Attention All Book Zombies: Time to Snap out of It!

You could be a book zombie without realizing it.  Maybe you didn’t know there was such a thing.  How do you know if you are one?  Is it bad?  If so, is there a cure for it?

If you find yourself wondering about these questions, then you’ve come to the right place.  This article will help you determine if you’re a book zombie, and, if you are, how to return to the world of the book living.

It’s time to take the book zombie quiz.  (What?  Nobody told me there would be a quiz!)  Relax:  You don’t have to study for it.

(1) When you see a list of search results, do you prefer a book with a title that is short and catchy or long and detailed?

(2) Which color combination do you think would look nicer on a book cover:  navy blue, baby blue, and plain white or dark purple, dark red, and bright orange?

(3) Would you rather have the book description be short and sound very interesting or be long and highly informative?

(4) Do you want the beginning of a story to invoke emotions within you or to let you read passively?

(5) After you finish reading a book that you like, would you like to see recommendations of other books from others who enjoyed that book?

Time’s up.  Make sure that your name is at the top of the page and pass it forward.

You’re probably ready to go over the answers now.  But the book zombie quiz isn’t about the answers; it’s about the questions.  (Aren’t you glad that you didn’t study for it?)

Most people don’t like it when a telemarketer calls during dinner, when a salesman interrupts a walk through the park, or when a commercial comes on just before the good part of a movie.  As such, most people would say that they don’t like advertisements.  On the other hand, many people wear t-shirts or hats with their favorite brand names written across them, and when deciding which detergent to buy in the grocery store often select the brand that they have heard before.  There are many subtle forms of marketing employed in the sale of commercial products.  A customer who chooses one product over another ─ or impulsively purchases something that he or she really doesn’t need ─ without realizing that the choice was due to subtle marketing schemes is a shopping zombie.

Similar subtle schemes are applied in book marketing.  A book zombie chooses one book over another ─ or impulsively buys a book that he or she really doesn’t need ─ without being conscious of the marketing that affected the decision.

Have you ever purchased a book that looked nice or seemed interesting, but where you still haven’t gotten around to reading it?  Have you ever bought a book that you were convinced would be very good ─ because you trusted the brand of the publisher, believed the testimonials on the first page, or the blurb sounded great ─ only to be disappointed later?  If you consider your past book-buying decisions carefully, you might find that you have occasionally exhibited some book zombie symptoms.

The big publishing houses take advantage of much marketing and psychological research that has gone into cover design, word selection, and blurb preparation.  Many adept small publishers and indie authors also take time to learn about and apply these marketing secrets.

Traditional publishers often pour a significant amount of money into cover design because it is so important in catching your attention.  Their covers often use just two or three main colors, just one font style, and one to three striking images that relate to the theme of the book.  Color theory tells them which colors work best together.  Color psychology dictates which colors to use to evoke which types of emotions or to suit which audience.  Even the style of font is very important.  Not only must the key words from the title be legible in a thumbnail, research actually shows that people are more likely to feel agreeable when reading some fonts and disagreeable when reading others.  Careful word selection also plays a critical role.

Many marketing strategies are geared around a five-second rule.  First, the cover has to catch your eye.  You probably notice a particular image or contrasting colors initially.  Five seconds later, if you like the cover, you read the title and inspect the cover more closely.  A short, catchy title helps to get you to click on the book to learn more about it.  Five more seconds pass as you begin to read the blurb.  The description has to grab your attention immediately to keep from losing a potential sale.  Every five seconds through the blurb, your attention must be held.  The blurb’s job is to touch you emotionally because emotional buyers are more impulsive.  The description closes by trying to pique your curiosity so that you will want to read the book.  When you look inside the book, you may find testimonials telling you just how awesome the book is.  Like the blurb, the beginning of the book must catch your interest and stir emotions within you.

Research shows that many people are book zombies to some extent.  Publishers’ tactics are geared toward our natural tendencies.

Snapping out of it doesn’t mean to look for ugly covers and horrible blurbs.  Rather, a lousy cover may be an indication that the content of the book didn’t merit much effort.  Similarly, if one or two paragraphs of a book’s description include mistakes, are not clear, or don’t hold your interest, that doesn’t bode well for a few hundred pages of writing.

You can wake up from being a book zombie and return to the world of the book living with less drastic measures.  You can be mindful of the various marketing tactics that may be used to try to influence you to make emotional or impulsive decisions.  When you discover a new book, you can make a conscious effort to wait until you’ve had a good night’s sleep before you buy it.  This provides an opportunity for your emotions to settle down and for logic to kick in.  You can invest a little more time toward learning more about a book in order to help you judge whether or not it will be a good fit for you.  A few more minutes now might prevent you from regretting your decision many hours later.  When available, you can read a longer sample of the book before you commit to purchasing it.  Very often, you might still wind up reading the same book, but you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you did so consciously with careful consideration.

Keep in mind that just drawing you into the book isn’t satisfactory from the publisher’s or author’s standpoint.  The book also has to be good enough for you to read it all the way through, and must be very good in order to get you to spread word of it to your friends and acquaintances.  Wise publishers and authors aren’t trying to sucker you into buying lousy books; but they are using marketing techniques to entice you into buying more of their books (which they believe not to be lousy).

Now take the book zombie quiz a second time.  See if you can understand each question and how it relates to the theme of this article.

Why did you read this blog?  Did the title catch your interest?  Did the beginning sound interesting?  I would also ask if the blog was good enough for you to reach the end, but it seems like kind of a moot point now.  But I do hope that you enjoyed it. 🙂

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

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