You self-published your romance ebook months or years ago, and the sales have gone soft. One of the great benefits of ebook self-publishing is that your book is a dynamic, living creature. You have the ability to evolve the inner and outer elements of the book over time as you work to connect with readers. Connection is key. You’re working to build the shortest, most friction-free connection between the reader’s desire and your book satisfying that desire.
Let’s review five steps you can take to give your book a makeover. With actions ranging from simple to more complex, you’ll breathe new life into your book. The tips here work on new books too!
Who is your target reader? If your answer is “all romance readers,” you’re probably aiming too broad. Drill down. Imagine the reader who will derive more joy from your book than any other reader. Visualize the reader who will love your story, your characters and your style more than any other. The reader who will give you five-star reviews. Your precise understanding of your target reader will help you clarify how you approach your book’s makeover, and will prevent you from marketing your book to the wrong audience.
2. Check your categorization
Most distributors and retailers allow you to set your book’s category and subcategory. Some, like Smashwords, will allow two full categories. Choose the most specific categorization possible. Some authors make the mistake of choosing the broadest category when a more specific category gets them more exposure to the right readers. For example, Fiction: Romance: Paranormal will get you on three virtual shelves (fiction, romance general and romance paranormal) whereas Fiction: Romance: General only gets you on two. A paranormal fan will go to the paranormal shelf. In answer to checklist #1 above, does your categorization match the reader most likely to enjoy your book?
3. Examine your reviews across all retailers
If you’re averaging 4.5 to five stars, you’re in good shape. If you’re averaging three or 3.5 stars, it’s a clue that something is seriously wrong. There are three likely causes if you’re averaging poor or mediocre reviews, but only the one is easy to fix: 1. You’re suffering from miscategorization (extreme example, an Erotica novel categorized as Christian Romance). You don’t want your book read by readers who won’t enjoy it, or listed in a category that misrepresents the true categorization. 2. Your book isn’t resonating with readers. A few years ago, a 3-star romance ebook could sell relatively well if it had a low price. But today, thanks to the rise of indie ebook authorship and the growing professionalism within the indie romance community, there’s a glut of high-quality low-cost romance on the market. This means that good is no longer good enough. If your book isn’t taking the reader to an emotionally satisfying extreme – if you’re not seeing the words “WOW!” and “Amazing!” in your reviews – then your book probably needs a surgical makeover in the form of a revision. 3. You don’t have a critical mass of reviews, or maybe you have no reviews at all. It takes sales (or free downloads) to achieve a critical mass of reviews. Once you earn a good critical mass of positive reviews, the reviews will drive your sales for years to come.
4. Take a fresh look at your cover image
Let’s say you’ve written the super-awesome book, you’re averaging 4.5 star reviews, but the book is still selling poorly. Maybe it’s time to give your cover a makeover. Readers judge books by their covers. A great cover draws the reader in to take a closer look at your title, description and sample. A great cover makes an honest emotional promise to your micro-targeted reader. It grabs the reader and screams (figuratively), “This book offers the exact reading experience you desire! This book will make you experience the emotional journey you crave.” It starts with the image. If you were to strip away the title and author name from the cover image, the image alone should carry your message to your target reader. If you think about it, images and words are simply symbols of some deeper message or meaning, and a deeper promise. The primitive human brain processes the symbolism of images faster than words, triggering an instant emotional response (like “oh, that’s a saber-toothed tiger, it wants to eat me, I should run,” or “That attractive [gentleman/prince/king/billionaire/hunk/werecreature/rocker dude/nerd/the object of your protagonist’s object of desire desiring your protagonist] looks like he wants to devour her, I want to read that!”). Words require more cognitive brain juice to process, so your prospective reader will process the image before they process the words in your title. Since your prospective reader is scanning a retailer’s merchandising page and viewing dozens of images all at once, anything that requires extra cognitive processing will be ignored in favor of books with images that speak directly to the reader’s desires. How large is your author name on the cover? Make it larger, but don’t interfere with the absorption of the image’s message. A large author name conveys the subliminal message, “This is a big author, a big name, a name I should know because they’re a big author,” and that message will be absorbed like an image before they consciously read the words of your name and decide if your name is familiar to them.
5. Add enhanced backmatter to all your books
One of the most powerful drivers of book sales will be your other books. Most authors end their books with a period and that’s it. That’s a squandered opportunity. Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. They just finished your book and they’re crying happy tears because your book was so amazing. The reader just spent several hours immersed in your story, and with every paragraph and chapter you kept them turning the page, and with every turned page you earned more and more of their respect and trust. Trust is key in the author-reader relationship. Once you earn the reader’s trust, they want more of you. So at that moment where the book ends, tell them what they can read next!
Every novel should have at least three short sections after the end of the book, and a fourth or fifth if you want to earn bonus points. The three key sections include: 1. About Jane Smith – a short short bio that tells the reader something interesting about you that makes you more human, like you live in Dallas with your wonderful husband, two teenagers and a bossy cat and you like to garden in your spare time. Bonus points if you want to include your picture. 2. Other books by Jane Smith – provide a simple listing of all your other titles. If you write series, organize them by series. Hyperlink the books back to the book pages of your website where you offer more information about the story adorned by a large cover image. 3. Connect with Jane Smith – provide your social media coordinates. I’m constantly surprised by how few authors take advantage of this simple platform-building opportunity that helps forge a closer relationship with your readers. Provide full and direct hyperlinks to your Twitter page, Facebook page, Instagram, Smashwords author page, blog, website and private mailing list. Bonus sections: 4. Add a sample to another one of your books. If they liked the book they just finished, which book do you think they’d like the best next? If they just finished a book in series, the obvious answer is the next book in the series!
For more ideas to breathe new life into your books, check out Mark Coker’s free ebook, The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success which identifies 30 best practices of the bestselling indie authors, and includes a case study on how R.L. Mathewson catapulted her way to the New York Times bestseller list simply by changing her cover image.