Three – the Self-Publisher’s ‘Magic’ Number

In many ways, the number three serves as a ‘magic’ number for self-publishing.

(1) Three words or less.

Bestsellers often have three or fewer words in the title. This makes the title easier to remember, which helps with branding and word-of-mouth referrals.

(2) Three images or less.

The best front cover designs often feature three images or less. This makes the cover more memorable, and helps book browsers quickly see what message the book is sending regarding its genre and content. Busy covers tend to deter sales. Just one striking image that signifies the precise genre and relates to the content is most memorable.

(3) Three seconds to catch attention.

Customers who are browsing for books in search results quickly glance at various covers. Book covers have just a few seconds to catch attention.

(4) The three-color rule for cover design.

Professionally designed covers usually follow the three-color rule. The primary color and secondary color should create marked contrast. An accent color complements either the primary or secondary. The colors come in the approximate ratio 6:3:1.

(5) The rule of thirds.

According to the rule of thirds, an image stands out when it is one-third from the edge, rather than occupying the center. This also helps to leave room for the title and other cover text. Visually, the rule of thirds helps the onlooker to determine which part of the cover is the main feature. With the three-second rule in mind, this is an important tactic. When the main image is placed in the center, it instead divides the book into two equal halves.

(6) The trilogy.

Customers who enjoy a book usually want more. Three books is the tried and true number, such that we’re all familiar with the term ‘trilogy.’ Do you happen to know the terms for series with a different number of books? Most of us don’t, but we all know the term for a three-volume set. Readers like it when each volume of the series provides a satisfying ending of its own, and where each volume is so good that they want more. But after the third book, it becomes a challenge to maintain the original spirit while also utilizing enough creativity.

(7) Three or more contributors.

The self-published author must do all of the writing, editing, formatting, illustrating, marketing, and public relations. Almost all authors need help with at least two of these areas. Most self-published authors should hire an affordable, yet quality, editor for proofreading or formatting and an experienced, inexpensive cover designer. Marketing is another area where authors need help, but where there isn’t an easy way to buy your way out of this necessary and challenging work.

(8) Three R’s of branding.

Authors and books get branded with repetition among the target audience. Branding results in purchases when members of the target audience recognize the book while making a future purchase. It’s most successful when there are many customers both recognizing the book from branding and referring the book to others because they love the book. A prior article discussed the three R’s of branding (actually, this article has a fourth R):

(9) Three marketing targets.

Authors can receive early sales of their first book from family, friends, and acquaintances and also use this group to help create buzz. They can draw from their fan base for similar support of their subsequent books. Their ultimate target is new members from the book’s target audience.

An author’s personal social media account helps to reach friends, family, and acquaintances. Fan pages and blog or social media followers of the author’s writing account help to stimulate sales of subsequent releases. Keywords, tags, and hashtags help to reach new members of the book’s target audience, as do personal interactions online and writing articles, for example.

(10) Save novelties for book three.

Most self-published authors want to deviate from traditional bestselling ideas. But this freedom comes at a cost. It’s more challenging to market books that aren’t geared toward a traditional audience. Authors looking to be in the elite group of bestselling authors should seek genres in which they are a good fit to write and for which there is a very large existing audience, such as mystery or romance. Don’t break the unspoken rules (like not providing a satisfying happy ending or giving the protagonist character traits or actions that will upset many readers) and design a cover, title, blurb, and story that these readers will be looking for if you’re hoping to be a top seller.

Once you’ve established yourself and built a following, with your third book you can exercise some creative freedom and break some of these rules. This way, there will already be a large audience willing to try your creative book, whereas trying this with your first book may reach a very narrow audience.

You don’t have to “sell out.” You have the artistic freedom to write as you wish. The question is how you wish to weigh the benefits of doing what you want versus the benefits of selling more books, as there is often a very strong inverse correlation.

(11) Three types of author websites.

An author’s blog features daily or weekly written articles. An author’s website does more than this. It may offer the author’s books and related materials for sale or provide supplemental content, for example. A fan page is geared toward existing fans. The blog and author’s website hope to reach new members of the target audience as well as interest current fans with useful content.

(12) Three author pages.

Authors maintain an author page at Amazon through AuthorCentral. They also establish an author account at GoodReads. A social media fan page, at Facebook or Twitter, for example, is another avenue where customers frequently search for authors.

(13) Three-dollar eBooks.

With KDP paying 70% royalties on eligible eBooks with a list price of $2.99 and up, the three-dollar eBook has become quite common. This may not be the best price, but it’s certainly common.

(14) Three books on the signature line.

An author with very short titles can squeeze up to three books on the signature line of online posts.

Chris McMullen, author of Book One, Book Two, and Book Three. (If only I had had the wisdom of choosing shorter titles in the past, I could illustrate this by example without making up book titles. :-))

(15) Edit three ways.

First, scroll through the book to look for visual formatting issues, like page break problems or inconsistent headers. Next, read the book thoroughly for proofreading. Finally, check all references to page numbers, figures, tables, citations, etc. for nonfiction and check for consistency in character and storyline references and development for fiction. For both, check the page numbering of the table of contents.

(16) Three e-readers.

The original black-and-white e-readers had small screens and allowed only basic formatting. The new color and high definition e-readers have larger, higher-resolution screens. Many readers also use small iPhones. It’s a challenge to make an eBook that has pictures format well on all three devices.

(17) The first three months.

With the Coming Soon, Last 30 Days, and Last 90 Days links at Amazon, books have a brief window of opportunity to thrive and develop their own legs to stand on. Good sales and early reviews that come through effective marketing can get newly released titles better visibility in search results and several associations on Customers Also Bought lists to help them succeed after the first three months.

(18) Three page layout terms.

Self-published authors who publish a paperback may learn about page layout issues known as widows, orphans, and rivers (you can find good images for this with Google, for example).

Three cheers for self-publishing!🙂

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (Volume 2 coming soon)

3 comments on “Three – the Self-Publisher’s ‘Magic’ Number

  1. Another very informative post all based around the number three! What a great idea!

    And we can’t leave out the fundamental ‘beginning, middle, and end’!

    Thanks as always for sharing your wisdom!🙂

  2. Three cheers for self-publishing indeed! This is a great list with many different things for the aspiring writer to consider. I hadn’t ever considered three images or less, but I started pulling my favorite covers from the shelf… you know what, you might be onto something here. 😉

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