Dead On Arrival – How Not To Be

Had an excellent question on the KDP forums the other day, which inspired me to write a pretty good blog post (I thought) off the top of my head. Then I thought, why let only the couple of hundred or so souls who cruise those boards see it, when I could share it with the tens of people who read my blog.


So the question was, “How do I make sure my new KDP book is not dead on arrival.” The poster had noted that many books were so bad when first published that that’s the way he considered them – no hope of sales, no hope of positive notice. So bad that promoting them would just draw negative notice, bad reviews, and a chorus of derision.

So here’s my reply, slightly edited:
Self-publishing a new book is like dressing for a job interview. There are several components of your ensemble that will cause the potential employer (buyer/reader) to dismiss you out of hand, before they even ask questions.

I’d put the items roughly in this order:

1. Cover. This is your first impression. Colorful, attention-getting, APPROPRIATE TO THE GENRE. Something like this:

2. Blurb. If the reader gets past the cover, he/she will probably read the blurb. Make it short, 3-4 sentences at most. It should contain a question or mystery, something to catch the reader’s interest. It should NOT be a summary of the book. Less is often more. Make the reader want to find out about the book, don’t tell her already.

Blurb should also be very, very, very well edited. One error in the blurb will kill a certain percentage of sales. Several will stop them altogether.

3. Formatting. The first thing I notice when I open the Look Inside is the formatting. It doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect; it’s not the most important thing in the world, but it is the most immediate thing the reader will see. Make sure indents are correct (not too large), chapter headings look right (centered, proper font size), no blank lines between paragraphs (on fiction).

4. Proofreading. Just basic spelling and punctuation. This is a must. Errors, especially early on, will kill your sales.

5. Copy editing. Grammar, word usage, clarity of meaning. Go over it yourself as many times as you need to, and then get others to do so. Pay someone if you have to, especially for your first book. This is where a lot of well-meaning writers stop investing in themselves. They don’t want to pay for a copy edit. But if they do, two good things happen: they get a much better first book (and so make a good first impression) and they will learn a lot from the editor and editing process, which will reduce the need for it in the future.

6. Opening hook. Unless your book is a direct sequel, you have to get the reader interested in those opening pages, be it the Prologue or Chapter One. Ideally, within the first three paragraphs the need to be interested, because that’s where they will make their initial decision about the book. With book 2, this is also a good idea. By book 3 or a series, the reader is usually committed to read and you can get away with a bit slower start – but a good fast start is never bad.

7. Content editing and/or beta reading. You often don’t have to pay for this; often other authors or readers will give you feedback on your story, plot, pacing, flow, all those higher-order things. It may take some begging or swapping between you and other authors, as in “I’ll do for you if you do for me.”

8. Ending. You want to have a relatively clean, clear ending. IMO raw cliffhangers, i.e., leaving the protagonist in mortal danger, smacks of cheap tactics to buy the next book. IMO, and others may disagree, you should have closure of the main story line, but leave some hanging thread, some mysteries, some interesting pieces that entice and promise more later. You book creates a relationship between you and the reader. Relationships need both satisfaction and something to look forward to, until the end of the series or the standalone book, at which point, if you are sure it’s over, make it over and say “The End.” Don’t end your book ambiguously unless you really will do a sequel, or you are more interested in satisfying your craving for artsiness. The reader will be unhappy. Unhappy readers don’t buy more books or recommend you to friends.

9. Front and back matter. Keep front matter to a minimum, but do make sure whatever needs to be said is said, and that you put your “other books by this author” information in there, as well as your web site, FB and twitter pages, or whatever you want to allow the reader to know. When they hold your book in their hands is the moment when you have their complete attention, and the end of a good book is a good time to advertise another of your good books.

10. Teaser from the next book. If you have it written, even partially written, put something from the next book, or another book if a standalone, at the end of your book. It’s a free bonus to a fan, and an enticement to someone who is on the fence. Why not? There’s no downside. And with ebooks, you can put this in later when you’ve written it, even if you don’t have it ready when the book is published. Like your sample and/or hook, it should grab the reader’s interest, not merely fill in background info. Make them want to buy that next book.

And, from Kara Haskins:

We now have that new feature through Author Central that allows our readers to sign up to be automatically notified by Amazon when we publish something new. Mention it somewhere on each and every work, either in the front or back. Let readers know while they hold your book in their hands and it’s fresh in their mind that it’s fast and easy to ‘Stay up to Date’ with your releases. Of course they can do this through your website as well, but they might prefer to do so through Amazon.


…and the latest news on my work, I’m almost done drafting “Reaper’s Run,” which will fit chronologically between books 1 and 2 of Plague Wars. It tells the story of Jill Repeth’s escape across the USA during a time of great upheaval. I intend it to stand alone, but it also fills in the story nicely for those who want more Plague Wars material. It will come in at about 50K words probably, that’s 200-ish pages: a short novel or long novella. It should be released around the end of the month.

Then I have Plague Wars Book 5, Comes the Destroyer, half written. I hope to have it released about the end of July. Then I will need to write Stellar Conquest Book 3, which continues the mil-sci-fi story of humanity’s offensive against the Meme.

Cheers, and Happy Father’s Day, and late Mother’s Day for all you moms.

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