After ten months promoting my book “The Prince and the Singularity – A Circular Tale” I’ve reached the conclusion that most of the promotion suggestions you can find on the internet are pretty irrelevant and little more than formulaic. Even worse, the things that do matter are either never mentioned or not mentioned in detail and, as I have laboriously found out, the devil really is in the detail. So I’ve decided to write a series of articles on how to promote self-published books. Here is the third instalment:
III – “Extreme Makeover” (not the TV series!)
This article is about book descriptions. As you probably already know, there are at least hundreds of articles on the internet about book blurbs and most of them provide advice that makes sense. The problem is that you could quite easily have reached those same conclusions by yourself after pondering the subject for a while. Also they all say basically the same things.
As usual I’ll try to give you a different angle. I will use my own book as an example, not only because of what you’re thinking right now (that I’m shamelessly plugging it) but mainly because my book is the perfect example for what I want to discuss.
If you read my book’s description you’ll probably reach the conclusion that it is a bit (to say the least) ineffective and off-putting:
***** || *****
“This is the story of the Prince aka the Master aka Francis, who is more or less immortal and goes through the millennia fighting Desire and Rejection, the roots of all unhappiness and evil. He always fails until the moment he loses interest and decides to die, which he doesn’t. Instead he gets promoted.
The Prince and the Singularity – A Circular Tale is a take on the Creation myth, drawing from different religious and philosophical sources and mixing them in an original, challenging and often very funny way. It is written in a multi-layered format, allowing it to be read both as a simple and entertaining fable and as a deeply philosophical work, full of hidden references and satire.”
***** || *****
Let’s be brutal, this is a shitty blurb. It is overtly intellectual and quite bland. Why on Earth would I be using it?
If you now take the trouble to go check my book on Amazon USA you’ll see that it has 46 reviews, with a 4.6 average rating (at least it did, at the time of writing this article). You’ll probably think:
‘Gee, everybody seems to like this guy’s book’
And you’ll be wrong. Very wrong! Actually most people dislike my book (a little voice is telling me I should never have written this article).
If I were to randomly distribute 100 free copies of my book, my experience tells me that:
- 60% would find it quite confusing and put it down before chapter 3
- 20% would find it offensive on religious grounds and rate it one star
- 20% would love it and rate it with four or five stars.
So how come I have 46 reviews with a 4.6 star rating? Pretty obvious, isn’t it? I’m being read almost exclusively by people from the third group, the 20% who like the book.
How did I achieve that? I put “filters” on the blurb and on the Prologue and those “filters” are filtering out the people who belong to groups 1 & 2.
So here we have a new concept: You can write a blurb to keep readers AWAY from your book.
At least certain readers, obviously. Not all of them.
Let’s look at this idea in detail.
When I was testing my book’s draft on the Authonomy website (follow the link if you don’t know what that is) I discovered, to my utter amazement, that some people were actually offended by my book because they thought it was a spoof on the Bible.
It is no such thing. Actually most of the book is a twist on Buddhist ideas, intertwined with concepts from several other religions and philosophies. But obviously if the reader has no knowledge whatsoever of religions/philosophies other than his own, he will misinterpret the whole thing.
After receiving hate mail and the like and pondering a lot on the subject, I had the idea of creating a Prologue which clearly states that the book is an “oriental” kind of thing and found, to my utter relief, that the sort of readers who were previously sending me hate mail would not read past the Prologue and stopped paying any attention to my book.
I had just discovered the concept of filtering out undesirable readers.
On the Authonomy site I also discovered that many people considered the book to be confusing, mainly because:
a) it has almost no descriptions of characters and very few descriptions of places (the Prince, for instance, is never described at all)
b) it starts with a far out scene where a group of gods are betting their own Divinity in a game of cards. Apparently this is a very confusing concept to understand for some readers.
I did change some things in the story to make it easier to understand but reached the conclusion that I could not simplify it enough without destroying its essence and opted instead to have a book blurb that looks intellectual and makes the book unappealing to the type of readers who consider the book to be confusing.
