The Writer’s Guide to Making Sure You Never Sell A Book

Welcome, dear reader, to the third and final entry in my satirical guide to failure. Next week, I’ll be back to my serious face.

If you’ve been following along the last two weeks, you now know how to go broke while writing and know how to make sure you never finish a book. However, if you weren’t careful, you might have finished a book, or you might have made the mistake of starting off with a finished manuscript. Fear not! I’m here to help you make absolutely sure that, now that you have that book, you sell as few copies as humanly possible.

This one’s really for the self publishers. Traditional publishers are going to handle editing and cover design (and possibly the title), and – in theory – they should know how get it right. I should add, however, that more and more traditional publishers are expecting authors to do their own marketing…unless you’re already a proven seller, you should expect to be thrown out there to sink or swim on your own. If you are already a proven seller…thank you for taking the time to read my blog. Can I get a review from you?

Note that I could have made this article a single point – do absolutely zero marketing, and throw your book out into the wild with no effort spent in actually selling it – and called it done, but I want to make sure you have detailed steps to make sure you don’t sell anything.

As much as I’ve talked about marketing in this opening, I’ve found it’s very hard to give good marketing advice in a satirical format. I’ll be saving that for a later post. This is just going to cover the first impression you book makes on the reader. For now, trust me that marketing is absolutely essential for standing out among the deluge of books out there, and we’ll cover how to do it later. But if you make the mistakes below, all the marketing in the world is just going to end up being a great way to burn money.

1) Give Your Book a Bad Title

Have you ever heard of a book and wanted to know what it was about just from the title alone? I know I have! I read pretty much the entire Discworld series because the title of Guards! Guards! was so intriguing it got me to read the book and started a lifelong love for the writings of Terry Pratchett, for an example off the top of my head. An interesting and eye catching title is a great way to get readers to pick up your book – after all, the title is the very first impression your potential readers are going to get of what you’ve written.

Which is why we’re going to make a title that is completely obtuse and gives the readers no indication of what your book is about. The easiest way to accomplish this is by making sure the title completely clashes with the tone of your book, to make sure that anyone who’s intrigued by your title is completely turned off. Writing a gritty fantasy novel that addresses the horrors that would exist in a world with both magic and dragons where technology from the fourteen hundreds? Call it “Magic Dragons,” making sure the only people interested in it are people looking for something whimsical and lighthearted.

If you don’t want to go that route, don’t worry, there are other options for making sure your title is as damaging to your book as possible. One way you could go is by giving your book a single noun for a title, especially a common one. The above fantasy novel, could just be called “Dragons,” a word that – when searched in Amazon – returns over 400 hundred pages of books with that word in the title. It will make absolutely sure that even people trying to find your book have to struggle against the deluge of other, more established titled. I mean, could you imagine a novel titled Wool ever achieving success?*

This vaguely confused sheep is more what I was thinking when I heard Wool.

Prefer something more exotic sounding? Pick a title that is so confusing, even Amazon’s algorithms will break struggling to categorize your book. For example, I called the first book of Small Worlds Weird Theology. It fits the book perfectly and I do actually love the title. However, because it had Theology in the title, it confused Amazon so badly it classified the physical version of the book as a textbook. The only way I could fix it was by added a very specific subtitle and playing with the keywords!

(Yes, that actually happened. It was more amusing than annoying – at one point, I was the 16th best selling textbook in the Amazon store –  but it still illustrates the odd results a confusing title can cause.)

Cover 2
#16 Best Selling Textbook! Soon it’ll be in the hands of some very confused theologians.

*Serious face: Hugh Howey’s success is an interesting case. By today’s standards of what’s suggested for self published authors, he did everything “wrong”, – generic title, cover that’s just some red sparks on a black background, and minimal marketing – but is still one of the examples held up as a breakout success for independent publishers. This is for two main reasons. First, Wool is absolutely amazing, and so it benefited from well deserved word of mouth as well as immediately hooking anyone who clicked on “Look Inside,”. Second, Wool was published in 2013, which was a more forgiving time for being discovered on Amazon as a self published author. It was mostly the first thing, though.

Expecting to have Hugh Howey’s success is like hoping to be the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. Everyone would love if it happened to them, but that should be more of a dream than a goal.

