Sometimes the life of an author is glamorous. People trying to get selfies with you. Demanding autographs. Movie studios calling with multi-million dollar deals. All of which I’ve experienced day-in and day-out for years now.
Some of that might be exaggeration.
Ah, but not everything is always so glamorous. Thursday morning my wife and I went to Barnes and Noble to do research. This wasn’t the fun, “Let’s find all the books that describe how suburbs slowly form into hive-minds!”
Nope. We picked up a bunch of books and asked some very basic questions about them:
- Is the cover matte or glossy?
- What information is always included on the copyright page?
- Is the first page an excerpt from the book? Praise for the author? Blank?
- Are the sections of the book labeled “Chapter One,” “Chapter 1,” “One,” “1,” or something else entirely?
- How much space on the first page of a chapter is blank?
- How many books have chapters that are titled?
- How many books have an “about the author”?
- Do those “about the author’s” include a photo?
…and a lot, a lot more.
Why would we need to know these things?
Well, if you’re going to publish a book, you need it to look like a book. There are a thousand little cues that most people don’t consciously notice, but if they’re off, the book will feel off. Ever pick up a book like that? Sure, the content looks interesting, but something just doesn’t feel right about the book. And that feeling, in a marketplace crowded with thousands of choices, well, it can mean fewer sales.
Now, my family has a ginormous library. Literally thousands of books. Why didn’t we just go through what we already own?
Well, conventions change over time. What may have been normal twenty years ago now feels off. We had to see what’s selling now.
We also had to make sure that the books we looked at were the same genre and target audience as the books we’re looking to publish. After all, if we were checking out steamy romance books when we’re planning YA adventure, well, we’d be getting faulty data.
The saddest thing of all that was waving goodbye to all the books we checked out. I love reading too, even if I don’t have as much time to spend reading as I’d like. And oh, so many of those books looked delightful.
Ah, the glamorous life of a writer.
If you’re looking to write, be aware of what books look like. Check out the covers. Look at what’s under the cover. What does it look like? What does it feel like? It may seem strange, but these things matter.
And all of that… takes a little research.