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The forgotten back cover

Back in the days when brick-and-mortar book stores and libraries dominated, the back of a book was perhaps the next thing most readers would turn to after glancing at the cover, and before making the decision to purchase or borrow. The back cover was where you’d find not only the book’s blurb, but a tagline, endorsements from reviewers (also known as ‘blurbs’), any awards the book had been nominated for or won, and a short bio about the author.

In our current era of online bookstores, ereaders, and indie publishing, the back cover has been largely replaced by the description field on retail sites. In many cases, the front cover has taken on of the burdens of the back cover, with taglines, quotes, awards, and even biographical details jammed onto a book’s front.

So it should come as no surprise then, that self-publishing guides pay scant attention to back covers. E-books don’t require (or really have the facilities for) back covers at all (much to my disappointment!).

Even when ordering a paperback online, back covers don’t seem to play a significant role in readers’ decision-making. They’re much harder to see than front covers, requiring the reader to use the ‘look inside’ preview on Amazon, and then click ‘Back Cover’ to see a preview. It’s much easier to simply read the description, which also has the advantage of being searchable, and easily legible.

Why should indie authors bother with a back cover, then? And why bother to write a whole blog post about them?

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How the numbers are stacked against indies and small publishers

Recently, I typed a bunch of numbers into a web form, in order to purchase a bunch of numbers to stick on my books. In exchange for this privilege, an inordinate amount of numbers were subtracted from my bank account.

In other words, I purchased some ISBNs.

ISBN stands for ‘International Standard Book Number’. Yet, in spite of their International and Standardised nature, there is nothing standard about how ISBNs are sold – or priced – internationally.

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Why sequels are always better than the original

Like many people this week, I’ve just come back from the cinema, where I saw “Frozen II”. And it got me thinking about a theory I’ve been holding on to for a while: That sequels are pretty much always better than the originals. The vast majority of the time, when you see a film or a book that has “II” or “Part 2” or “The Reawakening” or similar appended to its title, you know you’re in for one hell of a good ride.

And as we all know, this effect is only magnified the longer a series of sequels goes on. They just keep getting better, and better, and better…

Now, I imagine some of you are gagging at this point. What do you mean?! Originals are better!

Well, yes. Most of us think this. But although most people agree that sequels are never as good as the originals in a series, they tend to obtain higher scores from audiences.

While this seems paradoxical at first, it actually makes a lot of sense. Let’s take a look at two popular series of books that were turned into movies, and see what I mean: Harry Potter and Twilight.

And then, we’ll look at two series that exhibit a very different kind of pattern – the Hunger Games and Game of Thrones – and talk about why.

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What makes an unsuccessful blurb?

My last post focused on successful blurbs, so it’s only fitting that this time, we take a look at unsuccessful blurbs. After all, sometimes we learn more from examining (our and others’) mistakes than we do by only looking at examples of best practice. (And I certainly made a lot of mistakes in writing the blurb for my first independently-published book, You Stole My Heart… Do I Have to Take Your Name?)

The unsuccessful blurb

In my browsing of forums like this to get a handle on readers’ opinions, it seems the most common complaints are that a blurb bears no relation to the book’s contents, or that it gives away all of the book’s plot twists.

In fact, both of these mean that the blurb was ‘successful’ in terms of getting the reader to purchase or borrow and then read the book.

So, to look for blurbs that are unsuccessful, we need to look for those which don’t lead to sales (as measured by Amazon rank) or to engagement (as measured by reviews).

Specifically, given the cover’s role to get people to read the blurb, and the blurb’s role to get people to read the book, we have to look for books which fail to attract many sales or reviews despite having an attractive cover.

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What makes a successful blurb?

So my last post was a bit of a weird experiment for Halloween. But this time, I want to tackle a more serious area of research: the quest for what makes a good blurb (or, in the case of ebooks, description). We all know not to judge a book by its cover. But can blurbs give us readers a clue as to whether a book is worth reading… or give us writers a hint as to whether it will sell?

