The author with two brains

The author with two brains

All authors need two brains.

The first (the lovely one) is the writing brain. This gives you your purpose, your depth, your flow, your joy.

In any really well-written book, any bit you care to pick will have multiple jobs to do. It’ll set the scene, show a glimpse of character, raise a laugh, allude to theme, move the story on a notch, and so on. The biggest task in writing, in a way, is not to do any of those things – they’re all, individually, easy enough to do. The biggest challenge is to do them all at the same time … and make it look easy as you do it.

But that’s writing-brain. It’s not the brain we’re talking about now. Because you also need to deploy selling-brain, and that one works very differently.

For one thing, you don’t get to write lovely, lovely stories. And you have to engage in tech things and explore dashboards and (yuk!) Live in the Real World.

But selling-brain does help you shift some books and make some money and create the space in your life to let writing-brain do what it does the best. So we need to help it do just that.

And one of the big, big rules when you’re in selling-brain mode is that (nearly always) you need to ask: what is the one single point of this thing?

Some examples:

The welcome email

Someone has just read your (paid-for) book. They loved it. They want more from you. They sign up to your mailing list because you offer them a nice free story if they do. You send them an automated email which has a download link for the free story.

What is the purpose of that email?

Most writers think they’re meant to pitch something. So they start selling. They try to sell the novel that the reader has in fact just read and enjoyed. Or they try to sell the future series. Or they try to push that reader to follow them on Instabook, or Facetok, or something like that.

All that misses the point.

The point of the email is to welcome that reader to your club. That’s it. It’s called a welcome email for a reason. Don’t sell. Just welcome.

And that means that you shouldn’t talk like some brochure for dodgy Floridian timeshares. You need to talk like you. (In welcome-mode, obvs, not shouting-at-a-broken-vacuum-cleaner mode.)

The point of the welcome email is the welcome. Achieve that, forget about everything else.

Your cover design

What’s the point of your cover design?

Most writers, if they start to design their covers (either solo, or with a designer), are worried about honouring the book.

There’s a key scene in a cave, right, where Elida comes face to face with a dragon that represents her past self? That’s key. So we need Elida (long red hair) and a cave and a dragon and obviously Elida’s serpent-sash, because that’s the key to the Elidian prophecy …

And that whole line of thinking is just rubbish. Sorry, but it is.

If you were designing a cover for yourself – ie: someone who knows your book intimately and adores it – then that would be the perfect cover. But the total audience for that specific cover is just one – namely you – and you’re not going to buy the book, because you’re the flipping author.

So again: what’s the point of your cover design?

It’s to get “warm” readers interested in buying your book.

(A warm reader is anyone looking to buy a book in your approximate genre, but who hasn’t come to this bookstore specifically to buy your book.)

That’s it.

The point of the cover is NOT to sell the book. It can’t do that. It can induce someone to pick the book up (if they’re in a physical shop) or to click through to the specific book-page (if they’re on Amazon.)

Once the reader is at that level of exploration, then it’s down to blurb, and price and reviews, and the text itself to make the sale.

The job of your cover is to get warm readers interested in your book.

Those readers don’t know who Elida is; they don’t know what the dragon represents; they don’t give two flying hoots about that serpent sash. They don’t know and they don’t care.

So a good cover is one that says, “I look like an exciting dragon-n-sword type fantasy novel. You’d better pick me up and find out more.” The cover needs to advertise mood and genre and entice more exploration. (It’s extra good, if there’s some useful reverberation with the title.) But it does not need to speak especially about the content of the novel.

Now of course, you can’t totally disregard the novel content. My second Fiona book (in the US, not the UK) had an image of a frozen landscape because a couple of the key sequences in the book involved the cold. But the allusion wasn’t very specific at all. The cover had a solitary tree in a snowy landscape. There was no solitary tree mentioned anywhere in the book and, in fact, the image on the front cover did not match anything referred to in the book. That didn’t matter. It was a great image. It invited exploration. It didn’t totally betray the content of the book. Job done.

Here’s one more example before I finish:

The Facebook Ad

What’s the point of a Facebook ad?

Pretty obviously, it’s there to sell books. Except that on FB’s choice of options, you have to click the thing that says “website traffic”, where the website in question is Amazon. (You can’t click an option which says “make sales” because you can’t force Amazon to share sales data with Facebook.)

OK, so Facebook thinks you want to increase traffic to Amazon, and if you really want to do that, here’s a failsafe tip:

Don’t put a book cover in your ad.

That way when you have a brilliant image for your dragon-n-sword trilogy, you’ll attract readers … and people hoping for a movie … and people wondering if you’re offering a video game, or a T-shirt, or a set of fancy candles. The number of clicks through to Amazon will be impressive – and your sales will stink.

So you need to put a book cover in your ad to deter the clicks you don’t want. Facebook will make sad faces at you and your total clicks will go down and your cost-per-click will go up. And that’s fine.

The point of the ad is to make sales, not to maximise clicks.


And that’s always true when you’re selling (especially digitally.) You need to know what the point of any particular element in your selling chain is.

The point of a welcome email is to welcome.

The point of a book cover is to invite more exploration.

The point of a Facebook ad is to make sales, and to hell with what Facebook might think the point of the ad is.

At every single touchpoint in your selling chain, you need to ask “what’s the point of this?”. Then deliver that objective to the absolute maximum of your capacity.

The more you load additional objectives onto a given link in the chain, the less well it will achieve its one true purpose. Forget omni-layered writing-brain. Go with uni-purpose selling brain.

You’ll achieve a load more. There’s some really good content in Feedback Friday this week, so don’t stop reading here …

Feedback Friday: Tools Season – Author Brand

OK, we’ve got some really brilliant content for you this week.

Go and watch this Establishing an Author Platform and Brand masterclass (This is Premium Member content only.)

Gwyn GB, our presenter, is a really capable marketer, who also happens to be a really capable author and self-publisher. You’re in very good hands with her.

This kind of material is critical if you’re self-publishing, but it’s also important if you’re heading down a more traditional route. And in any case: the more you know, the better your decisions will be.

To take part in Feedback Friday, you can either:

Give me a plan for your author platform and brand in 6-8 bullet points. Make sure that the first bullet point establishes very succinctly what you’re selling. What do you want to achieve in terms of cover design, mood, website, social media, and so on? It’s really fine (in fact, it’s actually positive) if your bullet points also cover what you’re not going to do. Is there an author out there in your genre who has a profile similar to what you want to achieve?


If you have questions arising from Gwyn’s masterclass, then just ask. I’ll get to as many of your questions as I can..

That’s it from me. Post either your bullet points or questions here. Blooming Elida has got a dragon’s tail caught in that serpent sash. Again. I need to go and sort things out with my Scissors of Arandor and the Thimble of Ezagon.

Til soon.


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