control over the finished product.  

Okay, so let’s say you have written the book.  You have had it professionally edited.  And you want to publish.  Let’s say you’ve decided not to publish traditionally, not to bother submitting to numerous agents or publishers.  The competition is fierce.  We all know that.  It’s not impossible exactly, but for this article, I’m just going to assume you have decided to be an indie author.  Well, look how easy it is to enter the Kindle Direct program.  Just upload your file, fill in the details and presto!  You’re published.  

Well, before you even get to that point, you have to seriously consider your book’s appearance.  Are you going to use a standard Kindle cover (i.e. title and author and little else) or are you going to put some thought into it?  These days, you can buy a cover or have one made for a price.  Mostly you won’t see anything for less than $150 to $250.  But, that is for a very nice cover.  There are, however, cheaper options, but there are no promises.  You may still get a pretty basic cover, though the artist might have bothered to do flowery script.  I did run across a cheap option recently.  A colleague of mine decided to try it, and she seemed to like it.  http://goonwrite.com/  I think there are $30 covers.  Yeah, that’s pretty cheap.  There are free options as well.  If you go through a service to distribute a paperback novel (LULU or CreateSpace), sometimes you can use their cover wizards to create something really good.  However, you have to find a good image somewhere online, and make sure you have the rights to use it.  Some sites I have used are freedigitalphotos.net, Stock Xchng (http://www.sxc.hu/), stockfreeimages.com, pixabay.com, Fotolia, Photobucket, morgueFile.com.  If you use Dreamstime.com or Shutterstock, you’ll probably have to pay for using their images.  You must, of course, still request permission to use the photo and credit the photographer as the cover artist.  And, you have accept the fact that some images will look more grainy while others will be perfect.  There is a bit of hit and miss to the whole thing.  But, there are cheap options.

The biggest question to ask in this process is…will this image correctly portray the vision of the book?  Will it convey an aspect of the character or explain a plot element graphically?  Is this cover visually appealing?  Will a reader like it?  All of these are complicated questions, but they do help in selecting the right cover.  Whether an author decides to buy/download an image or hire out to have the cover done, it has to be marketable.

So, readers, what about a cover makes you want to purchase a book?  If you’re a romance reader, do you want to see a couple or something romantic?  If erotica, does it need to be sexy?  If it’s science fiction, does it need to fit the genre?  Well, of course.    

I think a cover is a good selling point.  I know it is for me.  But, I don’t rely entirely on that as a reader.  I want to be drawn to the blurb as well.  The description of the book is nearly as important as the cover.  If it doesn’t appeal to readers, then why bother?  Do you want to read a blurb/synopsis that is full of typos or makes little sense?  No, probably not.  These days, even in traditional publishing, we tend to have to write our own blurbs (I guess only the big wigs hire out for that now).  LOL.  So, you want to convey what happens in the story without giving spoilers away.  Entice the reader, but be realistic about the description.  Promise, and deliver.

So, before you hit ‘publish’, these things should be considered.  What sells?

I’d like your input too, readers.  What appeals to you?  What makes you pick up a book at a store?  Maybe the title grabs you.  That is a good part of it.  The blurb and cover should as well.  

And if you’re an indie author, you have to make your book competitive.  So, what will you do to make that happen?  If you care about your work, you’re going to put as much care into its appearance.  

I will post my covers below.  I hope I have made them appealing enough.  I, like my stories, am a work in progress.  I learn more about this business every day.  It has been an exciting adventure, and I wouldn’t take any of it back.  Happy reading, readers!  And authors, I hope I have given you something to think about.  :)

Books written as Marie Lavender

 Books written as Erica Sutherhome

Books written as Kathryn Layne

Books written as Heather Crouse


  1. Great covers, Marie (Is that your real name?) Wow! You've published under a lot of aliases. Your covers all do a great job of showing what the book's about and inticing me in. Good article.

  2. What sells a book to me is the blurb about it. I rarely go by reviews since most of those are matter of opinions. Well, I guess if there are a number of reviews that say the book is terrible, I might pay attention and pass the book up. Great article.

  3. I tend to go by word of mouth, then by the cover and the blurb. As a writer myself, it's difficult to judge by the cover, because I know it's hard for some indie authors, when they're first starting out, to pay a high price for a good cover, so I like to go by what I'm seeing posted on facebook or twitter. Or if I've already enjoyed one of an author's books, I'll order more, regardless of the cover. I do read the blurb though. I hope this helps.

  4. Word of mouth gets me to at least check the book out. Then, once I get there, the title first, then the description. Finally, the cover is important but can be misleading so it is least important in catching my interest.

  5. Thanks for commenting, J.P. and Susan! And yes, word of mouth is a very useful tool. That sort of "branding" definitely helps. :)


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