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5 Ways to Bring Clarity to Your Cover

You may have heard before that the most important job of a book cover is to get the reader’s attention, right? It must be compelling enough to get the reader to PICK IT UP. Like a brownie, a cute kitten, or a fifty-dollar bill. Then, hopefully, the reader is so intrigued by the rest of the content, he or she just can’t let it go and has to buy it.

For book covers, website pages and advertisements (as well as for basketball violations and dropped food) the  3-Second Rule applies. In this case, it means that you really have only three seconds to grab the attention of your audience. It suggests that we all have absurdly short attention spans, but we also value our time. If we don’t get an immediate read from something that ignites our personal brain cells, we move on.

Make Your 3 Seconds BIG

So how do you maximize your three seconds to get into the hands of your reader? There are many elements of a successful book cover, and one I am learning about now: clarity. But what does that mean? That my images are clear? My text is sharp? My book description is short, strong and to the point?And what could I possibly do to bring even more clarity?

Let’s start with the essentials:

Information is key. A book cover must include the basic information to identify it, categorize it, and make it findable. These are the title, author’s name, publisher name and logo. There should also be an EAN barcode that displays your 13-digit ISBN, and the shelving category, such as mystery, thriller, fantasy, non-fiction, or my favorite, historical fiction, so the librarians and bookstore owners know where to put your book. Speaking of the back cover, you might spend almost as much time perfecting your back-cover description as you did writing the book, because if your cover design is the lure, the back-cover copy is the hook. Make it sharp!

Appearance. What is the most compelling image you can use that not only identifies the subject matter, but also provides some sort of ‘eye candy’? This is the lure, that shiny thing that gets the fish to bite. It doesn’t have to be an image, it may also be words, but it has to grab the reader. Not only that, but it has to have the same effect when you shrink it down to thumbnail size that will appear in an online search—the image still clear and identifiable, the text still easy to read.

Your Book vs. Competitors

Competitiveness. Your book needs to stand out against competitors when it is on a shelf, table, or in a search list. Look at other books in your category. Do your color choices stand up beside them? Is the color and image stimulating and appropriate to your subject matter? Can you make yours just a little bit better than theirs?

Layout. How is the content—the images and type—organized on the page so that it is pleasing to the eye, well placed and sized to allow instant reading? Professional designers use a grid that hides in the background to ensure spacing is balanced and exact, because if it is not, the human eye can subconsciously detect that something is wrong. Make sure your font is well chosen and appropriate. I am a big proponent of using a strong, consistent font as part of your personal brand. Also, For added clarity, try to restrict yourself to three fonts on your cover: title, subtitle/author, and text font for your back-cover copy. Additional fonts make your cover look confusing and unprofessional.

Clarity. Make sure your cover communicates as clearly as possible what your book is about.

Now we come to the issue that troubled me. I entered a literary contest recently and scored well, with very positive comments from the judges, but was downgraded a little on the cover design. I was perplexed. I thought my cover was well-made for my category. It had all the required data plus a robust, vetted title and story description. And it had a stunning 17th-century portrait as the central image.

But the thing is, my topic is a little obscure. I write 17th-century Irish historical novels. While the content is really quite engaging, it’s not the stuff of everyone’s normal education, at least not in the U.S. And the truth is—except for a small percentage of risk takers—book buyers tend to gravitate toward what they already know.

In looking at the three winners of this contest, the covers were, in my opinion, not that strong or magnetic, and one was quite hard to read. But, all three were well identified for topic. One included a subhead, “a novel of the Battle of Britain.” Everyone has heard of the Battle of Britain. The next one was “a novel of the Civil War.” We all know about that. And the third had a title that made clear it was a novel about the Native American experience. The reader immediately gets it.

Clarity Helps the Reader Get Comfy

So, if I want to compete with common knowledge, my cover has to work a little harder. The front cover of my next novel includes this blurb, “Based on a true story of the Great Irish Rebellion” along with Celtic graphics. Back cover copy has additional detail. The topic still may not be something readers personally know, but they might be more willing to take a chance if I’ve checked off all the clarity boxes.

