Geetanjali Mukherjee

Sunday, May 14, 2017

First Impressions Matter

Recently I have been reading a bunch of books for review - going through my backlog of books I promised to review as well as reading a few ARCs (advanced reader copies) of books that I would have read anyway, provided by the publisher. And one thing I found with the ARCs was the negative impression most of them made because of relatively minor issues that are easily fixed - poor formatting and typos. 

To be clear, I am not talking about the occasional mis-placed comma or an extra page lurking in the manuscript. I mean that for at least two of the books I had difficulty reading even a paragraph because the formatting at least on my copy of the book was terrible. There were no page or chapter breaks, or sentences abruptly had entire line spaces in the middle. It was as if an eight-year old had done the formatting. Actually, it might be insulting to that 8-year old, who might actually have done a better job. 

Several of the books also had many glaring typos and errors. I stopped keeping track after the 20th typo. While it is likely that many of these mistakes will be corrected before the book goes to print, it is possible that many of them will remain in the manuscript. And since the books in question are by big-name authors, the mistakes will be ignored by readers, and may not affect the fate of the book or the message in any way. 

However, as an indie author, I am acutely aware that there is a glaring double-standard - what Random House or Simon & Schuster can get away with, you or I as an indie can’t. The other day I was on an authors’ Facebook group, where one debut author asked why her book wasn’t selling or being read on KU, despite the price being $0.99. And while I didn’t click through to her book, many others had, and the primary comment was that of a poor impression being made - a less-than stellar cover and too many errors in the sample. 

Quite often authors write to me to request an interview for my blog, and I have had occasion to look at the books and Amazon profiles of many indie authors. Something that always amazes me is the number of times I have found glaring errors or terrible grammar in book descriptions. If I can’t get through a 200-word description, I won’t be exactly enticed into reading the book. And the flip side happens as well - I have been excited about a book simply from reading the description, sometimes just the first line. I don’t read a lot of YA, but the first sentence of the back cover blurb of the Red Queen series got me hooked - I didn’t need to read more to know I would enjoy the book.

All of this is to say, that as an indie, the odds often seem stacked against us. I know that we are all doing our best, having taken on the duties covered traditionally by publishers, and it can seem like a lot. But before railing against Amazon or readers or wondering why your sales are abysmal - take a fresh look at the impression your book is making. You don’t need to spend $1000s getting the best cover or the most credentialed developmental editor; but at the very least make sure your cover fits the expectations of the genre, and that your book is relatively error-free. Invest in a good copy-edit. Get your friends to look over your book description and see whether it pops or is underwhelming. 

Each aspect of getting our work out there is almost a skill in itself. Joanna Penn talks about how she learnt to write good book descriptions by studying those of bestsellers in her genres. There is so much to learn it can be overwhelming. I have lists of things to do that include “re-write book descriptions” and research book categories. As we keep learning more, we need to revisit our books and apply that knowledge. We can’t get it perfect every time, but there is a sense of satisfaction in knowing that we are taking action and making our books the best they can be.

None of these are guarantees that you will sell more, but there are enough barriers to discoverability as it is. Don’t make it unnecessarily harder for yourself. 

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