1. The biggest money-maker is Romance, and bookstores know it.
This section is going to be strategically placed to bring traffic to the rest of the store. In my experience, the Romance section is usually buried between other genres, likely for the purpose of bringing foot traffic. Those other genres might be young adult novels or comics, which Mommy would be walking past to get to her romance.
If romance is such a powerful tool for bookstores, why don’t writers take that lesson to heart? Even if romance isn’t your thing, you should seriously consider making it at least a side-attraction in your novel. People love “love.” If you truly want to make your story pop, don’t be afraid to use a romance plotline to direct your readers where you want them to go. Readers might keep turning the page just to see if John ever gets that second date, when, in reality, you’re teaching them a powerful life lesson through your story. Ends and means.
2. Books sell by their image.
No matter how awesome your book may be, it sells merely by the power of its image. There is nothing more important you can do for your novel than giving it appropriate representation. If you’re self-publishing, take your cover seriously. Compare it to popular books in your genre and make sure you have something similar. If you are looking for a publisher or agent, be sure to first check the quality of the covers of books they represent. You are responsible for doing research and agreeing with the level of quality you can expect from your agent or publisher.
Bookstores don’t really sell books by the power of the title on the spine. They might sell books by the power of the author’s name, but I doubt you have a shelf dedicated to you quite yet. Bookstores proudly display books by their covers and plaster new releases on ginormous posters hanging in the windows. Images sell books, just like any other product.
3. Word-of-Mouth is the best marketing strategy
Bookstores go through a ton of trouble to bring attention to their first-choice books, but most sales come from people reading what other people are reading. It’s kind of like when you walk into a restaurant and aren’t sure what to order because everything looks good, but then you see that couple a booth down with some kind of delicious entre and you tell your waiter “I’ll have the same as what they’re having.” That’s because you’ve seen someone else already enjoying that product, and you’re more confident you’ll like it too.
Bookstores will often encourage people to loiter and have plenty of comfy places to read. One of those reasons could be that if you see someone else reading a particular book, you might be inclined to give it a try. I don’t know if that works in bookstores, but I know it works online.
So how do authors get word-of-mouth going and how do you encourage online interest? Having a platform is a good place to start, and it takes time. But if you already have a book out, make sure your book is setup on Goodreads. This is probably a basic tip, but I’m sure some indie-authors don’t realize how important it can be. Anyone can see your book on Goodreads and also see how many people are reading it, and if their friends are reading it. It just takes one person to get that ball rolling.
However, I want to take a moment and say don’t shove your book in people’s faces on social media. If you are compelled to do that, then I recommend making a separate cheerleader account with a different name where you can be as spammy as you want. But on your platform, just don’t do it. It’s one thing to be excited about a new book and announce giveaways or special events, but there’s a line. Don’t be a product, be a person. If people want to connect with you, then they want to see you, and any books you’ve published will come later.
4. Bookstores categorize their books by their genre. That means that if your book doesn’t nicely fit into a genre, you have a problem.
I know some people might argue with me on this one, but the more I learn about writing the more I realize that an amateur writer will make things far too complicated. Readers prefer simple. If I want to read a thriller, I want a thriller. I’m not looking for a thriller with mystery and sci-fi elements which overpower and overcomplicate the story.
All that said, the fun thing about writing is that there are no rules. Everything I’ve said here is just recommendations and trends. If your book can strike out on its own, don’t be afraid to go for it. My best bit of advice is to be consistent and persistent with whatever goal you pursue.