Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What's So Important About Book Covers?

B ook covers are an important part of the book. We know that the story will be just as good, no matter what the cover looks like, but covers are an important part of our marketing strategy. We often think in terms of a brick-and-mortar store. A reader would have a hard time finding a book if he walked into the store and they all had white covers with black text. So, our main objective with a cover is to convince the reader that he wants to consider the book. Often, a reader will reject a book because of its cover and occasionally a reader will purchase a book because of its cover.

In reality, most of us need not be concerned about what the reader sees in a bookstore as much as we’re concerned with what the reader sees online. Even if your book is in a bunch of bookstores, it may be hidden among the stacks and no one will notice it unless they are looking for it. More and more readers are discovering books online before they decide to make a purchase. That means that they are making purchasing decisions based on whatever information they see there.

When we consider how readers make decisions about purchasing a book online, the two most important things are the title and the front cover. One place a reader may discover your book is through an online review or the product page. One of the first things they will see is a scaled down image of the front cover. Amazon.com uses an image that is 300x300 pixels, but much of that is whitespace. With the LookInside feature turned on, a more realistic estimation of the size is 170x260 pixels. Readers will get a booksized preview if they click the image, but by that time they’re already hooked. But even that is late in the process. Before they reached the product page, they may have been given a list of books and the images were only 75x120 pixels. It’s only 60x90 pixels for the Customers Also Bought area. That’s not much bigger than the icons on your desktop. At that size, much of the text will be unreadable, that’s all the space we have to tell the reader why he should be buying our book.

Because we have such limited space, we’re forced to prioritize what we want the reader to see. We’re basically limited to the picture and four or five words. With the picture, the colors we use may have more of an impact on the buying decision than the structure of the image. The reader may not be able to make out the details of the image until later, but the color sets the mood.

The text is even more of a concern. As I write this, Amazon.com has suggested that I consider four of Colleen Coble’s books. As I look at them, I can make out the face of the woman; I can make out that there are horses; and I can make out her name. Based on those images alone, it would be hard for me to tell you the names of the books. What this tells us is that Thomas Nelson believes that the most important piece of information you’ll find on those covers is the name of the author. Thomas Nelson believes that people will buy those books because they were written by Colleen Coble, no matter what the title might be, no matter whether she is a best-selling author or not, no matter who endorsed the book. But that isn’t true for the rest of us.

For us nobodies, the title of the book is the most important thing on the cover. When I was younger and less experienced, I had this idea that if I put my name in big letters on the front cover people would think the book was written by some best-selling author they just hadn’t heard about and buy the book. Go ahead and laugh; I am. I missed the point. People don’t buy Colleen Cobles’s books because her name is in big letters. They buy her books because they are fans of her work. Thomas Nelson is just capitalizing on that. But if the author doesn’t have a big fan base, we go back to the notion of selling the book on the merits of the book itself. We don’t want the reader to think about how they don’t know the author before they decide the book may interest them. So, we should increase the size of the title and decrease the size of the author’s name. When you look at the scaled down version of your cover, if the title isn’t easily readable, it has no opportunity to hook the reader.

In a brick-and-mortar store, the back cover and spine are important, but online we rarely see those things. Often, there is a product description instead. Because the reader won’t see the back cover, I believe the product description should match the back cover. Some books only have reviews. That is sad because reviewers don’t always tell us what the book is about. So, when we write the copy for the back, we should write it for both those who pick up the book and have it in hand and for those who may discover the book online.

Covers are still important. People still make decisions based on the cover. However, the nature of the Internet has changed how people view covers and we must change their design accordingly.

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