Randall Payleitner

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Where Books Usually Lose People

I was going to start writing about how to keep a reader interested in your book. How to make sure that page one is interesting enough for them to turn to page two, etc. But instead I thought it’d be more fun to flip the coin over and look at the places most readers usually check out… And then encourage the book creators of the world to address them with each aspect of their books.

When dreaming about, figuring out, and writing your book the goal should be to reach the largest percentage of your widest possible audience. If, for instance, you are writing a book detailing the value and history of the curveball—you’ll probably have a large interested audience and another, larger, disinterested audience. Don’t act as if you’ve got a potential audience of 7 billion.

Of your potential interested audience, think about which of the following elements are most likely to result in them saying “no thanks” to reading your book. And then fix it.

Cover Art:

By far the most likely culprit to lose a reader is the cover. This may seem obvious, but it's not. The cover is in an unfair position because I don't think it has as much power to positively cause someone to want to read a book as it does to cause someone to not read a book. When designing, picking, and finalizing a cover, think about its job: To get the reader to pick up and open the book. It’s not to win cover design awards or look pretty on the shelf—the point of a book cover is to get your potential reader to start reading!

Title:

The point of the title is similar to the cover, but with one additional note in our Internet-dominated book-buying world: Titles are the most important metadata for your book. This doesn’t mean you should trade beauty or accuracy for Google-able terms, but it does mean that the title/subtitle combination must make your book findable amidst the rabble.

Back Cover Copy:

These 150 words on the back of a book used to be the closer—the point at which a potential reader became a buyer. But now, most books are bought without the reader holding them in their hands. At first blush, this may induce panic, but take a deep breath. The back cover copy (or the retrofitted Amazon copy) now occupies an interesting space: It can be found, read, and decided upon from the comfort of anywhere—not just standing up between shelves at a bookstore or a library. Make this copy great, succinct, and helpful. Clear writing wins the day here.

Table of Contents:

This is where the non-fiction book’s author gets to prove that their book is headed somewhere. Don’t lose this opportunity by getting too cute with your chapter titles.

First Page:

The discerning reader wants to know: Can this author actually write? They don’t turn to page 47 to see. They turn to the opening paragraphs of the actual book. These first few words are more important than the rest because if they stink, the rest won’t get read. Work hard on them.

The beginning of “Act II”:

This is when the reader, who is clearly already invested, is able to see if you are actually peddling a worthwhile whole product, or if you are merely expanding a decent idea into a 200 page book. It’s unlikely that a reader will bail if they’ve made it this far. But this is usually the point when a reader becomes (or doesn’t become) an unpaid salesperson for your book by telling all their friends they should read it too.

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We are a distracted people always looking for the next squirrel to make us laugh or the next photo filter to make our edamame look just right. Book readers are stronger than those cheap temptations. But all books are not equal—we authors, editors, and publishers must work to keep our readers invested. They deserve our best.