Book Fashion – Judging a Book’s Clothing

Would you show up to an interview wearing sandals, a Hawaiian button-down shirt, and sunglasses? Would you go to the beach in a tuxedo?

The answers to these questions might seem pretty obvious, yet several books are actually dressed for the wrong occasion. The cover and title are the book’s packaging.

If you’re shopping for cereal, you’re far more likely to pick up a box that catches your eye if it has a picture of cereal in a bowl and includes the word CEREAL somewhere on the box. If you see a box in the cereal aisle that has a picture of a breakfast bar on it, or if it has the word BAR in large letters, you’re probably not going to pick this up if you really want cereal.

When an action thriller has a cover that looks like a romance or the title sounds like a whodunit, it’s like trying to sell cereal inside a box of oatmeal.

It probably still seems pretty obvious, yet it’s also pretty common for the title or cover not to reflect the true nature of the book. Many indie authors, especially, tend to make this mistake. It’s an easy mistake to make. It’s not as obvious as putting cereal in an oatmeal box, but the effect is roughly the same.

How do you know what the package is supposed to look like? Check out the bestsellers in a given genre. Those are the types of covers that readers are accustomed to seeing. Putting the right outfit on the book doesn’t mean copying the cover concept from another book. It does, however, mean taking the time to do some research to explore what features are indicative of the genre.

A couple on a cover often signifies romance, for example. Yet even here it gets a little tricky. A romance author who wants to use sex appeal on the cover has to be careful not to make the cover look like erotica. On the other side, a young adult romance cover will look somewhat different from an adult romance cover.

The title should also be appropriate for the genre. If the cover says, “I’m a mystery, come solve my puzzle,” while the title says, “I’m a romance, let me add some spice to your life,” this mixed message can greatly deter sales.

Once the packaging makes you pick up a product, you start to explore the details. You might check out the ingredients or read the product description, for example. The table of contents specifies the book’s ingredients, the blurb is the product description, and the Look Inside offers a sample.

The blurb and Look Inside must reinforce what the cover and title suggest the book is about. Otherwise, it’s like wearing flip flops and a suit together.

Don’t confuse your potential readers. Don’t settle for a cover just because it looks nice, or a title just because it sounds good.

Print out your cover, hide the title, and show it to different people who have no idea that you wrote a book. Ask them what type of book they think it is.

Show people your title (nothing else – so these can’t be the same people who saw your cover) and ask them what they expect the book to be about.

Now get new people to read your description all by itself, and see what they say.

If you’re getting mixed messages, this may have a very significant impact on sales.

It’s not the fashion police you should be worried about if your book is caught wearing the wrong outfit, if the colors clash, or if your book doesn’t accessorize properly. It’s the potential sales that you may lose that should get your attention.

I could have titled this blog post, “All about Bikinis.” This blog may have had many more views if I had done that, but then nobody would have ever reached the end of this blog (except those few who may have been so desperate to find the product that had been advertised).

Chris McMullen

— A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Formatting Pages for Publishing on Amazon with CreateSpace

3 comments on “Book Fashion – Judging a Book’s Clothing

  1. And another “technique” that’s become popular in recent years: Wording a book’s title so that it contains “keywords” to make the book appear in more searches. Try searching Amazon for “50 shades,” or “Fifty Shades.” Ha. Some folks will do anything for a dollar. A year or so ago, this practice was discussed at length in the media and several trade publications. I think I’ll title my next book (a memoir), “Potter’s Fifty Shades of Harry at Twilight.”

  2. Great post! Interesting way of looking at covers, really. Though sometimes you might end up sending mixed messages regardless of how relevant the cover is to the book. For example, my book involves a masked girl, so naturally I included a mask on my cover. Much later I came across the Fifty Shades books, and to my horror, people would tell me things like, “Hey! Your book looks like those!” and I’d bang my head repeatedly against a hard surface.

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