The Guts of Book Design

The Guts of Book Design

by PJ Hultstrand
 

The two most important sales tools for an author or publisher are the front cover artwork and the back cover copy. Think about it! As readers, we pick up a book based on its cover and/or title, then we immediately flip over the book to read the back cover. Even before the reader can begin judging your writing, she has jumped three other hurtles, to get to the meat of your book. The reader will not sit down to feast on your book until you have teased her sufficiently to get her to your table.

covers 1Face it – Americans usually buy their books as impulse purchases. Traditional book publishers have the art of the cover design down, well, an “art form.” They know that musclebound men on the covers of contemporary romances sell books. These traditional publishers spend thousands on a cover designer who is an artist with a keen eye on for luring the reader into picking up that particular book, instead of another. The well-paid cover design artist uses every the arsenal at his disposal, including live models artfully arranged to maximize the sellability of the book.

In comes the independently published author, with no real design abilities and a budget that sqeaks from friction. When the single most important sales impulse tool for books is the cover, the independent book is designed with a lime-green background that was popular in 1958 Chevy interiors. The black ink for the type is used sparingly, because who really wants to read the title anyway? This type of cover looks more like a government pamphlet about where to hide during a nuclear attack.

covers 2The thing is, you don’t have to spend thousands to get an eye-catching cover that is related to your book without offending anyone’s sense of good taste in colors. I would, however, suggest that you get help from someone with a trained eye who knows NOT to design the book’s cover in Word, Publisher, or my all-time favorite bad choice, Powerpoint. These programs work very well for their intended purposes, but they are not professional design packages for printing your covers at the print shop.

The minimum amount to pay a designer for help with your cover may differ in other areas of the country, but here in Arizona, it starts at about $250 for a simple cover, and can move up toward $500 for a more complicated design concept. If you add special photo shoots or custom artwork, then the cost rise according to time and resources required. If you are not sold on spending this amount, then plan to lose your sales potential to those who are willing to make the investment and those traditional publishers who spent thousands.

Now, what to put on that other prime real estate: the back page?

If you can, GET HELP with this, too. If you can find a gifted cover designer with a marketing know-how, then by all means, add something extra to their fee and have them help you write the back copy text. Do not expect them to write it for you. They didn’t write your book – you did, so you should know better than anyone what your story/topic is all about.

Why bother to pay someone when you know your story better than anyone else? Traditional publishers have a department of copy writers to do this all-important work because they know that teasing the public is a full-time job. You want people to read your back copy and say, “Now, that sounds like a great story. I have to buy this book to find out what happens.” Are you certain you are the best person to make that kind of impact?

If you can’t pay a pro, solicit someone who edited your book to REWRITE what you wrote for your back page. The author typically sucks at this back cover text. What the author writes for their book cover describes the book just fine, but this doesn’t sell the book. Even better than the editor who helped you with the inside text would be a marketing professional. They may not even need to read your book. Give them your description and see them turn it into something that makes the reader open the book or out right buy it!

“WHY A MARKETING PRO?” you may ask:

I heard an appropriate story at the Tucson Wrangling with Writing Conference some years ago.

A marketing man came upon a blind man with a box that had a bit of change in it and a sign that read, “Please help me – I’m blind.” The marketing man picked up the sign and wrote on it, took the change in the box, and left.

The blind man knew what the other man had done, but people would even steal from a blind man, so he stayed where he was. At the end of the day, his box was overflowing with money. The blind man was astounded, for he had never done so well.

The next day, the marketing man came by to see how the blind man was doing. Recognizing the sound of the marketing man’s shoes, the blind man asked, “What did you write on my sign to make me so much money yesterday?”

The marketing man said, “I just rewrote what you’d written to read ‘It is a beautiful day today, and I won’t see it!’”

Now, I would have finished this story with: The blind man remained thoughtful for a few moments, and then stated, “Then your work here was money well spent.”

You are an author and, in most cases, not a marketing pro. Pay for one, along with a decent book editor and cover designer. You – and your pocketbook – will be happy with the results.

______________________
Patti J. Hultstrand has assisted in bringing 78 books to market since 2009 through her PJ Hulstrandcompany, AZ PublishingServices, LLC. She has been a graphic designer for 24 years, fourteen of those years in a print shop. PJ is an author of four books, three fiction and one nonfiction. She is also the Managing Editor for the pop culture newspaper, The WOD, and is a media host on KWOD Radio. You can find her speaking or running her media team at many local Arizona conventions throughout the year. Follow her on Facebook.

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