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Making a Book Stand Out: What Helps the Most?

Among the millions of books out there, is there anything that can help a book stand out from all the others? A great cover? An incredible internet presence? A superb tag line? Stellar writing?

As I’ve considered all the things that are helping to sell my debut book, I’ve tried to narrow down what has been the most beneficial so far. Here are just a few things:

*ARC’s (Advanced Reading Copies): My publisher sent out numerous ARC’s to strategic industry personnel—particularly book chain buyers who decide which books to purchase and promote. The ARC’s were a way to introduce my book to the book-buying community and to elicit their interest. The buyer from LifeWay Bookstores read the ARC and liked my book enough to feature it on the cover of latest LifeWay flier and also spotlight it as a “Buyers Choice.”

*Influencers: My publisher also mailed out a limited number free books to those who were willing to read The Preacher’s Bride and help “influence” others to read it. Those influencers have been spreading buzz in many different ways including writing reviews, promoting the book to friends, tweeting about it, hosting me for interviews, etc.

*Publisher’s Sales Team: Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing, has an excellent sales force. They’ve worked hard over the years to establish connections with stores and are able to get Bethany House books into many different places, including most of the major book chains, as well as Walmart and Sam’s Club. The more shelf space our books get, the more recognition they can garner.

*Publisher’s Marketing Team: For all the negativity unleashed against publishers for their diminished marketing efforts for authors, I can honestly say the team at Bethany House has made incredible efforts to promote my book in too many ways to recount in this post. Perhaps the smaller the house, the smaller the marketing budget. Obviously the closer we get to the self-publishing side of the spectrum, the more marketing the author must shoulder.

*Strong web presence: I’m not convinced yet that my web presence has made much of a difference in selling more of my books. It’s made a difference to me personally and professionally, and perhaps there are those who bought my book because they met me online (and I appreciate it!). But has it helped me sell significantly more books than another author who may not have a web presence? I’m not sure. Time will tell.

*Appealing book cover: The design team at Bethany House did a fantastic job on my cover. It looks Amish (even though it’s not). And bonnet books are still really popular. Enough said.

Our publishers can market our books and so can we. We can use every gimmick known to man to draw attention to our books. We can giveaway ipads, books, and gift cards. As much as all of these things may initially generate interest, we need to have something that will keep the ongoing attention.

And the one thing that can consistently win over readers is a COMPELLING STORY. We need to give our readers something to fall in love with, something to genuinely get excited about, something they’ll WANT to share with others.

It’s like opening a new restaurant. We can advertise all over town, start a lot of buzz, and perhaps even throw a big opening party and invite everyone in town. But what’s really going to make the difference in the success of our restaurant? All the marketing? Or the food we’re serving? If what we dish up is mediocre, lukewarm, re-hashed, or unoriginal, then all the initial hoopla isn’t going to sustain our restaurant.

And the same is true of our books. It’s what’s between the pages, what we’re serving to the reader, that matters the most.

Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, said it well last week in his post, “Great Product is the New Marketing.” He said if writers want a shot at best seller then: “Start with a compelling topic or story. This will win over great writing every time. I am not saying it’s either/or. It should be both/and. But if you don’t have the right idea, no amount of polish will save it.”

So, maybe we’re not shooting for the best-seller list. But most of us DO want to have a successful publication experience in one form or another (and perhaps the definition of success will vary for each of us). Whatever the case, the longer I travel down the publication road, the more I realize the truth to Michael Hyatt’s statement. A compelling story is critical in today’s saturated market.

What do you think? Do you think a compelling story is the key to a book rising to the top? Or do you think it has more to do with marketing efforts? Or is it both?

42 comments:

  1. Hands down - a compelling story. BUT - all those things you mentioned before that, those are so crucial too, because how will they know it's a compelling story unless one of those things prompts them to pick up the book in the first place? We need to write the best, most gripping book we can - then do everything we can to encourage readers to pick it up.

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  2. Compelling story. Marketing will make that story successful or unsuccessful more quickly, I think.

    Good post!

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  3. Word of mouth is the best marketing and that starts with a compelling premise for your story. I totally agree with you. I will read a book with so-so writing if I love the ide and the storyline. B ut I won't read a story with stellar writing but a uninteresting storyline.

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  4. A compelling story is extremely important Jody. And if a compelling story is marketed well, then all the better for it.

    I am happy that the readers are loving your book. I am waiting for the Indian Book shops to get it. BTW..the cover looks great. I fell in love with it, the moment I saw it.

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  5. A compelling story, definitely! However, I think marketing is incredibly important as well. If no one knows about your compelling story, then that's it, no one knows. Your publishing house sounds really supportive and wonderful. It sounds like you are in great hands too (combined with your web presence...I love this blog).

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  6. A compelling story first and foremost. But I think there's a lot to be said for marketing efforts, especially when you have a recognizable "brand-name" publisher on your book cover.

