First, a little explanation. When I say a book is spiked, I mean the public perception of it has been damaged to the point where very few people will want to buy it. It’s possible to spike your book in a few different ways.
A bad cover is one of the worst things that can happen to a story, as I’ve mentioned before. Every author needs to pay attention to their cover, as it’s the main selling tool that people will see on a regular basis. Make it appropriate and well designed, and you’re halfway to a good cover already.
A bad blurb, like a bad cover, will also spike a book because it just won’t make people want to buy it. The blurb needs to be enticing and representative of the stuff inside, and contain a number of key pieces of information like the main character’s name, the stakes involved and the general thrust of the plot.
You didn’t know? Yes, you can spike your own book faster than either the cover or the blurb will. The perception of the book is tied to the author – the author’s image informs everything about it, and the author’s name is the branding that exists as a support structure for it. If the author says the wrong thing, or gives the wrong impression, a negative public reaction will necessarily ruin the sales of the book in question.
It would be nice to think that the book can stand on its own merits, but that’s a pipe dream at best. Public image awareness is a necessity for any author these days.
Write about something controversial, without handling it with the appropriate level of care and research? Yeah, that book is probably going nowhere fast. You may generate a lot of talk, but that may not translate into sales. Your choice of content is important, and your knowledge of sensitive issues is important. Dealing with racism, for example, is a minefield all on its own.
For any author, but especially self-published ones, you need to pay attention to quality. The writing, the layout, the overall look – nothing less than a professional level of quality is good enough, or the public perception that this is an amateur work will never go away. ‘That’s my style’ is no excuse at all. A manuscript needs to be polished until you can’t view it without shades, or you can expect it to fail miserably when it comes to selling.
In general, the best way to give a book a good chance is just to watch what the successful authors do, and dissect their methods and tactics. You’ll notice that they all have good covers and blurbs, they present a sensible, professional image, and their work is excellent and marketable. It’s no stretch to examine your own work, and develop any area in which you’re lacking the same high standard. I also recommend that you separate your public and private personas, so that it’s possible to control your public image without sacrificing your ability to say what you think. You just have to make a point to only say it to your friends, not to your readers.
I’ll go through these in more detail in future posts, just like I’ve already done with the cover.