Whatever your novel is about, use your subhead, back cover copy or short descriptive text on the front cover to immediately connect your book to something your readers will recognize. Then perhaps those who pick up your book will also carry it home, safe in the knowledge that the writer will maintain them on familiar ground.


Look: It’s Easy to Share This With Your Twitter Followers

Your book cover must be compelling enough to get the reader to PICK IT UP. Like a brownie, a cute kitten, or a fifty-dollar bill. Click To Tweet

If your cover design is the lure — the shiny thing that gets interest — the back-cover copy is the hook. Make it sharp! Click To Tweet

The 3-Second Rule applies to book covers so how do you maximize your three seconds to get into the hands of your reader? Click To Tweet

 

Indies: Does a Personal Brand Help Reach Readers?

How can you create a personal brand and use it to your advantage?

Just as corporations build brands to promote specific products, you can build a brand based on what do you love, why do you do what you do, and the values and aspects about that connect you to your audience.

Your Personal Brand Communicates a Strong Identity

The structure of a personal brand is much the same as corporate branding. First, a strong identity is developed that represents the entity and suggests black and yellow ringed target with dart at the centerthe value a customer would want. If the entity commits to that value and consistently delivers it, customers learn to recognize and trust the entity. Over time, the symbol of the entity can by itself trigger a feeling of trust. And trust, in turn, generates more business.

Corporations typically generate many products. They may have whole families of brands that fall under one overarching brand, like Microsoft or Kraft. As an author, you also may be selling multiple products, but in truth, you are always selling yourself—who you are. You are the creator, the manager, and the face of your brand.

As an author, you may be selling multiple products, but in truth, you are always selling yourself. Click To Tweet

How can a personal brand help you?

Selling books is not easy for independents. You need to reach a lot of people. As much as you might want to or try to, you can’t physically meet thousands of customers and talk to them directly, right?

Your personal brand helps communicate who you are more quickly, broadly and efficiently to the people you do meet. It also makes it possible for your brand to go places you cannot: a poster in a window, an ad in a magazine, your business card, your website and all across the various social media accounts.

When readers approach you at a book signing or book festival, they won’t ask about your book so much as they will ask about you. Maybe they’ll ask why you chose your genre or settings, what led you to write, what is your work style, your inspiration or heritage. They may try to find something quirky in your personality. This is your brand persona, and what readers are looking for to make a personal connection.

Selling books is not easy for independents. You need to reach a lot of people. Click To Tweet

On the basis of your values and personality, and the qualities you bring to your work, readers might give one of your books a try. If they like it, they may buy anything published in your name to continue reading your voice, your style and your command of storytelling. The next thing you know, they’ll be asking you when the next one’s coming out. It’s the consistency of quality that will keep them coming back because they trust that you will deliver.

Personal Brand: it’s not about a logo

Personal branding does not mean that you sit down and design a logo for yourself. I know, designing a logo seems like the fun, easy part of branding. But believe me, good logo design is not easy. What makes a logo effective is the meaning that is embedded in it. The design comes only after the meanings are clearly defined, understood and supported.

The imagery of your brand should be based on serious soul searching and groundwork. Click To Tweet

The imagery of your personal brand should be your last consideration. When properly developed it will be based on serious soul searching and groundwork. Once that is done, the rest of your brand elements fall into place more easily and naturally. You will have a basis on which to make solid decisions and follow them consistently.

And in truth, for an author, your name is your logo. You may choose a pen name, and you may choose a special typeface to consistently show your name in a recognizable way, but remember, it is always yourself you are selling.

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Nancy Blanton’s award-winning handbook, Brand Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps, will guide you through the process of creating your own personal brand. She also provides occasional author workshops and presentations.

Wait, Does RSVP Really Mean “Respond, Dammit?”