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The Book Lab: Effects of Sub-Zero Temperatures on Sodden Books

Welcome to the Book Lab! Now, it is a well-known fact that academics are forever spilling things on paper. So it is fitting that an academic colleague told me a very interesting rumor she heard: that if you accidentally get a book wet (bath/shower/reading whilst washing the dishes – I don’t know how you do this, please let me know!) you can revitalise it by putting it in the freezer.

I scoffed at this quite profusely at first. It sounds, I’m sure you’ll agree, ludicrous.

My colleague was unable to recall whether one was supposed to put the book in a plastic bag tied tightly or not. But then I thought, let’s go all Myth Busters on this and perform a lovely experiment, complete with a control sample and everything. And hell, why not write it up as (well, an approximation of) an academic report on the matter?

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Lucky Numbers & Special Burgers: Stranded in the airport

Cultures all around the world have different “lucky” and “unlucky” numbers. That’s something I read a lot about when I was writing my post on luck for my finance blog, enrichmentality.com

In China and Japan, for example, the number four is considered unlucky, because it sounds like the word for death. In many Western countries, thirteen is the most commonly reported unlucky number – to the extent it has a recognised phobia associated with it – ‘triskaidekaphobia’.

Some people are so superstitious about these numbers it’s not uncommon to find buildings that skip the fourth or the thirteenth floor – or both!

When it comes to “lucky” numbers, again, there are differences around the world. While seven is considered lucky in many English-speaking places, the lucky number in Chinese-speaking circles tends to be one higher – eight.

But the name of my forthcoming satirical novel Number Eight Crispy Chicken (while I hope it enjoys good fortune!) has nothing to do with the lucky number eight. In fact, the title was inspired by (what I thought at the time) was a stroke of bad luck! Continue reading “Lucky Numbers & Special Burgers: Stranded in the airport”

Frugal [and Effective!] Book Promotion: How to avoid the halfway home of books

Book promotion is important. Here’s why: For many years, I enjoyed book shopping at a big warehouse near my home. It was a kind of halfway house, in between the shelves of a bookstore (that we writers always dream of), and the great metal teeth of a book shredder (the stuff of nightmares).

I loved buying books from a warehouse for several reasons. Firstly, many of the titles weren’t there because they were bad, but because they hadn’t been promoted well. When the retail landscape was dominated by the big box stores, all pushing the same ten books, the warehouse offered a veritable treasure-trove of relatively unknown titles for me to discover.

Secondly, the price was right. As anyone who knows me, or who has read my finance-related blog Enrichmentality knows, I’m definitely a frugal person. And in Australia, where the recommended retail price for a new hardcover can be $39.99 or more, being able to buy books at approximately the same cost the rest of the world enjoys ($5 to $10 each) is an enormous boon.

Finally, I imagined that I was ‘rescuing’ some book from those great metal teeth. From becoming literal pulp fiction.

As it turns out, I wasn’t that far off the mark.

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Why You Should Join My Street Team TODAY :)

“Street teams” originated in the music industry. Volunteers would plaster the streets with posters, hand out flyers and CDs, inundate radio stations with requests, and even move an artist’s album to the front of the racks.

Today, the definition has broadened beyond the street to online promotion. Street teams can help out by giving feedback, sharing news about the book on social media, adding the book to ‘want to read’ lists, or taking book selfies and shelfies – little actions that take only a minute or two, but can make all the difference when it comes to what Michelle Raab rightly describes as the ‘power of word-of-mouth’.

Importantly for all of us book lovers, street teams aren’t limited to music these days, but now encompass books, too. (Jennifer Probst points out that they’re also called ‘reader groups’ and ‘fan clubs’).

Why should I join a street team?

The advantages for writers are obvious. What author wouldn’t want help promoting their book? But what about fans? Friends? Reviewers? Fellow writers?

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On Trigger Warnings [in books]

Warnings about content that may trigger the recall of a previous traumatic experience, known as ‘trigger warnings’, originated on feminist websites, before spreading to other areas, such as print media like books, and university courses. Consideration of trigger warnings in academia had only just begun when I left my position as a university lecturer, but it is a discussion I have followed with interest since.

It’s a debate sparked by intellectual and artistic considerations on one side, and emotional considerations on the other. But how can readers, writers and teachers navigate the field of trigger warnings, and make decisions that best support mental health, academic integrity, and creative freedom?

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