Resurrecting Dead Sales: How I’m Making over a Slumping Story

I am going to try to raise the dead.

Hey, I write fantasy literature. I’m a specialist in magic (at least of the literary kind). This should be easy, right?

Well, we’ll see.

coronation cover2Over a year ago (January of 2012 to be more precise), I published a short story, “The Coronation of King Charles III.” It’s a wicked little fantasy story about a fundamentalist crown prince ascending the throne and planning to outlaw magic. A witch hatches a plan to either persuade the prince otherwise or make sure he doesn’t becomg king. There are all kinds of faith-vs.-science and the role-of-women-in-society issues bound up in it. I wrote it several years ago, but the underlying themes became really timely during last year’s election.

And yet it did not sell. It sold very poorly indeed. Calling it a commercial failure would be a compliment.

My recent research into and experimentation with SEO language for the marketing of eBooks leads me to believe I may know why. On the surface, the answer is simple:

Basically, I did everything wrong.

Obviously, the truth is a little more complicated than that, and I’ll explain below the mistakes I made and how I intend to correct them. It all boils down to three main things, though:

  1. The title is weak
  2. The cover is bad
  3. The description doesn’t sell the book

Weak Title

“Coronation’s” title is apt and descriptive. The climax of the story is the coronation of the king wherein the central conflict is resolved.

That doesn’t make it good.

It doesn’t tell us anything about the story’s action, themes, or hook. All we can tell is it is about a king ascending a throne, and, because I use a standard Western name — Charles — the prospective buyer has no idea whether this is a fantasy book or an historical one.

So the title already is working against sales.

Can you tell from the title there are significant religious overtones to the story? What about the fact that the witch in the story uses sex magic to steal men’s wills? How about the cultural power struggle caught up in the action? No? None of that is even remotely obvious?

“The Coronation of King Charles III” does not tease the buyer with anything interesting. It says here’s a story about a guy named Charles becoming king. That could mean anything!

So I did some SEO research through Google Adwords to see what sorts of hits I could get. One of the words that recurs frequently in the story is, “passion.” Prince Charles and Juliette, the witch, are both passionate in their beliefs. Juliette uses sexual passion to manipulate people. And passion can have religious overtones as well. An Adwords search revealed “passion” receives 9.14M hits per month.

With it being more evocative of the story and so popular on Google, my editor and I decided it might be a good word to have in the title. We played around with several ideas before hitting on what we believe is a winner: “Passion Play.”

First, it’s got “passion” in it. Second, it’s a play on the phrase, “power play,” which is really what the story is about. Prince Charles intends to change the law to suit his religious beliefs. Juliette is determined to stop him. The other two major characters in the story, a soldier named Gaston and Bishop Gerard, are being manipulated by them. Both the prince and Juliette are engaged in a power play that is both built around passion and passionate beliefs. Finally, “passion play” is a religious phrase, so it evokes the religious themes that permeate the story.

Bad Cover

I like “Coronation’s” cover, but it’s all wrong for this story. The dominant image is of a kiss, and that was done deliberately to try to conjure up the sexual aspects of the story. But set against the title, “The Coronation of King Charles III,” it’s confusing and out of place. The crown above it doesn’t do anything to make things any clearer.

With the new title, the images make a little more sense, but they’re still not doing much to sell the story. “Passion Play” is not about a kiss. It’s about a witch named Juliette fighting to preserve her way of life. She doesn’t have an army. She just has her magic. And the most powerful witchcraft she has is sex.

So the cover needed to feature those things. While I’m not big on cheesecake covers, this story needs one to evoke its themes and attract reader attention. “Passion Play” needs a sexy sorceress/witch on it’s cover to make potential readers sit up and take notice.

passion playThus, the new cover to the left. As much as we may wish it weren’t true, sex sells and nudity catches the eye. On Amazon and other eBook retail sites, the first look at your cover a reader is likely to get is a small thumbnail. Thus, the image has to stand out even when it’s small. As we experimented with different images, my cover artist and I found that the one at left looks good both big and small. At full size, the model is alluring, sexy, and magical. At thumbnail size, she is lit so that her breasts stand out.

Unlike “The Coronation of King Charles III,” “Passion Play’s” cover catches the eye. If it draws your attention, then I have a chance to give you my pitch. I increase the odds you’ll click on the thumbnail to learn more. When you read the description, the image and the title are evocative of the story. Thus, the cover does its jobs — it catches the buyer’s attention and encapsulates the plot and themes.

A Description that Sells

Speaking of that description, the one for “Coronation” doesn’t do anything to sell the book. Here’s what it is currently:

Charles III is about to ascend the throne of Cotreur, and he plans to outlaw  magic once he is king. After all, it may make crops grow, help families have children, and cure the sick, but it subverts the will of the gods and encourages sex. Worse, it is only practicable by women – a sure sign it comes from The Dark
One – and witches are said to be able to steal a man’s will by bedding him.

But not everyone agrees with Charles’s interpretation. Juliette has no desire to be put to death for practicing her art. She enlists the aid of Bishop Gerard to persuade the crown prince to alter his thinking. But when the bishop’s pleas fall on deaf ears, it may be time for more desperate action.

“The Coronation of King Charles III” is a short story by John R. Phythyon, Jr., author STATE OF GRACE, that examines the consequences of desire and the relationship between politics and religion, asking, “How far will you go to protect your beliefs?”

It’s way too short, and it doesn’t tease the story well at all. We get almost nothing in the way of the action of the plot. We know the prince wants to outlaw magic. We know Juliette is going to enlist the aid of a bishop. That’s it. There needs to be more. The description needs to raise more questions the buyer wants answered.

Worse, I leave the best line of the description off until the end — “How far would you go to protect your beliefs?” That’s one of the central questions of the piece, and I wait until the last line of the third paragraph to introduce it. The average buyer is never going to read it, because he or she has already determined in the first paragraph that this book isn’t for him or her.

I haven’t rewritten the description yet. That’s on my list of things to finish this week.

But it needs a hook, and it needs strong, evocative words. It needs to say this story is about power and sex and religion and corruption and what people will do to get what they want and need. It needs to say this is a fast-paced fantasy story that will make you think while keping you entertained. It needs to actually sell the book, not just describe it.

Because I haven’t finished the description yet, I haven’t relaunched the story. It’s still on Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble as “The Coronation of King Charles III,”  and that’s just fine. It’s sleeping peacefully in the marketing grave I dug for it. It’ll keep.

But next week I plan to have everything in place. I’ll remake “Coronation” into “Passion Play.”

And then I’ll see if I can raise the dead or not.

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3 thoughts on “Resurrecting Dead Sales: How I’m Making over a Slumping Story

  1. Pingback: Rebooted: Will a Makeover Help a Book with Slumping Sales? | John R. Phythyon, Jr., Author

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