Second question first: How many people think that the writer is who decides what makes a book salable? The publisher? The editor? The PR guy in sales? The stores?
I submit that, ultimately, who decides if a book is salable is the reader. WHAT! How can someone who hasn’t read the book yet know how to decide if they should buy it? And furthermore, how would they know what would make it a good purchase? Unfortunately for all of those in the publishing industry (from sales clerk to author) it really is the buyer who makes the decision whether to purchase or not.
This came up recently in discussion with an author (who shall remain nameless but who knows who he is), but it wasn’t the first time the subject had been broached with me.
Psychologically speaking – and having a degree in psychology I can go out on a limb and say that with some sense of confidence and a bit of aplomb – most readers are visual learners by nature (otherwise they would wait for the video to come out). Therefore, the first things they are drawn to are visual things – the cover art, the title, and the blurb (whether it is on the cover, an insert, the advertisement, or the website). Then they may check the first few pages, or maybe they are like me and check a few pages in the middle of the book, to see if the writing style appeals to them. BUT – if they aren’t attracted to the cover and title, you don’t even get them to the point where they will read the blurb; especially in this day and age, where you can flip through hundreds of books in a matter of minutes because they are ‘recommended’ as ‘similar to previous purchases’ on the website where you order your books or eBooks!
My advice to authors, especially indie authors who are trying to be independent and work without the benefit of a publishing company that can market your book in the back inserts of those ‘similar’ books by other authors, is to ask for advice! Ask people what they think of the cover art you choose, and the colors/font/wording of the title. Get a fairly large sample (at least 25 or so) and compare what the people you talk to have to say about it for common themes. Having it relate to the story is a bonus, but attracting interest is the purpose of a cover.
Don’t ask an artist – while art is also a visual format, that doesn’t mean the artist is a reader – and you need to know what a reader is looking for in a book. By all means, have an artist help you design the cover if you can – but get opinions about it from readers!
Have the blurb read by your beta readers, proofreaders, and copy editors AFTER they have read the book, so they can let you know if it is a good representation of the book itself, whether it creates interest without giving away too much about the plot or story line, and if it would be something they would think would be a good lead in to the story itself. THEN have at least a dozen people who are READERS, but have not read your drafts, go over the blurb and see if they would at least find it interesting enough to read. Consider having a one line blurb on the front cover, as well as a full blurb in the insert, on the back page, or in the website or ad for your book.
Until you have a readership and a following, you need to market your book to the buyer in the only way you can. First contact!