2) Make the Cover as Crappy as Possible

It’s common wisdom turned into a cliche – don’t judge a book by it’s cover. It’s amazing advice and means that, as an author, you can put absolutely zero effort into your cover! Readers trying to sift through the hundreds of thousands of books published each month rely on a number of tricks to figure out if a book is any good, and making sure your cover is a crappy as possible is a great way to turn them away. Remember, the cover is a good indicator of how much time and energy the author put into a book. If they spent the money to hire someone to do a professional cover, they clearly believe they have a book that they can take pride in, something they believe will sell.*

So make sure your cover is terrible to make sure no one gives your book a second look! Even if you’ve poured your heart and soul into your novel, a crappy cover will send the message “I don’t care about this book, so neither should you!” – which is exactly what we want!  Letting your potential readers know you have no faith in your work is a great way to make sure they don’t buy your book!** Take a random picture, slap it in Photoshop, and deep fry it. The end result should absolutely look like you slathered it in batter, and be as healthy for your sales as deep fried food is for your arteries!

Deep Fried
Your cover should be more battered than these.

If you want to take it to the next level of making sure no one buys your book, use the free options in Amazon. Nothing says “I don’t believe in this book” like a cover that is similar to hundreds of others! It is sure to come across as generic as possible, which will alienate potential readers faster than titling it “Don’t Read Me, Please.”

*Serious face here: even if you are a skilled artist, I’d strongly suggest hiring someone to do a professional cover unless you’re also skilled at cover design. You can use your own artwork if you have the artistic talent, but if you don’t know how to make it into a cover you’ll end up spending more effort than you save. If you do know how to do art and how to turn that art into a cover, then all I have to say to you is “Oooh, look at Captain Talent over here! They get to save hundreds of dollars in the process of publishing by doing the work themselves.”

Shut up. I’m not jealous. You’re jealous.

**Again, serious face: if you can’t afford an artist or cover design, that’s totally understandable. They’re expensive! If you can, take the time to save up for these. If that isn’t an option, learn to use GIMP or other free photo editing software, practice with them, then look for free stock photos. Make sure they’re free for commercial use, and spend time focused on making them look as good as possible for your cover. Alternatively, you can use those programs to make some very nice covers that don’t feature humans or people. It’s a lot of work, but much better than throwing a poor cover out there.

3) Have Errors in the Sample Chapter

Let’s assume someone got past your poorly chosen title and bare-minimum cover. They’re still considering giving you a chance. You’ve found an absolute saint of a reader there, so we best make sure we even alienate the most forgiving of all readers! Since you’re a new author, the reader is going to want to get a feeling for your writing style before spending their hard earned money, so they’re going to read the sample chapter*. This is our last chance to make sure they don’t read your book, and the best way to accomplish this is to have glaring errors in the front page.

Proofreading and editing are an important part of the writing process, since readers can be fairly unforgiving of errors. You should make sure your entire work is as free of errors as possible throughout the entire book, but the first ten percent – the part that appears in the Look Inside – needs to be as clean as possible. People looking at this section are considering buying your book, after all, and we want to give them the best possible impression. Or we would, if we wanted to sales. Since we’re trying to make sure we don’t sell, this part should be the most error ridden. All three of the following should appear on the first page: at least one typo, at least one grammatical mistake, at least one case where you use the wrong word, at least one common misspelling – definitely vs defiantly, your vs you’re, or confusing the various “there’s”, and at least one instance of using a five dollar word incorrectly. Bonus points if you manage it all in the first sentence!

Let’s take a look at the iconic first sentence from Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, and rework it following these rules: “It was the bset of thymes and it was also the worstest of chronological periods.” Perfect! If a reader manages to get to the point of reading the first page of your book and sees this, they’re guaranteed to stop reading right then and there, putting the book down and never giving you a second thought.

Teacher Tears.jpg
I sense a great disturbance in the force. As if a million English teachers cried out in terror and then went back to grading.

 Well done!

*Readers who have Kindle Unlimited, if you’re in that program, will just start reading if they’re at that point. If it’s full of errors, they probably won’t read very far before moving on to the next title.

Enjoy the sarcasm? Ready to go back to straightforward thoughts and suggestions? Are there other mistakes you’ve seen authors make – or mistakes you made yourself? Let me know in the comments below!

One thought on “The Writer’s Guide to Making Sure You Never Sell A Book

  1. Pingback: How to Go Broke While Writing (A Satirical Approach to Financial Advice) – The Home of Alex Raizman

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