Outsell James Patterson

5 steps to preparing for self-publication

This entry is part 9 of 12 in the series How to Win at Authoring

Last month we spoke about how you can best secure yourself an agent, and it’s great to receive your emails regarding your success.

Of course, as yet, no one has secured an agent, but it’s great to hear that less than 10% of you have been arrested and so far we are looking at one murder-suicide so long as you don’t believe the papers.

That means you’re wearing the agent down. You’re getting there and, before long, you will have secured you deal.

In the meantime, you don’t want to sit around idly, twiddling your thumbs and waiting to hear about the result of your latest restraining order case. You need to be proactive.

You need to look at self-publishing.

No, don’t scrunch your nose up like that.

Self-publishing is a lot like online dating. It used to be something to be ashamed of, but now everyone’s at it, most people are still not going to be interested in you and, of course, success in either will lead to a lot of sex.

But how do you prepare your work for sites such as Amazon and, um, wherever else it is that sells stuff these days? Writing is one thing, but you’ve no idea where to start with this.

Luckily, once again, I’m here to help you with this month’s lesson:

Five steps to preparing for self-publication

one/ Create a cover by learning from Tinder

Don’t judge a book by its cover is one of those phrases trotted out repeatedly, despite the fact no one expects you to follow such ridiculous advice.

Kind of like Don’t Drink and Drive or I’m Sorry I Cheated, Please Don’t Murder Me.

This is why apps like Tinder sprung to prominence. The ability to swipe left and right purely on the strength of a person’s “cover” makes good sense because as everyone knows, personality cannot overturn unattractiveness – only bags of money can do that.

It’s much the same for books. You go on Amazon and scroll through a list of books, how does it display?

Spoiler alert, it’s not big block titles with tiny picture thumbnails. The picture makes up 95% of every entry, with the little title underneath, as below.

So what do you need to do? Two words.



That’s right. The human brain is drawn to images, and you need to make sure your cover is drawing the eye before anything else.

How to achieve that?

As with Tinder, the things you might think would work often don’t. Such as pictures of your genitals.

What does work is pictures of beautiful people. As advertising worked out long ago, it doesn’t matter what you’re selling. You should use sex to sell it.

So, in the same way, you found that picture of the beautiful half-naked man/ woman online to use in your Tinder profile, you need to make that same picture your book cover.

It doesn’t take much. Whack a beautiful body on the front with the title and your name in tiny font at the top.

For even greater sales, why not try releasing two copies? One directed at those interested in beautiful men, and one at those interested in beautiful women.


two/ Book Title

As I’ve said, the most critical aspect of any book’s ability to sell is the cover, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t have the right title to go with it.

And when I say the title, I, of course, mean the words that come after the title.

Take a look at a category of book on Amazon, and you’ll notice everyone is adding a suffix to their title.

A lot of these will be claims such as “the no. one global bestseller” or “something about Richard and Judy.”

But many are less quantifiable. For example, I’ve checked out the mystery category and here are some of the suffixes that come after the title.

  1. The most gripping heart-wrenching page-turner of the year
  2. A totally gripping and heart-stopping serial killer thriller
  3. A gripping crime mystery full of twists

None of these claims is true, or they wouldn’t feel the need to say it. But they are buzz words that people like to see when looking for that type of book.

If you’re writing a mystery or thriller why not pinch one of the above? But it works in any genre. Below are some examples:

  • Book title: A book where an average person like you falls in love with someone impossible beautiful and wealthy (Romance)
  • Book title: Like Game of Thrones but without all of the political intrigue you pretend to like but really are confused by (Fantasy)
  • Book title: the latest novel set in space including time travel and further implausible plot points (sci-fi)
  • Book title: an unputdownable book you’ll have to put down every couple of pages to deal with yourself (erotica).

Remember, none of these claims even need to be true. We’re just trying to get them to buy the book.

After that, who cares?

three/ Name

I know what you’re thinking: didn’t we just do this? Are we mad?