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  7. I think a compelling story, beautifully written, will always trump any other marketing. The proof is in your first bullet: LifeWay promoted your book on the cover of its flier because it was SO GOOD, not because they were sent an advanced copy.

    After all, the best marketing in the world can't disguise a poorly written book.

    And I still believe that word of mouth is the best marketing out there. And it's free!

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  8. I think it's a compelling story... I heard somewhere that over 70% of books sold is due to word of mouth and recommendations-- and I know that when I read a good book, I always recommend it to my friends and family (in fact, I've already told my mom and sisters to read your book!) No matter how much time and money you spend marketing, if people don't enjoy reading your book, then you're not going to sell that many copies.

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  9. First of all, congrats on the official release of your book and the wonderful reviews! (Not that I'm surprised!)

    Regarding your post: It's definitely a combination of both a great product and marketing. We can all hope that our books will go viral on the internet and the buzz will carry us to a best seller, but in reality that probably won't happen. Marketing gets the word out, creates interest, builds relationships and ultimately inspires action.
    From your list Jody, it looks like your book is benefiting from an expert and broad-based team of professionals.

    Praying your book is a #1 best-seller!

    Blessings,
    Kelli

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  10. A compelling story isn't going to be discovered unless people take a chance on it, and that's where promotion comes in. But the novel won't continue to be purchased and read over a long period of time unless it's a compelling story. So I think it's both, but mostly a compelling story.

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  11. I'm enjoying hearing everyone's opinions today! So far most of you are going with the combo approach, with compelling story coming first.

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  12. All that other stuff won't work if your story isn't compelling. Then I think word of mouth does wonders.

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  13. Huge congratulations on your debut novel. Thank you for sharing your journey with all of us who are dreaming of that day for ourselves! Blessings.

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  14. I think a strong Web presence really helps spread the word of mouth. I don't often pick up historical Christian novels after I overdosed on Janette Oke years ago :) but I have seen so much about your book that I decided to stop and see if you had first chapter to read!

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  15. I think all the things you've mentioned are important, but the compelling story trumps them.
    Thanks, Jody!

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  16. I agree!!! Story is King.. or queen... or jester... :-)

    I think, too, the opposite can be said with your restaurant analogy. You can have stellar food, an awesome attentive waitstaff, but if you have no customers because no one knows you're there... what good is good food? Sure, word of mouth or passersby might generate some business, and sometimes there is that rare restaurant that does no marketing and thrives, but most times you need to "tell" people about your product... then follow up with a killer product. (Um, don't poison the food though... that's not what I mean by killer!)

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  17. I agree with Michael Hyatt (and the commenters here) that a compelling story is essential. If the story is compelling, I can overlook some degrees of imperfect writing. But I am also drawn to beautifully written books as well.

    I love this list you've made here. Great insights into publishing and marketing a book. I also wanted to let you know that I'm actually picking up your book because of your blog. I hope I would have found your book in time anyways, but because I've been reading your blog for a couple of months, that has made me even more interested in reading your book. So, your strong web presence (and fantastic insights into writing and publishing) probably helps some!

    Thanks for this great blog.

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  18. A compelling story is definitely key, but I think the degree of success depends upon both. I've read books I thought were blow-me-away fantastic, but they had received very little good promo and weren't well -known because of that.

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  19. Thanks so much for this post, I've been worrying a lot about this lately actually! I think you have to have a compelling story to be able to have the marketing piece talk off, but it seems like you really need both for the book to be really successful.

    I'm glad that you've had such great support with Bethany house! They sound wonderful to work with.

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  20. Definitely, a compelling story. However we have to market to get people to see what's between the covers! One of my critics asked, "Why don't you just let your book stand on its own." Answer - "It can't stand on its own if no one knows to read it."

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  21. the story, but without marketing the book would stay on the shelf. BTW I like your cover!!

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  22. Hands down, the story. All the other stuff helps, but word of mouth spreads when a story is great.

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  23. Compelling story is all very well (and essential in the overall scheme of things) but it's the cover that counts. In the bookshop where I work, I've seen so many books not picked up because of bad covers. For an example look at Will You Be There by Guillaume Musso. It killed sales dead.

    I know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover (!) but everyone does, booksellers included. No matter how good the story is, you lose readers if they don't get past the cover. Word of mouth, internet buzz, etc can all play their part after that.

    I was lucky enough to be able to design the one on my book (and use all my own photos!) and having a strong cover really has helped sales in the shop. Now I have to work on the word of mouth bit, and only hope I can do that as well as you Jody.

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  24. You and your marketing team have really covered the bases in getting your book out there, but I agree that the compelling story is the most important factor in the end. Especially over the long range, if a book garners fans it will help the sales of future books. Word of mouth is so important. Most of the books I read are because someone has recommended them to me or I've read something really good about them.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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  25. Caroline said: I also wanted to let you know that I'm actually picking up your book because of your blog. I hope I would have found your book in time anyways, but because I've been reading your blog for a couple of months, that has made me even more interested in reading your book.

