Wednesday, January 8, 2014

What Sells Books, by Allison Knight

Some define the art of writing as an art. It is that, but selling that writing is a business. It is as much a part of the author's responsibility as building a career. I consider my association with my publishers as a partnership, two (or more) working to bring my work to the forefront. If an author wants to turn the whole process over to an agent, so be it. I want more control.

Since I've had little energy and lots of time to sit in front of a computer and play around (writing takes work so that was limited for me as I grew used scheduling my time better), I did some research and lots of reading. I dissected my researched info into three categories: what sells, why it sells, and how to sell it. I didn't go into a lot of promotional ideas.

What I found were some interesting discoveries. First, what sells in romance. Well, chick lit is down, fantasy seems to be up, humor is making a come back, and it's a draw on the paranormal stuff. But the general trend is shorter work. I used to write epic tombs... 145K words. No way, Jose! What seems to sell well now is 45 - 60 K words. So maybe I'm writing too long.

Novellas are in and so are short stories, but the longer novels - not so much. It looks like there might be a resurgence in historicals, especially in the US and UK, although I see some really early stuff showing up. Ancient Roman, for example.

Discovering why it sells required reading lots of reviews. Those were fun, and do shed a bit of light on the why. Everyone likes a well written story. Therefore good editors are a must. A bad book gets panned. People seem to like tongue in cheek humor, not the slap-stick kind, and certain themes appear to be getting worn out. For example, the heroine's hidden pregnancy.

Reviews count a little but word of mouth seems to be the best example of why a book sells well - more than anything else - so people discussing the book on Facebook, etc. helps. (That is, talking about someone else's book, not your own.)

The how to sell it was a surprise. This one I had to turn to my DH and a couple of other readers for their answers and again a trip through those review. First, for some, that first book free from Amazon does work if - and this is a big, big if - that book is great! Several people bought a whole series because the first book was so good. My DH is one of those. He read a new author on his Kindle, liked what he read, searched for more and bought three more of the author's books. He's done this now a couple of times. Several people I mentioned this to agreed they had done the same. So, that free book had better be a real winner or you'll sell no more books, period.

Again the word of mouth came into play. Talking a book up on the social media (not your own, but someone else's book - and again it had better be good, or you'll look like a fool) is a great way to get those sales. Which gives room for a thought. Have you mentioned a book you've recently read that you really liked? Okay, I'm guilty too, but the more I think about it the more important that seems to be. So, from now on, when I read a really good book, I'm going to mention it. Maybe the author will return the favor.

Allison Knight is the author of several books, including Lynbrook's Lady, Windsong (a medieval romance) and, recently, Betrayed Bride (contemporary romance).
You can find out more about Allison at her website,


  1. I especially like your last point, Allison!

    Aside from announcing something new or an event, I never mention my book. I've done my work to make sure readers see it and are aware of it when they browse my website or visit my blog, however, all my promotional work now goes in to connecting with other authors and sharing their wonderful books with my readers. If there's more to share, and more variety, there's more of a chance they will stick around and come visit me next time.

  2. Thanks for sharing your research, Allison. I think we all know how much time and effort it takes to pull this kind of information together and we appreciate it. And, first and foremost, your research says what every major marketer says...first, write a great book.
    I do talk about books I like, even belong to a reader's group. I don't mention my own, generally. Like you, I hope it's a pay if forward kind of thing. :)

  3. Great post, Allison. And you're right about how important it is to mention other books and authors. I'm actually amazed that more authors don't realize the power they have to help other writers with word of mouth - tweeting/blogging about other books and authors to promote them. Posting positive reviews is a great way to help each other out and help sell some books. You'd think we'd all realize that we're in the same boat and in a great position to help each other out. Instead, all too often, I see authors acting as reviewers (a total conflict of interest, in my opinion), criticizing each other rather than promoting each other. I'd never have the balls to post a negative or critical review of another writer. That's just too petty for me.