Well not to the first and yes to the second, though I hardly see the relevance.

We’ve discussed book titles, and now I want to talk about your actual name.

The one you’re going to put on your books.

That’s easy, you say, I’ll just be putting the name my parents gave me, checking my birth certificate to ensure the spelling is all correct.

That’s what most people do, but the problem with that is authors often have short-sighted relatives. Our parents give us stupid common names like John and our idiot descenders gave us the surname Smith because it was their job or something.

Ugh, why do families always have to hold us back?

There are many reasons you might want to change your name, a few of which I’ve listed below.

  1. Your name is boring – If you have a boring name, people will assume you write boring fiction, so Jim Grant becomes Lee Child to write the Jack Reacher novels.
  2. Your name is foreign – In a world where Donald Trump is President and over half of England voted for Brexit, how far do you think you’ll get with a foreign name? Hence why Jeffry Freundlich became Jeff Lindsay to write Dexter and Darren O’Shaughnessy became Darren Shan to write The Saga of Darren Shan.
  3. You have a girls name – As everyone knows, women can’t write. This is why Nora Roberts became J. D. Robb for her In Death series and Joanne Rowling first became J. K. Rowling to write Harry Potter, and then, when those didn’t sell very well, went even further to become Robert Galbraith for her Cormoran Strike series, which sold much better and now have their own theme park at Universal.

So if any of these inflictions curses you, it’s important to start thinking up a name that will work. The old initials trick is always a good one as it always sounds quite authory, or pick something unusual.

Bonus point if you can make it relevant to your genre. For example, if you write fantasy books, you might call yourself Lance Rowntabble, or if your write space stories with a Scottish lead you might go with Spacey McSpacerson.

Both great options.


Once your cover is designed, your title created and your author name is chosen, it’s time to look at blurbs.

As you’ll know, where a sexy man or woman can’t sell the book alone (if that ever happens), the blurb can make or break.

That’s why it’s important to talk about the plot, at all. Remember, you don’t want to turn people off. That’s why I liked to stick with something simple, and applicable to any book within a specific genre.

Here the template I use for mystery books. It’s great because it works, and I never have to change it.

Someone has died or gone missing, and because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time or because he’s a private detective, the lead character has to act fast to find the killer or killers or kidnappers

[In one fell swoop here I’ve covered the plot of pretty much every mystery novel, and the fact it’s so confusing adds to the intrigue. Already, they’re hovering over purchase.]

Full of twists and turns and turns and with an ending you won’t see coming.

[Due to the fact I did no plotting and kept changing my mind about what was going on throughout the writing process, this is all true.]

A story you’ll never forget.

[Because it’s so awful.]

Please switch off your phones.

[What works for cinema, must too work for books, I figure.]

Purchase now while stocks last.

[It’s great to sign off with this because while this is a digital book, and copies are unlimited, it doesn’t hurt to include a line that makes people think they have to buy now.]

And that’s it. For a different genre, you can keep most of that, change the first paragraph to fit romance, horror, or whatever else.

five/ Pricing

Ahh, the bit for which you’ve been waiting.

At what price should you set your book?

Now, most people get this wrong. They think the answer is to price low, and thus reduce the barrier for entry so as many people as possible pick up their book.

But that’s nonsense. See, rightly or wrongly, the modern consumer associates cost with quality. So, when they see a boo at 99p, they assume it must be crap and don’t buy it.

However, if they see a book at say £89.99 they think – holy shit, no idiot would price a book at such an unattainable price unless it was the best book ever to be written.

They purchase right away, and tell all their friends they have this special best of all time book and what do you know, all their friends are buying it too, and their friends’ friends, and so on.

Next thing you know, you’ve made several million pounds, and before anyone realises they’ve been duped, you’re retired on a beach in Barbados.

See, as always, it’s the simple pricing strategies that work the best.

You’re welcome.

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International worst-selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). An author of mystery and suspense novels including the James Perry Series of mysteries.

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