How to Attract Readers Who Will Pay for Your Novel

“Shut up and take my money” — a 6-step method


Kyros Vogiatzoglou

3 years ago | 9 min read

Photograph of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 trilogy, taken by the author.

I had a “shut up and take my money” experience yesterday. It was a textbook impulse buy, as it took me less than two minutes from the moment I saw the book’s title to handing over my debit card at the store’s checkout.

I was so impressed by how quickly and easily I was enchanted into paying for this book, that I did a breakdown of the whole process. I’d like to share it with you. These are things we can all apply to attract readers who will pay for our novels.

So, on to the facts.

Yesterday, I paid €18 (about $20) to buy Murakami’s 1Q84 trilogy from a local bookstore, while I could have paid around €14 ($16) to order it online, shipping costs included.

At the same time, I already have 16 half-read novels and short story collections at home, plus a pretty long to-read list that doesn’t include 1Q84.

But I had to get it.

Let me explain how this works.

It was an unplanned visit to the bookstore with my girlfriend, who was looking for a particular title that she wanted.

While I waited, I happened to notice the fantasy and science/speculative fiction section right next to where I was standing (serendipity is my favorite word lately). I casually started browsing the titles, absent-mindedly looking at the books’ aligned spines — Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, Margaret Atwood, they were all there.

I picked a random book and glanced at the first few sentences of chapter 1— just a bit of research on how published authors open their first chapter. Then I picked another one and another. And then I spotted the words “Murakami”, “1Q84” and “trilogy” on a spine.

What follows are a few thoughts on the things that made me buy 1Q84, while all sorts of reasonable arguments in my mind implied that I shouldn’t.

This includes my girlfriend explicitly questioning whether this was a good idea when I was already reading so many books in parallel.

By that point, I was already on my way to the smiling young man at the checkout, who was eagerly waiting to receive my money as he saw me approaching with the heavy book in my hands.

I’ve translated my thoughts into the six principles below, which you can apply to your own novel or short story.

They are not written in order of importance, but rather in the order that each one of them affected me when I saw 1Q84 on the shelf.

Write Good Stuff That People Like

A few years ago, a cousin of mine read 1Q84 and told me it was quite interesting. We have a lot in common when it comes to our taste in literature, so I made a mental note of the title, along with his positive review and recommendation. Then I forgot all about it and went on to read a bunch of other books.

When I saw the title on the shelf yesterday, guess what was the first thing that sprang to mind? Yep, that’s right. My cousin’s recommendation from a few years back made me pick the book off the shelf.

So, what does that mean for you?

It’s absolutely essential that your novels or stories get positive reviews, and that people recommend them to their friends, otherwise your work’s popularity, assuming that it’s at all popular, to begin with, will have few chances of surviving in the long term.

Back in 2008, Kevin Kelly wrote an essay about the concept of the 1,000 True Fans. He claimed that 1,000 devoted people who buy everything you sell are all you need to make a living. These are the people who will buy every new novel you write and will recommend your work to their friends.

Now, this will sound a bit silly, but please consider these words carefully: to make people talk about your work, they’ve got to like it first.

I take it for granted that any writer who takes his craft seriously will always strive to learn how to write better stories. So, the technical aspects of writing fiction are not what I’m talking about here.

What I’m talking about is that writing stuff that people like is a matter of really knowing your genre — not a matter of luck. Being aware of conventions and cultural elements, and embedding them in your own work, will make it belong among typical novels of that genre effortlessly and naturally.

If you’re not confident that you know these details, it might be a good idea to invest some time in reading a few of the most popular novels in your genre. Make notes of elements such as common themes and patterns, because these things are going to show you what your readers like.

I understand that you may want to be original — you should be. I also get that you may perceive yourself as an artist who doesn’t follow anyone’s example, I am also like that.

But if you want your work to sell, you need to respect your audience and give them the things they expect, which make any novel “officially” belong to that particular genre in their mind.

Assuming that you’ve also done your best to learn how to write a compelling story, that’s when you stand a very good chance of people like my cousin liking your work and recommending it to others.

Design a Killer Cover

When I held the book in my hands, the first thing I saw was the cover. It immediately reinforced in my mind the notion that this is an exceptional piece of fiction — remember that I was already biased by the cousin’s recommendation.

Photograph of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 trilogy, taken by the author.
Photograph of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 trilogy, taken by the author.

The cover is aesthetically appealing and full of interesting elements. I noticed the horizontal red lines that made me wonder whether they are some kind of symbol, the silhouette of a moth against what looks like the moon, and of course the red Q in the title — an exciting and intriguing mystery in itself.

I suggest you invest some money in hiring an experienced professional to design a cover for your book, even if it’s only published digitally. It’s always one of the first things anyone will see before they read a single line of your story.

If the cover is bland, nobody will ever turn the page to read what’s inside, even if it’s the greatest novel ever written.

Your book’s cover makes an impression on people’s minds in a split second.

Whether that impression is positive or negative, is entirely up to you. If the cover of 1Q84 was uninteresting, I would never have taken a look at page 1 — which is what made me buy it.

Make Reviews Prominent

The next thing that caught my eye is the review by The Times, cleverly placed front and center on the cover, red type against the pale glow of the moon.

