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What's selling and why

At the Orycon convention this weekend in Portland, Oregon, the young lion of genre fiction, Lou Anders, was the Editor Guest of Honor.  Lou may be unique among editors for his ability to "pitch" a story--to capture its essence in a few sentences, to entice readers and book buyers and sales departments.  His background is Hollywood, so perhaps this is understandable, but all of us at the convention hung on every word, catching revealing glimpses into how his job is done in these difficult marketing days.  He founded the excellent Pyr line for Prometheus books, a line that is known for beautiful products with fine art covers and spectacular writing.

Lou and Prometheus intended Pry to be a science fiction line, but now, five years into its existence, it sells primarily fantasy.  This is a market decision.  He also says that urban fantasy is beginning to "migrate"--his word--into historical fiction.  (I'm thrilled to hear this, as my next novel, Mozart's Blood, is historical.)

He listed five things that sell books, and in this order.  I had to trust my memory, but I think this is right.  If you were there, and can correct me, please do.

1) Readers buy books by authors they've previously enjoyed.

2) Readers buy books recommended by friends.

3) Readers buy books because of the back cover copy.

4) Readers buy books if the first paragraph grabs them.

5) Readers buy books because of the cover blurbs.

 More on the first paragraph issue in another post, because it's really a writing issue.  The big surprise in this list, at least to me, is #5.  Writers learn to be skeptical of cover blurbs, but perhaps we're simply jaded.  Certainly, on principle, I never blurb a book I don't care for, but it seems to me that not every writer makes the same decision, and many of these bits of marketing have a generic feel.  Lou says, however, that if Anne McCaffrey blurbs a book, a reader will at least assume that the book has similarities to a McCaffrey book.  

No doubt the book cover is what causes a reader to pick up a book they've never seen before.  Lou's belief is you have thirty seconds to grab that reader before they set down your book and go one to another.   Unfortunately, the only item on this list we writers have control over is #4.  It's worth thinking about!

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Excellent info, Louise;

Excellent info, Louise; thanks for sharing it with us. And congrats on getting another Red Room Blog Post of the Day!

www.KevinRadthorne.com - Where Art and Words Meet (and enjoy a nice warm latte together)

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Thanks, Kevin!

Lou is full of solid information. His blog is worth following, too.

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Thanks for your straight talk, Louise.

Louise, Thanks for your straight talk on how readers choose to buy a book. I have pretty much memorized the last paragraph to chew on every once in awhile!
Am looking forward to hearing more about how writers can grapple with a books first paragraph. I'm going to stop and read the (current? permanent?) first paragraph of the novel I am working on now.
I can say it has improved after each iteration - whew!
V.

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Thank you, Vicki.

Such a good reminder. I think the first paragraph issue is worth a whole post, and I hope a bunch of discussion amongst us all.

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blurbs?

Louise,
As a reader who buys many books, I would agree to # 1 and # 2 and # 3, and perhaps, though probably not so much, # 4, but never # 5. Personally, I dismiss cover blurbs as being paid advertisements. I rarely read them at all, and if I do, it is after I have already purchased the book to read. If I happen to see an author (who has written other books) that I respect and then I am disappointed in the book, then I feel betrayed by the blurb-writing author.
Just a different take, that is my take, on the reasons people buy books.
as ever,
Nancy

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Interesting.

Of course, this isn't my list, this is Lou Anders's list, and I'll explain more about his thoughts in my next post (that dreaded first paragraph issue!) Of all the editors I've met, he seems more in touch with what readers want and how they make their decisions. I suppose blurbs are worth an entire discussion, too! What do you think?

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On blurbs

Actually, I think Lou's comment is the first authoritative one from the publishing side I've heard that's been positive about blurbs. Most of what I've heard before has been from readers, who like Nancy don't seem to find them too persuasive. And I've not heard really anything from publishers, which led me to think the blurbs were there because "it's expected" and, by reverse psychology, if they were absent it must mean the book was no good...

Now, on a totally unrelated front to actually selling the book, a blurb from a well-known author for a debut author I think might help that author gain some standing amongst peers. We author types may have some sense for who actually reads the things to blurb and who is just commenting because they were asked, and if a respected author whose blurb is honest is on the cover, that may carry some weight within our own circle. And that's always welcome.

www.KevinRadthorne.com - Where Art and Words Meet (and enjoy a nice warm latte together)

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Yes, to discussion on blurbs

I would be interested in a discussion on blurbs. I have not yet published a book, but I have written the blurbs for my novel. I wrote about halfway through the first draft for two reasons. The most important being as reminders of what my novel is about so I would remain focused and secondly so I would have something to send to friends when they asked me, "So what is your book about."

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That was smart.

I hate that question, not because I don't welcome the interest, but because I have such a hard time explaining what a novel is about! It's one of the reasons Lou impressed me so at Orycon--he's the best pitchman I've ever met.

Okay, we need a chat about first paragraphs, and then about blurbs. I'll get busy! :-) And thank you for participating. I think we all learn and grow this way.