June, 2008

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How To Get The Cover Design You Should Have

It’s not hard to learn what a properly designed, professionally published book looks like. Thanks to Amazon and the Internet, you can do much of your research from home. A lot, but not all. Your fingers won’t be able to do all the walking. You also need to get your legs moving … up, down, and around the aisles of your local bookstore.

Internet chat rooms, industry magazines, and online bookstores can provide some good information, but if you are serious about becoming a savvy, market-driven publisher, you need to spend a great deal of time in the marketplace. It is time to get out from behind your desk and get out among the books.

When you get to the bookstore, wander up and down all the aisles … not just those of your favorite categories. With a pen and paper in hand, slowly pace around the store moving your head back and forth noting titles that jump out at you from the shelves. After six or seven aisles, go back and look at the books you wrote down. Were they face out? Were just the spines showing? If the books you noticed were spine-out, what do the spines have in common? Was the lettering large and easy to read? What colors were used?

Now go wander around the display tables—all the tables, not just the ones you would normally peruse. What cover do you notice first? Which books do you think about picking up? Write these titles down. Go to the next table and continue to notice your reaction. Write down the titles of the covers that draw your eye there. Once you have cruised all the tables and aisles, you will have a strong list of the spines and covers that appealed to you.

Your list from the bookstore is a great way to discover what you like in a cover. The next step is to find out what the bestselling books in your category look like. This can be done online. Go to Amazon or BN.com (or both) and pull up the top-selling books in your category. Scan through the covers and see what colors are hot right now. Check out the fonts and see what the books have in common. For example, for a while, many bestselling self-help books were yellow and blue. During that same period, a majority of the bestselling business books had white covers and huge lettering.

The colors, fonts, and looks that herald an up-to-date cover change constantly. Once you have done your research, don’t rest on your laurels. Return to the bookstore and check bestselling lists every month to stay current.

You have found what appeals to you and identified what a new bestselling book in your category looks like. Can you find a book on the bestseller list that has the qualities that appeal to you? Can you find two or three? Grab the covers from the Internet and make a file to later give to your cover designer.

What Happens Next?

A client of mine has just crested 4000 units sold into the “traditional” book market. She has sold to bookstores, online and libraries. She has made no money. The cost of manufacturing and promoting her book to GET 4000 sales has far outstripped what she has made.

Another client pre-sold 3000 copies of each of her three books into a national chain. She has yet to see a dime for books sold 8 months ago. The big retailer does not need to pay the little guy.

Returns are killing the creative publishers, slow-to-pay wholesalers are crippling the small houses and the shipping costs are climbing at a dizzying rate.

I would suggest that a fully executed, well marketed sales campaign handled totally on line makes some sense. Shoppers look for information on the web now. Why not offer them the books they need while they are on line?

Amazon and others buy in small, appropriate quantities, rarely return any books and pay monthly.

Are stores the wave of the past? Is brick-and-mortar dead? Dying? Is there any reason to stay with actual bookstores?

Booksellers will say that they provide a valuable community service, that they can recommend and nurture a wonderful gem of a book in a way the internet cannot.

Total Crap.

Yes, bookstores are a lovely place to spend an hour and they are a community resource, but in this economy and with time at such a premium, the average reader can get the exact same services from a trusted book review blog.

Word of mouth has moved on line. It may be time for book retailers to do the same.