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Book Covers: A Primary Marketing Tool

by Richard on November 25, 2017

A long, long time ago, when publishers printed all books  hardbound, the only difference between titles often was the color of the cloth used to bind and finish the book cover. I remember the look of a library stack back in the day, when the only apparent difference was the overall height and the occasional leather-bound cover immersed along an endless wave of muted cloth-covered spines. The only difference in bookstores was that the shelves were usually shorter. As a schoolboy, I found myself really excited by upcoming “book fairs” when the vans from one of a few “scholastic” publishers would come to sell us books. These books were printed poorly on crummy stock, but the covers! They were my first look at picture covers. Once old enough to frequent drugstore corners, I also discovered pulp novels which often had very seamy, sexy cover artwork. Intriguing titles with images to get the wheels in my young brain turning.

I became, at the same time, aware of the old saying about not being able to “tell a book” by its cover. The idea, was that you had to open it up and read it to know what it was about. Well, at the library it made sense, but not so much at the drugstore. As I got older, I realized that it really was about people and not just books. It implied that the way a person presents may or may not be who they really are. The idea of controlled deceit entered my young mind. Imagine: manipulating another person’s impressions and thinking, by changing the way you (or something else…) looks.

It was an intriguing idea, and one that I applied myself to. Since we moved almost every year, to a new community and school, I became adept at re-constructing myself as needed. Eventually it probably led me to a thirty-plus year career in advertising and marketing design. However, since the advent of online book sales I’ve found that the old saying really relates now only to people and situations, because book cover design is doing the best job it has ever done to convey something of the book inside and affect the potential reader’s decision making. Clicking past hundreds of titles when I browse the net for a book to read, it’s the title and cover artwork that grabs my attention, first. There are so many choices now, like most readers, I have to narrow the selection down to manageable levels. Genre alone isn’t enough, although it is an important step. Partly because of my graphics background, I probably make the cover artwork more important to my decision than some might, but a solid, arresting cover that pricks my imagination will almost invariably move me to read a sample and then some of the reader reviews.

The approach has served me well, over the past few years as the ranks of debut authors swell. I find I can actually judge a book pretty completely by its cover. If it displays a slapdash, quickie attempt to put something together with little thought to how effectively the “package” presents, then chances are that the book inside was completed in a similar manner. That’s not to say that many really outstanding books have been wrapped in ho-hum or terrible covers. It happens, but I probably won’t read them based on a book browse and even a known referrer’s word might not be enough for me. Of course, it’s easier to take a risk when the cost for the eBook version is below $3, but hey, those $3 add up, you know? I’m not saying that my buying decisions have been 100% on-target. There is a sizeable e-Shelf jammed with unfinished reads in my virtual library. It doesn’t happen often, but one thing that does affect the results in these cases, is that the cover really didn’t communicate genre-related ideas.

Taking the time and spending according to your budget when it comes to self-published work is critical to a book’s success. Usually, it requires a paid edit or three, an evolving critical approach to the design of the pages themselves and finally a cover which does the job it is intended for. Today, with icons swimming past a browser’s eyes, your book’s cover is consumer packaging of the highest level. It must inform, it must express benefit to a reader and motivate the reader to make the purchase. It is a full marketing package if done correctly. It also says that you want to present something of quality for your readers. That implies confidence, which further helps motivate a fence-sitting reader.

So, it turns out you CAN tell a book by its cover, after all. And what your book’s cover tells a reader can make all the difference in the world. Once your book has been through its course of rewrites and edits, and you have an effective page layout for the chosen typography, take some time to really think about your book’s cover. It’s no longer just protection for the pages inside. It’s a crucial component of your consumer marketing effort, and should be given all the attention you can give it. Consider the messages it sends, and be sure to use it to reinforce action. It should suggest the reader click on it or open it up and at least take a look at the opening paragraphs. Tease them with the potential connections it will offer them, or long-puzzled questions it will answer. Benefits mean sales.

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