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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 October 2007, 12:16 GMT 13:16 UK
10 ways to get you to read a book
Pottermania in action
This is the place to be. In the pyramids. Not at the back

As the Man Booker Prize looms, every competing publisher has every finger crossed that their book will be boosted into the stratosphere. But what are the reasons a book sells well?

Below are 10 of the factors that could influence the next sales behemoth.

And if you haven't read the six titles on the Booker shortlist, watch the Guardian's John Crace summarise each, by clicking on the boxes on the right. We've re-hashed some of them from the Guardian originals to make them slightly less fruity and slightly more suitable for a family audience.

1. Word of mouth. Who do we really trust? When the chips are down, it's the opinions of our friends and family and colleagues that matter in all things. When you're trying on an item of clothing you don't scratch around for a piece of pertinent fashion journalism, you just ask a mate to have a quick look.

"Word of mouth is still number one even in this media-saturated age," says Joel Rickett, deputy editor of The Bookseller. A survey of 1,000 people by BML for World Book Day in 2005 found 25% of respondents had bought their last book for pleasure on the basis of a recommendation from a friend.

But that's not to say that word of mouth is an entirely natural, organic process. Publishers would sell their grandmothers for ways to manipulate it. From viral marketing to social networking, they'll try many avenues of multimedia attack to get the books into the hands of the literary pioneers in any group of friends.

2. The book group. A big part of the word of mouth network are the little reading groups of friends that have sprung up around the country in the past decade. Over cheese and nibbles the fates of novels are decided. Most people are not in a book group but many people know someone who is in one. Book groups are the crucible.

This year's Booker judges
These people hold the fates of books in the palm of their hand

Book group favourites from recent years include Life of Pi, the Bookseller of Kabul, Shadow of the Wind, the Alchemist, the Time Traveller's Wife, the Line of Beauty, A Million Little Pieces, Everything is Illuminated and so on.

3. Richard and Judy. Book groups have to get their ideas from somewhere and many implant themselves into the minds of the members via the Richard and Judy Book Club. Modelled on the fearsomely influential Oprah's Book Club, it has backed many of the titles that have come to be book group classics.

4. Author. It's almost too obvious to state, but the easiest people to market to are the people waiting for the next instalment. If all you have to do is alert people to the latest John Grisham or Martina Cole then life is a bit easier. Despite the belief in word of mouth, the 2005 BML survey found the only factor that trumped it was "having read another book by the author".

"The author as brand has become ever more important," notes Mr Rickett.

5. Art of covers. Pop into a second hand bookshop and feel the thickness of a paperback cover from 2006. Then feel a book from 1956.

Luxurious, thick paper, cut-out sections, embossing, full colour, even glitter. The rise of cheap publishing in the Far East and elsewhere means the book front cover is a battleground as never before.

There has always been great cover art on novels in British mass publishing, particularly on Penguins, but the production quality has now rocketed. "Penguin blazed a trail but everyone else has caught up. The cover can make or break a book. The book as 'object' is ever more important," explains Mr Rickett.

6. In-store marketing. Be honest. What percentage of the books you've bought in the last five years came with a "3 for 2" sticker on them?

Alastair Campbell
Serialisation can generate massive publicity

With the end of agreements that controlled the price of books the key battlegrounds are the supermarket and the chain bookstore. And in these chains if you're not on those pyramids of books in the front of the ground floor of the store, you're dead. Does anybody find themselves flicking through a new novel where one copy has been placed in the far corner of the fourth floor?

7. Rise of prizes. There is nothing as priceless as free publicity and this is what the literary prizes offer in spades. The trinity in the UK of the Man Booker Prize, the Orange Prize (for female authors) and the Costa Book Awards (formerly the Whitbread) can get the ball-rolling for a monster-selling book.

Yann Martel's Life of Pi was one such success, blasting its way through the million sales mark and revolutionising the fortunes of Scottish publisher Canongate.

8. Unusual titles. Who isn't tempted to at least pick and have a flick through a Salmon Fishing in the Yemen or A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian?

9. Praise for. Once upon a time in the monomedia world, the reviewer was king. Powerful newspaper literary critics bestrode the world of publishing like colossi. Now not so much.

As Mr Rickett notes: "People themselves are the reviewers now on Amazon and on all kinds of sharing websites. Reader response has almost supplanted the top-down role of the critic."

10. Newspaper serialisation. One for the non-fiction work predominantly, serialisation delivers a risk-free prospect for the author at least. If the attention brings sales then great. If it persuades people they've had enough then the writer has still got a whacking fee from the newspaper.

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