Five things to do right now to improve your chances of publishing success

At 52 Novels, I see many manuscripts and work with a lot of authors. As a result, I’ve gotten feedback on what’s worked for people, and I give frequent advice on how to put your best foot forward when becoming an independent author/publisher.

With that, let’s dive right in with the gobsmacking truth:


Yep. You read that right. You’ve also got to think about your ebook as a core part of your marketing, rather than the thing that your marketing is designed to move.

Here’re some of the things I often advise:

1. Make sure your manuscript is in publishable shape

This point seems elementary, but you’d be surprised by the number of authors I work with whose manuscripts aren’t ready: typos, incorrect punctuation, missing modifiers, characters whose names change (sometimes more than once).

The story can be excellent. And the book may have been rewritten, multiple times perhaps.

But it’s critical for anyone entering this business to test their product.

I’m well aware that an author may have read his or her book a hundred times. But I’ve made enough ebooks—thousands as of this writing—to know that seeing them on an ereader for the first time reveals things the author missed on paper or while staring at the manuscript on their computer monitor.

Even the pro authors I work with tell me they find stuff on their device that they’ve never seen before. The better you handle the editing on the front end, the less you have to worry about things on the back end.

Some ideas:

  • Find or form a writer’s group. Some of the best story and structure advice I’ve ever gotten has come from my peers.
  • Ask five people you trust to read the book. Give them each a new red pen and require them to drain the ink barrel.
  • A good copyeditor is worth every penny you’ll spend, so hire the best one you can afford.
  • Set up a crowdsource editing project using Amazon Mechanical Turk.
  • Use a service like Grammarly to proofread your book. It’s fast, inexpensive, and will help you spot things you may have overlooked.

Because your book is at the center of your marketing, you cannot rush this. The temptation to engage in “just in time publishing” is pervasive. Resist.

2. Make sure you think about your book’s packaging as a whole

One of the things I like best about making books for Joe Konrath is that he understands the book-as-centerpiece concept. Completely. Passionately. As such, when he sends me a new manuscript to work on, it’s usually just one of several components that become a new Konrath product.

For example, take SERIAL KILLERS UNCUT. It’s an extreme example, but I think it works well here.

The book itself is the culmination of several different stories, plots/subplots, and character arcs that intertwine between a couple of universes that Joe and co-author Blake Crouch created over nearly a decade.

To keep all of these data points straight, Joe and Blake created a network of collateral material that enhances the reader’s experience beyond merely reading the epic novel.

  • Want to know when Luther Kite makes his first appearance? Go to the Cast of Characters page and follow the internal link to Kite’s first time on stage in Part Two. Every major character has an entry on the Cast of Characters page that’s clickable to their first appearance in the book.
  • Curious about how Jack Daniels became a serial killer hunter? Check out the full story chronology—for both Joe’s and Blake’s books—in the back matter.
  • Because SKU takes place in periods before, after, and concurrent to Joe’s and Blake’s related work, head to the Storyline Endnotes section to find out what happened before or after events in this book.

But these things aren’t the brilliance of this collateral material. What makes this stuff so great—from a business perspective—is that it’s driving readers to buy other books by Joe and Blake.

Other marketing hacks to consider

So, you’re probably asking, “what if this is my first or second book?” At a minimum, you should think about some of the things you find in paper books: an author bio, acknowledgments, a dedication, a one-sheet hype page, blurbs. (A quick story on blurbs: a legacy-published author with whom I worked asked her beta readers—tweens and their parents—to blurb the book. Brilliant!)

If you’ve got a few short stories, clean them up and include them as bonus content (and then publish them as stand-alones later so you can link to them from a bibliography in subsequent ebooks you publish). If you’ve started another book, polish the first chapter or two and add that content as a teaser.

Maybe you’ve got a friend who’s also publishing a first book. Team up and swap out teaser chapters to include in your back-matter.

Better still, find TWO friends who are publishing for the first time and trade out space at the back. (There’s an added benefit here in that the more you have at the end of the book, the bigger your free sample will be at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. But that’s a technical discussion for another time.)

3. Consider adding POD to your product mix

With the tidal wave of independent ebook publishing well upon us, it sounds a little odd saying you should also add print to your product mix.

If you consider readership, on the whole, there’s a wide swath of book buyers who still go exclusively for paper and many more who buy both formats. Even with the release of cheap Kindles and Fire tablets, the death of paper is a long way away.

If you can afford it, don’t leave paper sales on the table. I’ve been making print interiors longer than I’ve been making ebooks, so please be sure to include print-on-demand when you query me for an estimate.

4. Don’t cut corners on your cover

Joe’s dedicated a lot of space at the Newbie’s Guide to Publishing to this topic already, but I have to give my full-throated endorsement of this. Your cover must—no ifs, and, or buts—be the enticement to your sales page.

In short, find a designer who gets what an ebook cover is supposed to do: look fantastic and entice a buyer when it’s the size of a postage stamp.

Some things to consider when evaluating a cover scaled to a small size:

  • Is the title legible at that scale?
  • Does the cover tell a story?
  • Does the design echo the book’s theme/tone/mood?
  • Would I want to learn more about this book based on a 5-second glance?
  • If the book is part of a series, does the design effectively and consistently convey the author’s or the series’ brand?

Scan the collection of book covers at the Amazon top sellers page. While you’re there, jot down some notes about the ones you like while considering the questions above. Something might not be to your liking, but the ones that stand out to you likely answer the questions above with a “Yes.”

5. Finally, make sure your product description is working on your book’s behalf

This point also seems elementary, but I find many books whose covers appeal to me that fail to convert me to a buyer because the product description falls flat. Amazon gives you 4,000 characters to write your sales copy. Use every last one of them!

A two-sentence plot synopsis and a nugget from your About the Author copy might be all you can come up with. That might not be enough to entice someone to sample your book, let alone buy it.

These days, I buy ebooks almost exclusively. As a result, I don’t spend much time in book stores like I used to, combing the stacks reading jacket copy.

In a digital store, your book’s description is your jacket copy.

With ebooks, I’ll take a chance on an author I’ve never read if they can sell me from their description page. I don’t care where they’re born or where they live or that they used to sell Pop-Tarts door-to-door before they started writing.

Sell me on your story.

Convert me to a sale.

Convince me I should spend $4 on you, Unknown Author.