    My Response: Thank you, Caroline!! I appreciate the support. I do think blogging can help us get to know other writers and perk our interest in books we may not have seen otherwise. And I've found that blogging friends have been a huge part in helping with the influencing of my book. So an online presence is beneficial in many ways.

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  26. I think having a compelling story is terrific, and that's perhaps what will get it into the hands of an agent and then a publishing house, but after that, I contend that it's all about marketing.

    One reason I believe that is true is the proof in the pudding. All of your initial reasons in this blog for a successful book were about marketing.

    I'm sure each of us have read a book that was on the "Best Seller" list that we thought was not good. In this day and age, when no one can define any more what "good" means with regards to a book, it comes down again to marketing. Is it a good idea that will sells copies, or not? Was it particularly good as a story? Well, that depends.

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  27. A compelling story is the key, but I think you give yourself shirt shrift on your web presence. You're closing in on 1,000 followers and you have made good friends online who are willing to help you. I read somwhere that having a 1,000 people willing to help makes for a good tribe. You've got the makings of a good tribe.

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  28. A good story well told seems the best combo to me. In most cases the word will then spread even with minimal marketing. Yours is catching on like a wildfire. :) I can't say that proves my point because I know you're doing everything you can to get the word out. But it wouldn't be generating the excitement if it weren't a good story being well told.

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  29. LittleWomen21,

    Your comment today prompted me to get Chapter 1 of my book posted on my website! I've been meaning to do it and just hadn't taken the time! So thank you--your comment gave me the incentive I needed! :-)

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  30. The more I read and write, the more I think that selling your first novel comes down to crafting a compelling story, and crafting it well. All that other stuff help steamline the process and beautify the packaging, and long-term it helps with author branding, but young writers always need to remember to put most of their initial energy into great, compelling writing.

    Hey, Jody! I mentioned my review of your book on my blog last week. Didn't know if you had a chance to see that. Hope you are doing well! Miss you!

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  31. I think marketing efforts definitely give a good story the best chance. But without a good story, no amount of fluffing will make it rise to the top.

    A great story, however, given enough time, will almost always be successful because word of mouth is the most trusted and effective form of promotion out there.

    But it requires an excellent product and patience - something that lots of people lack nowadays, in my opinion.

    God bless your ongoing success!

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  32. I think marketing makes a difference. However, if you market well but the story isn't there, it's not going to fly off shelves unless it's packaged with pixie dust.

    Your book has a story that requires no pixie dust! I absolutely loved and devoured it!

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  33. I think a compelling story that's been well written is the number one key to selling books. Natural word-of-mouth then happens.

    I don't think web presence makes much difference in terms of sales, and yet I still think it's important.

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  34. I think it starts with a great story (like yours) and is helped along by the things you mentioned. But the story has to be a good one to really achieve lasting success, I think.
    Blessings,
    Karen

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  35. Compelling, well thought out, well written story. It IS what's between the pages that really matters.

    Jody, I apologize for not getting over here lately. I love you and think of you often. I have told myself I can get your book out of the box and read it when I have more written on my story.

    Excellent post. I read your post below this one about your reaction to comments about your book. I think that is very normal. Normal to be afraid that you couldn't do it again. I completely understand that fear. I'm sure we'll all FEEL IT someday. It goes with the territory. You got this far by being a terrific writer. It will carry you the rest of the way. :)

    Hugs and love my friend.

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  36. I think you've also done a reat job of connecting with writers and readers prior to your book coming out, so you've done your marketing as you proceeded with your book. You started early, which is key. I am very happy for you and wish you a successful career as a writer.

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  37. Not long ago, publishing folks used to say "write a good book" and it'll get published. They meant a well-written book with a compelling story. Now it seems lots of people are getting published because they're following a cultural trend or have lucked out by creating some compelling platform for themselves, especially online.

    Makes a writer wonder...

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  38. Absolutely. A compelling, well-written story always keeps me coming back for the next book by the author. This was an honest, thoughtful post, and I appreciated it.

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  39. I'm with you. A compelling story is what sells. The cover helps draw interest, but in the end it's the story.

    I'm very curious about whether blogging and social networking improve sells. I know it takes time away from writing the next book, however, I do enjoy meeting and making friends I wouldn't know except through blogging. It's finding that happy medium that's the trick.

    Great post!

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  40. Hi Jody -

    I think a great story is essential along with a terrific delivery system (craft). If the writing is awful, it will pull us out of the story.

    The platform gets the word out initially, but a good book will generate word of mouth and gather momentum.

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  41. Congrats on the release of your book! Interesting post. I agree with the other comments that crafting a great story is the most important part followed by the marketing.

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