Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What Do Book Covers Sell?

A book cover is probably the most valuable piece of real estate for the book industry.  Within a matter of inches to create the book cover is a canvass that needs to be perfect.  The cover is what introduces a book to a customer, to its intended reader.  If the cover fails to inspire the handler to open the book or at least turn to the back cover to read descriptive sales copy, then the book will die on the shelf.  So what needs to be done to ensure the cover sells a book?

Here are some things to consider:
·         Title-subtitle
·         Testimonials
·         Images
·         Colors
·         Bullet points
·         Special offers
·         Stickers

What should never go on a cover?
·         A weak testimonial or an endorsement by someone who has no sales pull.
·         A visual that is distracting or ugly or not consistent with the book’s content.
·         Advertisements of any kind.
·         A title that is so long there’s no room for a visual.
·         The author’s name in a font equal to or larger than the title unless he or she is a best-selling author, celebrity, or well-known individual.

People do buy a book based on a cover – and certainly decline the opportunity to buy one fit h cover is unattractive. Before you launch your next book, or if you are going back to print your current book soon, think long and hard about how the image of your cover will speak for you.

Of all the things an author can do to help sell their book, having a great cover is certainly one of them. Poll 50 or 100 people before you make a final choice on the cover.

Interestingly, the new Steve Jobs biography from Simon and Schuster barely has the title or the author’s name on the cover – instead a photo of jobs dominates the front cover real estate – it’s very alluring. I also have a client who wrote about a different billionaire and his cover doesn’t mention the name of the book’s subject either. Instead, it relies on a catchy title and cover image to draw the reader in.

If all else fails, I guess you can just go with a brown paper bag around your book. Mystique sells better than anything else.

Interview With Cynthia Robbins, National Accounts Representative, Globe Pequot Press

1.      Cynthia, share with us what your job entails. I am a National Accounts Representative for Globe Pequot Press.  This year I also became Library Specialist and now work with librarians directly. I wrote my first program with the Fairfield Woods Library in Connecticut, a collaborative hiking program using Globe Pequot's outdoor recreation imprint FalconGuides.  I am beginning the FalconGuides Club for school libraries in response to the increase in childhood obesity.   In addition I am a guest blogger on The Association of Library Service to Children (ALSC) website.

2.      Having been a buyer at a bookstore early in your career, can you tell us how the book market looks through their eyes these days?  Buyers are being very cautious.  The book market is changing so rapidly that it is difficult for everyone, authors, publishers, retailers, and libraries to understand and react accordingly.  E-books and now enhanced books have changed the way people think about and buy books and how retailers sell and libraries loan books.  E-books are instantly gratifying, but all the readers I know still like to browse in bookstores and hold books.  Now that Borders is gone, “browseability” is so much less.  Authors are lamenting the decrease in opportunities for readings and signings.  However on the up side, my independent bookstore, Watchung Books, is doing quite well.   They are scheduling more events.  Also, I read that some bookstores are offering courses, which is very smart.  Book buyers are being more cautious because of the economic downturn, but I find that they are being innovative and creative as well.

3.        What do you enjoy most about working in book publishing?  I have always loved the people I meet.  When I was a child, I had learning disabilities.  The library saved me.  There weren’t any programs for children like myself and at the library I was able to find books I could read well, without judgment.  When I started at Scribner Bookstore in 1982, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.  My associates were not just smart, but wonderfully funny, strong, and charming.  When I worked for independent bookstores, I loved putting books into people’s hands.   I get that same joy handing librarians books and watching their eyes go wide, their joy apparent.  It’s the best feeling in the world.

4.      Where do you see the future of e-books and online sales heading? Online sales for all categories are increasing and they will continue to increase as more and more people use e-readers, even though some categories are not e-friendly.  However, books are works of art, personal, and tactile.   They will never be completely replaced.  People like "reading" books in the e-book format, so categories like fiction will thrive as e-sales.  If you want a monograph of Georgia O’Keefe's work, however, you want the physical book.  Cookbooks will change with enhanced books gaining popularity, but I think this change is still a little far off.  The escalation of e-sales is inevitable as children are so digitally savvy. You can't give children iPods and computers and then expect the world not to change. Libraries are aware of this and have been very pro-active in developing online consortiums to offer audio and e-pub books online.  Children’s books are becoming apps.  What we expect of books will change and the changes will be ongoing.

5.      In working with the libraries, what do you find are their special needs?  Libraries are in financial crisis, so funds are down at a time when their patronage is up.  First of all we need to save libraries as many are closing and save librarians as they are losing their jobs.  My community looked at closing the library and there was uproar.  It remained open.  Libraries are being very innovative and creative offering programs that fill community needs, such as offering computer time, resume classes, Jello molds and heirloom seeds for check-out.  They are community participants and will follow the desires of their patrons.  I love that in these tough times, they are willing to take chances and explore all uses of books and materials.

6.      What do you see as the chief challenges facing publishers today?  Chief challenges are ahead of the curve, becoming more prescient, more responsive, and more willing to turn on a dime.  We have to know social media and how it works, where customers will find books, and in what format the books will sell.  I think there have always been hard and fast rules in the book business and that is gone. Intuition and creativity are the skill sets most needed in today's climate.

7.      If an author were to survey the marketplace before writing a book, what should he or she take into account?  The most important thing for an author to realize today is that if they want their book to be successful, they are going to have to work for it.  I attended Media Bisto’s e-book Summit and sat with two authors who were floored by the amount of marketing they would have to do for their books, Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, YouTube.  This is the new way young people get news-- they read their phones. Authors are going to have to employ a constant virtual presence and figure out how to gain viral popularity.  
Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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