How to grab a reader’s attention

Last week, I trolled Amazon for recently-released digital-only fantasy books for the middle-grade audience. I had an idea of what to expect before I decided to do this feature. Some of those expectations were met, but I also came away with new insights on what would catch the attention of a middle-grade book reader. Take note that this is not a statistical study, there being only a population of one (ie., me). These are things I came across as I did my survey of new books.

Duplicate titles

This was one of the odder things I came across last week. There were a couple of books that were duplicate titles. I didn’t know what was up with that. They had different authors listed and different publication dates. But, otherwise, everything seemed the same. Is one of the names the author’s real name, and the other a pen name? Did he/she simply forget and uploaded the same book twice? Was this a co-authored book, and each author listed it separately?

From what I remember, it seemed to be a self-published title. I only got as far as the issue of the double titles, which put me off, so I didn’t explore it further for inclusion in Friday Five.

Ebook first, print second

Some books are being digitally published, ahead of their release as print books. This makes a lot of sense for publishers and authors, because ebooks are faster to put together. Early digital releases are also good for drumming up the promotion well ahead of the print books. Readers who want to read the story now can do so, and maybe still buy the print copy when it comes out. Readers who prefer books will also get that option, albeit with a bit of a wait.

First impressions

I got a glimpse into what an agent’s slushpile must be like, as I was doing my Friday Five search last week. Though, obviously, I had a much easier time, because there weren’t hundreds of ebooks to go through. I also had a bit of an advantage in that I had the book covers to help guide me. (Take note, though, it’s still not a good idea to send a book cover along with your submission to an agent, ok?).

Since I didn’t have unlimited time to browse the lists, I had to depend on a few key eye-catchers to make my picks. Here are the things, in order, which influenced my Friday Five choices:

Book cover – This is the first thing that caught my eye. The book covers must be clean and professional-looking, with readable fonts. Nothing that looks as though an 8-year-old slapped it together. Unless you have mad Photoshop skills, it really is best to get a professional designer to do book covers for you.

Title – The title of the book needs to be intriguing. I didn’t go for those that included long explanations of what the book is about.

Intended audience – For a lot of books, the intended audience was hard to figure out. Sometimes I couldn’t tell whether it was MG or YA or mainstream. Only one ebook had an age/grade level indicated. This is a detail that’s easy to forget, but it’s still very important in making sure that a book gets found by its audience. To indicate that it’s MG, you can just put “middle-grade” somewhere in the description. Or at least, include the age of the main character.

Book description – For writers familiar with the query process, this is its equivalent. One description I read made no sense at all. Remember that whatever goes in here has to hook a possible reader/buyer, and it needs to be grammatically correct and free of spelling errors.

First pages – Amazon provides the ability to peek into the first pages. I took advantage of this as much as possible. Some openings were very compelling, others were just so-so.

While all this information isn’t entirely new, I hope you still got some insights into what might catch a reader’s eye, particularly if you’re self-publishing. The writing is still the most important thing, but the quality and care that goes into that writing will be reflected in your choice of cover, the book description and attention to other details. You need to catch a reader’s eye first before they’ll make the decision to buy your book.

As a reader, what is the most important thing you consider when browsing books?

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