These two filters have together achieved the miracle of getting my book rated at 4.6 on Amazon when it is actually disliked by most people.
Now I’m pretty sure any marketing pro will tell you that my filters are utter nonsense. You don’t put filters on books to keep readers away from them, you try to attract readers with the book description and the cover.
Their advice is definitely valid for the environment they work in. They have marketing budgets. They have access to influential reviewers on websites and magazines that sell millions. They live in a parallel universe to that of self-publishers.
If a self-published author debuts his book with three one star ratings on Amazon his one in a million chance of success has immediately been reduced to absolute zero. He won’t even be allowed to at least try. His book is a stillborn. And paradoxically even Kindle promotion sites (like eReader News Today, Bookbub, etc) will turn down his money for a book promotion campaign because they refuse to promote books with a rating lower than 4.0.
In the harsh environment of self-published books, filters make sense. At least in my humble opinion they do.
That said, I do not think that you should keep filters on forever, unless all you aim for is to slowly accumulate nice reviews along the years and use your book as a hook line to pick up women at bars (not such a bad idea, now that I think of it).
So now lets do an “extreme makeover” and suddenly turn my book into the opposite of what it presently is. Lets have a “new” book without rewriting not even one line of the manuscript. Just by messing with the book description, the cover and the genre information.
First lets change the genre info on Amazon from Literary Fiction and Spirituality to Humour and Spirituality.
Lets follow that up by changing the cover from its present version
to this one (this is the cover of a 1979 album by the British band “Camel”)
And finally lets pull out all the stops and change the book description to:
***** || *****
The Prince and the Singularity – A Circular Tale is as controversial a book as they come. An heretical spoof on the Life of Christ or a sweet and sensitive depiction of the ascension of a Bodhisattva, the choice is yours.
Whatever the reader brings with him will determine what he will get out of this story.
Things will sound very odd at times:
‘Why are there Two Commandments and not ten?’
‘Why is Mary Magdalene so different from the real one?’
But in the end it will all make sense and will do so in the most unexpected ways.
Love it or hate it, this is not a book to attract indifference.
You have been warned!
The Prince and the Singularity – A Circular Tale is the story of the Prince aka the Master aka Francis, who is more or less immortal and goes through the millennia fighting Desire and Rejection, the roots of all unhappiness and evil. He always fails until the moment he loses interest and decides to die, which he doesn’t. Instead he gets promoted.
***** || *****
Now imagine that you had never seen the previous genre/cover/blurb combination and this new set was your first contact with my book. It now sounds like Monty Python’s “Life Of Brian” on steroids, doesn’t it? (Which, to be honest, it most definitely is not).
It is now a different product altogether. It is taking big risks but is also opening new doors to possible rewards that were previously beyond reach.
Whether this new description is accurate or not is quite irrelevant. History is full of examples of products which became a success by courting artificial controversies that were huge exaggerations of the actual content of the product itself.
I am no marketing pro and I have no definitive answers on the complex matter of book covers and/or descriptions. All I hope for with the present article is to make you ponder these subjects in a broader way than that which you are usually presented with.
I hope to have achieved my aims but you’ll be the judge for that.
© 2013 Pedro Barrento
I would love to know your opinion about this post so don’t be shy and do leave a comment. Also please feel free to check out my book “The Prince and the Singularity – A Circular Tale”. It is a book with one big advantage, you only need to read the first 50 lines to know whether you’re going to like the story or not. If you’re not hooked after 50 lines then my book is not for you.
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Disclaimer: Please note that English is not my mother language and that this series of articles has not been revised by a native speaker. The quality of these articles therefore in no way reflects the quality of my book “The Prince and the Singularity – A Circular Tale” which went through an exhaustive process of revisions, editing and proofreading by a professional literary consultant http://www.lynncurtis.co.uk/ (whose services I strongly recommend, by the way).