Carolyn Howard-Johnson Shares Sell Sheet Secrets


By Carolyn Howard-Johnson,
multi award-winning author
of the HowToDoItFrugally Series
of books for writer

[Excerpted and abbreviated from a chapter on preparing review copies in my How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically, third in the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally Series for writers.]
Over the years as I worked with clients, I realized that too many authors don’t know about sell sheet and many more undervalue the opportunities they afford. Sell sheets are generally thought of as fliers that get inserted into their free review copies, otherwise known as ARCs. They are printed with a very short pitch (otherwise known as a logline), the book’s metadata, a bio of the author that relates well to the theme or topic of the book, and maybe even a few blurbs (endorsements) the publisher or author has already collected. They act as a one-page website at-the-ready for reviewers.
When reviewers prefer e-books, few publishers or authors are savvy enough to send a sell sheet as an attachment with it or, better, rework the e-copy into the very front of the e-book itself. A few of the big publishers do that with a special ARC edition of their paperbacks, too.
Are you still wondering why they are so important? A great sell sheet helps the reviewer write the review easily and quickly. But more importantly, it can serve as a kind of guide for them by highlighting the points the publisher (traditional or self-publisher) feels most important. The reviewer is not obligated to follow these subtle suggestions, but they usually incorporate at least a portion of it in their reviews. It also helps the reviewer avoid making mistakes within the review itself.
Sell sheets can also be inserted into books used for other marketing purposes. Books sent to bookstore buyers, TV directors, schedulers, feature editors, librarians and more. When appropriate, publishers might add a subtle suggestion that reviews and blurbs are always appreciated or add a Post-it note to that effect. These marketing wonders may be called “sell sheets,” but they are beyond selling. They are useful, professional, and even courteous because they make it easier for recipients to do their work.
Ideally sell sheets should be printed in color on glossy paper, 8 ½ x 11, and may be printed on both sides.  Here is what they should include.
•    A book cover image.
•    A headshot of the author.
•    Include book and author awards. You're trying to convince people of the quality of the book and expertise of the author.
•    Know your audience and let the sell sheet reader know who that is. No book is for "everyone."
•    Include the BISAC subject heading in your metadata. You'll find them at These are the headings that bookstores and librarians use so you might as well do what you can to make their jobs easier when you are selling them on featuring your workshop or having a signing for you, too.
•    Your metadata includes:
        -Your ISBN, both 10 and 13.
        -The book's binding type (perfect, wire, comb, sewn)/
        -How the book might be purchased. (paperback, hardback, jacket, e-book).
        -The book’s dimensions.
        -The book’s page count.
        -When pertinent, include name of the illustrator, their awards, and short bio.
        -Don’t forget the retail price for both US, Canada, and others that may be pertinent.
    Let people know what the book includes:
            *Bibilography (My publisher is an avid fan of bibliographies for his nonfiction books because that are a mark of professional publishing.)
•    Include review quotes and endorsements, most important and credible first.
•    Include a short author biography. Keep it focused on the author's pertinent platform rather than how many children she has, unless the book is about raising children.
•    Include complete distributor information. That, by the way, is not Ingram, though that info should be there, too. If you don't have a distributor, do your research fast and try to get one that offers a sales force as well as distribution.
•    Include the publisher and how to order directly from them.
•    Mention the author’s speaking ability and the subjects they are qualified to speak on.
You can see that one side sheet will probably not accommodate all the required information. Use both sides. E-mail me at and I will send you a copy of a two-sided professionally produced sell sheet.
Hint: You can use sell sheets as fliers at fairs, when you speak and more. When you send out ARCs, you might choose to include the most basic info on a label applied to the inside of the front cover. That way, if the sell sheet gets separated from the book, the recipient is sure to have all the information she or he needs.
Don't forget to include a way you can be reached by e-mail. You DO want to be reached, don't you?


Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers and the many classes she taught for nearly a decade as instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program. The books in her HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers have won
multiple awards. That series includes The Frugal Book Promoter  (third edition) and The Frugal Editor (second edition). They garnered awards from USA Book News, Readers’ Views Literary Award, the marketing award from Next Generation Indie Books and others including the coveted Irwin award. How To Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically is the newest book in her HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers.
Howard-Johnson is the recipient of the California Legislature’s Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award, and her community’s Character and Ethics award for her work promoting tolerance with her writing. She was also named to Pasadena Weekly’s list of “Fourteen San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen” and was given her community’s Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts.
The author loves to travel. She has visited ninety-one countries before her passion was so rudely interrupted by Covid. She studied writing at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom; Herzen University in St. Petersburg, Russia; and Charles University, Prague. She admits to carrying a pen and journal wherever she goes. Her website is


Terry Whalin said...


Thank you for these terrific details about sales sheets and how they are used. From the information on them, they can also be something authors can take to libraries as well as the other uses you mentioned.


Karen Cioffi said...

Carolyn, thanks for the detailed explanation of what sell sheets are and how to use them. Most authors don't realize all the uses they have.

deborah lyn said...

Thank you Carolyn, for this detailed, helpful article!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Yup! We have created sell sheets from day one. We also send them to libraries, bookstores, and schools, along with an author sheet. (Which highlights speaking topics and expertise.)

Linda Wilson said...

Thank you, Carolyn. This information is invaluable. I plan to prepare my sell sheet right away!

Karen Cioffi said...

Hey all commenters! Carolyn has a busy week, so may not get to respond. Thank you Terry and Diane for adding that sell sheets are a great marketing tool for libraries, bookstores, and schools.

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