Business for Breakfast, V2: Chapter Four


The following is a chapter from Business for Breakfast, Volume 2: The Beginning Professional Publisher.

The ebook is available from Amazon, Kobo Books, Barnes & Noble, iBookstore, and the paper version is available from Createspace.

However, if you’re like most publisher (unwilling to spend money unless absolutely necessary) I will also be posting a chapter a week, so you’ll merely have to have patience to read all twelve chapters.

Chapter Four

Basic Marketing, Part One

There are two types of marketing:

  • Active
  • Passive

Active marketing, such as posting on Facebook, sending books to reviewers, purchasing ads, blogging, do not have to be the majority of your marketing budget or time. If you’re a writer, remember that marketing time is not writing time. Sometimes, it’s more important to focus on writing the next book.

However, there are a lot of passive marketing things that you can do, that will sell your books over time.

They don’t feel like marketing, in part, because we tend to think of marketing as that shouting in your face Buy My Book!

But they can be just as effective. Depending on the project, they may be more effective.

This chapter will cover some of what you can do to passively market your book. These are things you do once, then don’t touch again for a year or more.

Genre Basics

Identifying the correct genre for your books is a great way to market it. Putting it in the correct category increases the chances that someone will find your book.

If you don’t understand what genre is, or know much about genre, again, I’d recommend Dean’s class. (–workshops/)

This is going to be a very high–level overview to help get you started. You will need to study it on your own.

Genres include (and are not limited to):

  • Literary
  • Science Fiction
  • Fantasy
  • Mystery
  • Romance
  • Thriller
  • Horror
  • Non–Fiction
  • Children
  • Young Adult
  • Erotica

Each of these genres contain subgenres. For example, there are many different subgenres of mystery, such as:

  • Amateur sleuth
  • Cozy
  • Hard–boiled
  • Noir
  • Woman sleuth

Each subgenre has its own conventions. As a publisher, you need to look at a piece and be able to place it correctly. A writer can break a few of the conventions of a subgenre, but you must know which ones.

So you must study genre.

Where can you start your learning about genres?

A good place to start is with the BISAC, or basic industry subject and category lists. They’re updated every year, so you’ll want to do an internet search and find the most recent list. (–subject–codes/)

But this is just a starting place. Another place to look are the Amazon’s categories.

If you go to Amazon, and Shop by Department, Books, Kindle Books, on the left–hand side of the page that displays, you can traverse genres and subgenres.

NOTE: The categories listed there aren’t complete. There are many more subgenres and sub–sub–genres that you can choose for your books.

I go into more details about Amazon categories and sub–categories in Chapter Ten, Distributing and Branding.

One other item to note: Genre is one of those things that changes over the years.

For example, there used to be a very popular genre called Sword and Sorcery fiction. It would now be classified as Action & Adventure. What used to qualify for a thriller would no longer pass muster with today’s readers—those stories would now be classified under suspense, or mystery.

So you must study genre. It’s one of your most important passive marketing tools. Then make sure that you get your book into the right genre.

Cover Basics

After you’ve identified the genre for a piece, your next most important piece of passive marketing is getting a kick–ass cover.

One thing to be aware of: as the independent publishing grows, so does the skill set. Back at the dawn of time (more than five years ago) an independent publisher could slap any kind of cover on a title and it would do well. There wasn’t much material available, so if you told a good story, it didn’t matter as much how you marketed it.

These days, it’s growing more and more difficult to tell the difference between a cover produced by a large New York publisher and an independent press.

When I first started publishing back in 2011, I thought that all writers could create great covers.

I’ve now changed my mind. A writer must have a good eye to be able to create great covers, an artist’s eye. Most writers can do good or adequate covers.

However, that isn’t good enough anymore, not with the proliferation of material out there. Unfortunately, most authors don’t have that artist’s eye, and can’t take their covers to the next level.

What makes a great cover? The answer, of course, is that it depends on the genre. What makes a great fantasy cover would make a horrible thriller cover. A great mystery cover would make a horrible romance cover. Etc.

