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How to Sell Your Book: the Five Ws

There have never been more books to read, which is a good thing for story addicts like me. I am by no means a marketing expert but there are certain things that help me as a reader decide whether or not I will buy a book. Let's look at those items.

The first item that catches my eye is the cover. There are many creative things people do when designing. There are thousands of premade covers. Many covers utilize the same stock art in both self-publishing and traditional publishing. For me, the cover needs to be seductive. It needs to suggest something interesting is going on inside. For me, it needs to reflect genre. If it is a mystery, I want to see the setting and a cover that suggests either gritty, noire, or cozy. Cozy I definitely look at. Noire I don't care much for but may look at. Gritty is a fifty-fifty kind of thing. How graphic is the violence? If I see cute kittens on the cover and then it goes into graphic details about serial killers enjoying their job, I will never read that writer again. The worst thing you can do is bait and switch.

The second item is the title. It too should suggest something intriguing and the genre.

You can see what a difference the cover makes with the same title.

For me the first cover suggests mystery or thriller. The second image suggests black comedy. The third cover suggests zombie horror. 

A badly designed or vague cover hurts you. It really does.

The third item is the description. I want to know what kind of tale I am settling in for. Is it a fantasy with sword and sorcery and dragons? Is it a cozy mystery? Is it a romance?

The description of the book needs to answer all of the Ws.

Who: Your protagonist can be a turn-off or a reason to purchase. Nothing personal, it may not be the reader's cup of tea. It is best to be specific rather than vague. Is it a geriatric spy or a teenage werewolf?

What: Is the reader going on an adventure, solving a crime, visiting outer space, experiencing drama and trauma? The keywords you use make a different. Is it gritty, graphic, cozy, humorous, or painful? Are there things that can be triggering such as graphic scenes of rape, abuse, torture etc.? Some content isn't for everyone, and that's okay. It doesn't mean you shouldn't write it, just that you should give the reader a heads-up. For whatever reason, reviewers are more likely to post a negative review than a positive one. If you promise a comedy or even a ghost story and make it about abuse, you will not be forgiven.

When: The era can turn a reader off as well. I am not a big fan of  the WWI and WWII eras. I have read books in that setting, but gritty details about the war are not for me. I can do a cozy sleuth, perhaps a non-graphic spy tale. It's harder for me to cope with human's actual inhumanity than a fantasy battle. The era matters to some readers. They may prefer modern romance over historical romance, or vice versa. I personally enjoy ancient history.

Where: Setting can also be seductive or a turn off. Is it Ancient Egypt, Scotland, Africa, Australia? Geographic keywords can really help with the algorithms. If I buy a book about traveling Scotland, books set in Scotland appear on my recommendations. I would like to see more unique settings. It doesn't always have to England or the US. Let's go to Canada, Australia, or the Caribbean islands. How about South Africa or Egypt?

Why: What are the story stakes? If the protagonist doesn't solve the story problem, what are the consequences? What can they gain or lose? The stakes make readers care whether the characters are successful or not. It keeps them reading to find out if they achieve it. Stakes don't have to be world war. It can be the life or death of a relationship, a life's goal, a heist, revenge, justice, etc. Make sure to include the stakes.

The last tips is this: always provide a direct link to buy your book, whether it is on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or one of the other platforms. Search algorithms bury older titles. There is one prolific writer I love and I was looking for links to her books for a post and couldn't find them without her name and the title because they were over one year old. The more prolific an author is, the more they are likely to appear with a title search, but it is no guarantee. My Story Building Blocks titles without my name bring up Lego.

I don't care how many superlatives or five star raves you post. Without the above information, I simply don't care enough to look further. Even if I think your book sounds interesting or your cover is intriguing, I probably won't remember it fifteen minutes after seeing the ad. But if you provide a link, I can quickly go there and put it on a wish list or dive right in and buy it. Never pass up the opportunity for an impulse buy. Don't make the reader look for you. People are short on time and memory. Grab them while they are excited.

You can read more on these topics in the following posts:

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook.


  1. Very helpful article, Diana. Had to laugh about the Legos, although that's probably not very funny to you.

  2. Great article, Diana. Marketing is my weak link, but I am working on it (still).

  3. All good points. Our Sisters in Crime chapter had a book designing company's owner last week. His company has pre-made and custom covers. I thought they were well done. The company is Check it out.


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