Photograph of a detail of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 trilogy cover, taken by the author.
Photograph of a detail of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 trilogy cover, taken by the author.

Three out of three. Endorsed by the cousin, enhanced and elevated by the cover, approved by The Times. If that book was alive, it would be smiling. It knew it was going to be bought by that point.

If we respect our audience and write stuff that they like, then we’ll probably have at least some positive reviews.

For writers like you and me, these may only come from readers and not from book critics, but they’re still gold.

You can use them on your book’s front or back cover, on your website, on social media, or anywhere else you think they may get exposure. In 1Q84, they made sure to include a few more reviews on the inside of the front cover.

Don’t just rely on your own efforts to make your work appealing. We are all influenced by reviews when it comes to making a purchasing decision. Other people’s opinions count.

Make It a Bargain

The last thing on the cover that subconsciously affected my decision was the phrase “the complete trilogy” at the bottom.

Photograph of a detail of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 trilogy cover, taken by the author.
Photograph of a detail of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 trilogy cover, taken by the author.

My mind instantly made the thought “I’m getting three books for the price of one” which, if the book’s marketers could hear, would smile and congratulate themselves.

I work in marketing, I should know.

When marketing your novel, I suggest you spend some time thinking ahead and trying to come up with ideas to make it sound like a good deal.

This is sales-oriented thinking, but I can assure you it’s not evil and it won’t make you look like you’re not an artist. It’s just another tool that will help you take out the word “potential” from your potential readers.

Nobody knows you’ve written a masterpiece, remember? You’ve got to make them look inside and find that out.

There are a few different ideas for making a book sound like a good deal.

  • You can decide that it’s eventually going to be priced at $4.99, for example, and offer it for $2.99 for a limited period.
  • You can offer readers of your first book a discount for purchasing your second.
  • Offer two or three books as a bundle (or a boxed set if you’re selling physical copies) at a special price.

Write a Captivating First Paragraph

So, then I peeked inside and read the first few lines of chapter 1. I was immediately and effortlessly transported inside a taxi with a single passenger, stuck in traffic.

Photograph of page three of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 trilogy, taken by the author.
Photograph of page three of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 trilogy, taken by the author.

These were my thoughts after skimming through the first 8.5 lines of the book.

  • It’s well-written, in plain language that makes it easy to understand the setting described.
  • The passenger, Aomame, who I’m guessing is the protagonist, is already an interesting character. She closed her eyes and listened to the music, despite being stuck in traffic, which might cause anxiety or frustration to most people. I want to know more about her.
  • The telling of the story so far is captivating. The author begins by showing me the radio, then he plays the music in my ears, he shows me the driver’s concerned expression, the traffic outside, and then Aomame in the back seat.

Come on, what happens next? I’m so buying this book right now.

The beginning of chapter 1 is where most people subconsciously decide if they like a book because there’s so much information they get without even realizing it.

Now, remember that these people include our readers, book critics, publishers, and agents.

If we put some effort into writing a compelling first paragraph and a compelling first page, then our readers are very likely to read the first chapter, and then the second. And that will be too late for them to quit.

If we succeed in doing that, we significantly increase the chances of readers buying our book, publishers publishing it, and critics reviewing it.

Write a Synopsis or Blurb They Cannot Resist

I had already decided to buy the 1Q84 trilogy somewhere between the cover and the first paragraph. But unavoidably I had a look at the back cover too. I only had to read the first two sentences.

Photograph of the back cover of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 trilogy, taken by the author.
Photograph of the back cover of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 trilogy, taken by the author.

By the time I read about the “two moons in the sky”, I was already reaching for my wallet. Someone else might need to read the whole summary before making their mind up.

But I instantly decided that reading the rest of it was a waste of valuable time, which I’d rather spend devouring the inside of the book when I got home.

I didn’t need to read the synopsis, but most people would go from the front cover straight to the back, so it’s an extremely important part of the whole pre-purchase experience.

This is the author’s chance to convey the feeling of the novel in just a few lines. There’s no better moment to do that, than when a potential reader is holding the actual book in their hands.

In the digital version of the novel, this would be the summary they see next to the cover, right before they hit the “add to cart” button. In fact, there’s even more space for a summary in an online store, so it can be even more immersive for the reader.

So, what’s the conclusion?

Write Your Best Story Ever, and Then Dress It Up

These six rules are things we can all consider to make our fiction so appealing that people will want to pay for it, whether we publish online or in print. I’m not implying it’s easy (although I suppose it might be for some people), but it’s a specific set of clearly defined steps that anyone can take.

Pay careful attention to any of the six rules above, and you’re a bit closer to your reader. Make all six work together, and you’ve eliminated any friction in your reader’s mind.

When I left the bookstore with my new book yesterday, I had a wide smile on my face. I wasn’t even aware of the process that subconsciously pushed me to pay €18 in less than two minutes, until some time later when I thought about it over coffee.

All I knew at the time was that I was content with my purchase.

To ensure that people will pay for your fiction, all you need is devotion to writing a good story, and then packaging it appropriately. And, before I let you get on with your writing, let me just remind you of my own rule for writing a good story: write from your heart.

Let that show through, and everything else will follow.


Created by

Kyros Vogiatzoglou







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