After you’ve determined the genre for a piece, I would recommend going to a bookstore and looking at covers in that genre. (I would also recommend looking at different genres, to start getting an idea of what conventions a genre uses.)

Make sure that you’re looking at recently published books and not reprints of older books with older covers. In addition, make sure that you’re looking at trade paperbacks, the bigger books, not at the mass market paperbacks.

Amazon is another place to go and look at covers. I would recommend specifying print books as part of your search. That way you’re looking primarily at traditionally published covers, and at small presses who know what they’re doing.

You might also look at the top forty books for a subgenre, such as Hard Science Fiction or Cozy Mystery. These are the books that are selling a certain number per day. They’ve done some of the passive marketing correctly.

In general, the following items make for a good cover:

  • Small print, such as the book tag, author tag, review quote, etc. You can’t read that text when the book cover is displayed at thumbnail size. But it’s one of the large distinguishing factors between amateurs and professionals.
  • Cover looks good at both thumbnail and larger size. Some genres (such as literary) currently have the author name tiny, so that you can’t see it even at the larger size. That doesn’t make it a bad cover, that just means it’s in a particular genre. But the cover, itself, looks good both at thumbnail as well as larger size.
  • Elements all fit together. The name doesn’t overpower the title, or vice–versa. The whole cover looks as though it fits together. Nothing jars the eye in an unpleasant way. Listen to your subconscious mind. (If you find yourself still puzzling over a cover a week after you’ve “finished” it, something’s probably wrong with it that you need to fix.)

Then there are genre specific things, such as mysteries tend to use photos on the cover while fantasy tends to use non–photo–realistic artwork, romance of all varieties tends to have people on the covers, etc. But you’ll need to study genre to find out what’s current in your field.

Another place to study covers: The Book Designer ( holds a monthly contest for ebook covers. Look at those, and more importantly, read the analysis he does of every cover. I disagree with his opinions frequently, but it’s a good starting education.

Another place to study covers: Allyson Longueira, the publisher for WMG Publishing, does a couple of lectures on covers. (–series/)

But I have no talent as an artist, and I’m going to have to buy all my covers. So why should I study covers?

Because you may have an artist who creates absolutely amazing romance covers and not have the first clue about how to create an urban fantasy cover.

As a publisher, you need to make sure that your books are placed in the correct genre. You can’t rely on the artist to know what’s correct for a genre. You need to know that. You’ll have to tell them, frequently.

Get help from experts, but remember that the final choice and decision is yours.


After determining your genre and obtaining a kick–ass cover, blurbs are your third most important piece of passive marketing.

Think about it this way: A reader walks into a bookstore. They go to the section of the bookstore that has their favorite genre (mystery, science fiction, photography books, etc.) They pull a book off the shelf, drawn by the cover.

Then they flip the book over to read the blurb on the back of the book.

Blurbs don’t tend to rely as much on genres. There are a few basics to remember about blurbs:

Blurbs are marketing material. Take off your writer hat and put on your publisher hat. You don’t want to tell the plot (this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened.) You do want to tell the story. To give a hint of what’s to come.

Blurbs are written in third–person present tense. Never use a passive verb (eliminate all varieties of the verb “To Be.”)

There are many types of blurbs: The back cover of the print book. The description field of an ebook. The short description that some distributors insist upon (less than 100 words.) The teaser you put on the back of a business card. Etc.

Remember, however, to keep all the versions of a blurb for a book in a single file.

To learn more about blurbs, take Dean Wesley Smith’s class on Pitches and Blurbs. (–workshops/)

In Conclusion

Here are the three things to remember about basic marketing:

  • There’s both passive and active marketing. Getting the passive marketing correct will make selling your books easier.
  • Genre determines most everything, so determining the genre for your book is key.
  • Covers and blurbs are your next most important passive marketing. You need to study them, so you’ll get them right.

The ebook is available from Amazon, Kobo Books, Barnes & Noble, iBookstore, and the paper version is available from Createspace.

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