I receive a ton of daily emails alerting me to free and sale book options. There’s some overlap, but generally there are probably 30 books or more that I’m offered everyday for $1.99 or less. Out of all of these, I download 2 or 3 a week, mostly free. I’ve developed a sort of mental shorthand when skimming these, and I think it’s interesting, using myself as a guinea pig, to notice what marketing works and what doesn’t.
Cover: There is an important quality threshold here, and it eliminates a high percentage of indie books. I realize I may be missing some diamonds in the rough, but if you didn’t pay for a professional cover, you probably also didn’t pay for professional editing, and everybody needs editing. These examples were picked from the first page of Amazon’s free bestseller list, because that’s easy.
The first book here is from Bethany House, an inspirational publisher, the second one is a good quality indie cover, and the last one is a heinous indie cover. Despite not being my favorite genres, the first two got a second look and were ultimately downloaded – the plots looked interesting enough to take a chance on for free (I would not have paid actual money for either since they aren’t in my wheelhouse and I haven’t heard of either author before). The last one I would not read unless I knew the author personally or it was highly recommended by someone whose reading opinions I implicitly trust, and that’s a pretty short list. I’m not saying that the first two are as high of a quality as those from a major publisher, but someone, probably someone who was paid to do so, spent enough time to think about design and font and so forth. Personally, I have no design skills; I don’t even recognize the elements that signal my threshold, but I know it when I see it.
Typos: Do you have typos in your blurb? If you can’t put together two paragraphs correctly, I’m going to assume you also have many, many typos in your book, and will not download it.
Tropes: I like authors who turn tropes on their head, but sometimes I just like seeing a new turn in a familiar plot, so just because you have a “marriage of convenience” or “young person on a journey” thing going on doesn’t mean I won’t try it out. There are a few things that will trigger an absolute no from me, usually because they’re just overdone right now. Is the word “billionaire” in your title? Pass. Has your young protagonist just turned 16, 18 or 21 and suddenly need to master a just manifested magical skill in order to save the world? Nope (unless you are Mercedes Lackey.) My pet peeve lately is “hero/heroine who is about to achieve the final lynchpin to a perfect existence suddenly has everything taken away and must start over with nothing.” I can see why it is compelling to set up a story this way, but it just feels like lazy plotting at this point.
Bad Blurbing: This is harder to define, but usually it comes down to emphasizing the wrong things or giving too much away. If you tell me about your theme, i.e., “this book is about forgiveness/second chances” and not about your story or character, then you are doing it wrong. If your blurb gives away a major plot point beyond the first third of the book, you are doing it wrong. If your blurb is more than 3 short paragraphs or 2 longish ones, you are doing it wrong. If you identify your main character by his full name and he has the same initials as yourself, I am going to assume it is a thinly veiled autobiography and not read it, so you are doing it wrong. And if you describe your own book in the first sentence as “compelling” or “incredible”, you are definitely doing it wrong.
My personal issues: Sometimes it’s just me. I mentioned that Barbara Kingsolver has put me off anything set in Appalachia, though that is probably temporary. I am completely over spunky Southern heroines, especially if they come in sets, I don’t care how many people tell me they loved The Help. I don’t read books set in wartime generally – no Civil War, no WW II, no Vietnam vets, and that one Tom Clancy novel I read was fine but I’m not picking up any others.
So what am I buying? A free book from a major publisher in any genre is probably going to get downloaded. A Kindle Daily Deal has a higher chance than most other sale books, especially if it’s something that I’ve been eyeing for awhile or that has been getting buzz. For some reason any book less than 99 cents, even if it’s only a few pennies different, seems like a really good deal. And if I were going to recommend anything right now, today is the last day to get some special enhanced editions of Courtney Milan’s early books for 99 cents, and that includes the first two amazing books in the Turner series. As a side note, she designs her own covers, and like everything else, she does it well.