Remember learning that RSVP meant “répondez s’il vous plaît?” And, if you learned that as a kid, do you remember how cool and
sophisticated it made you feel? I sure do. Not only was it French — the most romantic of the romance languages — but it was like I had been given yet another key to open another secret grown-up door. And, in this case, I was picturing a very swanky, high-class door. How cool was that? All I had to do to become part of the club was to communicate. Usually in writing. Even better, am I right?

All I had to do to become part of the club was to communicate. In writing. Click To Tweet

Do You Care About Getting Your Stuff Read?

So what does RSVP have to do with writing? Not much — if you don’t care about having your stuff read. But if like many of us, your goals include getting your beautiful book babies in front of readers, then you are probably engaged in far more marketing, outreach and networking than you ever dreamed possible. You may still not be seeing the connection but, trust me, I’m getting there.

You post on Facebook and Instagram. Or Pinterest and Twitter. You interact with readers and other writers. You re-tweet and re-post in support of good people, products, or ideas but, when it comes to your own work? You’re frequently committing professional malpractice.

I’m going to break one of the cardinal rules of online communication. I’m going to (virtually) shout at you. Ready? Click To Tweet

And, to make sure you don’t miss it, I’m going to break one of the cardinal rules of online communication. I’m going to (virtually) shout. Ready?

When someone offers you an opportunity for increased exposure? RESPOND, DAMMIT!

What forms of increased exposure, you ask?

  • You’re offered an interview? RESPOND.
  • Someone asks for your author photo? RESPOND.
  • A reviewer has requested a copy of your book? RESPOND
  • A Twitter chat leader invites you to co-host and needs a bio for the promos? RESPOND
  • And what do you do when one of your contacts asks for a high-resolution copy of your book cover? Let’s hear it from the tenors, now: RESPOND.

And, for the hundreds of other opportunities that might come your way? Let’s hear it in unison, loudly, for the people in the back… RESPOND DAMMIT!!!

And Here’s a ‘Respond Dammit’ Don’t

And here’s what you shouldn’t do: DO NOT WAIT.

Believe me, I am well-aware of how busy a solo practitioner (aka indie author) can get. And, I promise you that I’ve dropped the ball on more occasions than I can count. That’s probably why I get so agitated about it: I always hate to waste a good mistake.

What no longer works is an e-mail auto-responder — or slotting these things for “later, when I have time.” You’re not going to have more time later — and email is not where many of the requests will come from. (It is, however, useful for longer communications, such as the Q&A for an online interview, but more about that in another post.)

Believe me, I am well-aware of how busy an indie author can get. And I've dropped the ball too many times. Click To Tweet

But… HOW to Give a Fast Response?

So how does a busy, perhaps traveling, author make sure she’s able to respond? The answer, my friend, is in the cloud. Not only do I keep author photos, bios, and book covers on my desktop, I’ve got them stashed in various locations in the cloud: on a private page of my website, in a documents folder in my iCloud, and in the DropBox folder that comes with my Amelia Indie Authors membership! (shameless plug).

Why does a fast response matter so much? As stated before, you’re busy. We know that. But so are the people making the request. And the longer it takes for them to assemble the pieces they need to reference (or feature) you, the less of a priority you — and your beautiful book — become. And, if you sit in virtual limbo for long enough, the initial idea becomes untimely. Or irrelevant. And it takes more work to figure out how and what to do with you. You’ve gone from being an interesting addition to a mildly annoying loose end. And that’s surely not your intention. Or your wish.

So how about looking at those requests as invitations? Invitations to a more grown-up, professional place in the writers’ community; invitations that come with an RSVP.

How about you just RESPOND, DAMMIT?

Merci beaucoup. 

 

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Not only does Andrea Patten speak French, she is our Director of Operations, currently tasked with keeping all of the plates spinning. In her “spare time,” she does her level best to keep up with her dogs — and her own writing.

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