What Sells A Book

- by Lynn Michaels

It may surprise you, but no one knows. That may be the biggest secret in publishing. Well, not anymore since I just blabbed it. Anyway. Editors, publishers, agents and marketing gurus don’t have a clue what compels readers to buy a book.

The cover is the starting point. Editors and art directors hope that an attractive, eye-catching cover will prompt a reader to pick up up the book in Barnes & Noble, Borders or their local bookshop.

If the book has an attractive cover that’s a plus. If the cover is eye-catching, but not in a good way, then it can be a negative.

That’s why once upon a time hand selling was so important. At Waldenbooks leading the customer to the section and placing the book in his or her hand was the #1 duty of all clerks.

This is the original cover of my Harlequin Temptation, The Patriot. I’m sharing it as as an example of a cover that’s eye-catching, but not in a good way.

In all fairness to the artists in the Harlequin art department, they have a lot of covers to produce every month.  They can’t all be a Rembrandt.  When I received the cover flat for the book I called my editor and said, “I’m pretty sure I didn’t say in the book that Quade (the hero) has ears like a jug.”

At the next RWA National Conference Harlequin gifted me with a 24×18 poster of The Patriot mounted on foam board.  I took it home and stood it on the floor against the bookcase in my office.  Every time my husband or one of our two sons walked by they turned the poster face to the wall. They called it the Ugly Man Cover.

If you look closely you’ll see that my name is misspelled, Lynne Michaels instead of Lynn Michaels. This is the only book that Lynne with an e Michaels ever wrote. The editorial department at Temptation felt so bad about the screw up that they sent me flowers.

I’m sure it’s been said here that authors have no control over covers. Some input, yes, but we pretty much get what we get, and we all hold our breath waiting to see the cover flat.

When Harlequin reverted the rights to the The Patriot to me I decided to publish it myself as an e-book on Amazon. The best part about that was giving the book a new cover, created by  my artist friend Judy Johnson.

I think it’s a big improvement. And yes, this time my name is spelled right.


  1. I love your new cover, Lynn.

    A German translation of one of my books apparently written by Joy Fielding. Bet that confused the heck out of the readers!

  2. One of the many things I love about Samhain Publishing is that they send me two of the artist’s sample covers and I can choose the one I want. I can also ask for the artist if I’m pleased with her work. What a concept!
    Phoebe Conn

  3. Oh boy, your first cover is not a winner! I had one cover that reduced me to tears. They’d made my handsome 1760 hero look like a witless hayseed. The grief has passed! As long as I don’t look at the book.