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Looking Beyond the Cover Design of Your Book

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If you’re a member of PMA, then you probably know how important it is to read Publishers Weekly and to stay current with the trends and developments of our industry. Nora Rawlinson, Editor-in-Chief of PW, had a great editorial in the February 7th issue. Titled “Why Not Judge a Book by Its Cover?,” this editorial is a must-read for all PMA members.While Rawlinson has written an excellent editorial about the importance of spending time, effort, and money developing both the cover and cover copy for your new book, she omits a couple of critical points that PMA members need to know. Read on as I elaborate.What Attracts Booksellers’ Attention?

The editorial reports that “booksellers are as enamored of dust jackets as sales reps. In our study, 75% of the 300 booksellers surveyed (half from independents and half from chains) said that, of all the elements of the book itself, the look and design of the cover was the most important. The booksellers also thought that the plot summaries on the flaps and back cover were important, though somewhat less so.”Well, think about it. What do chain or independent book buyers and sales reps have to go on? They are presented with literally thousands of covers and titles each year. There’s no way they can read all that stuff, and after a few years of looking at title after title, this exercise has got to get boring! Ask anyone in the industry how long a buyer looks at and considers a new title being presented to him or her. The industry average is about 30 seconds per title! (Now that’s not very much time especially if you-the author or publisher-invested a couple of years writing or producing the book.)So, in addition to the book having an appealing subject matter, your cover has to jump right out of the sales rep’s hands and scream, “Buy me!” to that 22-year-old, recent college grad on the other side of the desk. Does this describe the cover of your book? Have you had a professional designer develop the cover for your manuscript? Or did you try to save money by hiring your nephew, who’s taken a desktop design course in college and was willing do the job for $250?Where to Learn More

If bells are ringing and red flags are waving in your brain right now about the importance of quality design and strong cover copy for your book, then you need to go see a “cover doctor” and get some professional help and advice. One of the best places to go for this information is the PMA University that takes place just prior to the Book Expo America (McCormick Place in Chicago-May 30, 31, and June 1). The PMA University offers more than 64 workshops and courses covering just about every conceivable topic in publishing, and the price for this education IS UNBELIEVABLY CHEAP when compared with other publishing seminars you might attend. If you want to know more about book jackets and covers, this year you’ll have your choice of two different cover/jacket seminars to attend: “Your Cover Sells Your Book” and “Booksellers Speak Out on Jackets and Spines.” And there are many related classes you may want to sign up for such as “Partnering with Your Customers to Sell More Books,””Working with Freelancers,””Getting Your Marketing and Promotion Ducks in a Row for Less Than $3,000,” and “Book Reviews and How to Get Them and Use Them to Increase Sales.”For first-time attendees, there’s even a special half-day session specifically devoted to helping you get oriented to the publishing industry and maximizing your time at PMA University. And don’t overlook a program new to the PMA University this year: “Meet with a Consultant One-On-One,” a session where you can get 30 minutes of focused consulting help on your specific problem or issue. (For more information about PMA University, see the course listing and sign-up form included in this month’s issue of the newsletter.)Enticing Both Booksellers & Consumers (Book Buyers)

OK, that’s enough of the PMA University commercial-now back to the Nora Rawlinson editorial. Rawlinson continues: “Book-buyers, it turns out, appreciate blurbs and plot summaries more than cover design. Just 23% said the look and design of the cover was very important to their purchase decision, while the majority said the information printed on the flaps and back cover was very or extremely important.” Well, hello! Just how many “consumers” are going to admit that they make a book buying decision based on the impact of a cover alone? After all, these are readers-they’re influenced by words! Of course, the back cover and flap copy is important to their buying decision!Stop a second! There’s a very important but subtle point here, and people who are new to the industry may miss it: the booksellers (i.e., the ones who think the cover design is most important) are the people who decide which books to put on the shelf. If your title doesn’t get past the store or chain buyer, then the opinion of the consumer (i.e., the person who is motivated by the flap and back cover copy) doesn’t matter. If the book’s not on the shelf, no one is ever going to buy it! (Pretty basic, right? But easy to forget.)So the answer is that you’ve got to have both: great design and terrific cover copy! You’ve got to have a smashing design to get the store or chain buyer to take note of your title and put it on the shelf, and you’ve got to have great blurbs (quotes and reviews) and motivational cover copy to get the consumer to take it from the shelf to the cash register. The two work together.Becoming Educated
at Your Local Bookstore

One last point, and it’s something that’s very wise advice for those of you who are new to the industry and even those of us who’ve been around for 25 years (or more!). Rawlinson’s editorial concludes: “We might develop a whole new approach to covers if art directors were forced to wander into a bookstore once a week.” Well, art directors aren’t the only ones who will recognize the intelligence in this statement.When was the last time you were in a bookstore? Not to buy a book, but to look at covers, read cover copy, observe consumer buying behavior, watch the activity around the checkout, or to talk with booksellers about “what’s-what?” One of the best publishing focus group facilities publishers or authors can tap into is right there in your backyard. I’ll bet it’s not more than 15 miles from your home and best of all it’s free!It’s called the bookstore and it’s the place to go if: (1) You want to look at some great covers and cover copy; (2) You want to pick up creative ideas for free; (3) You want to see how books are successfully sold and promoted; (4) You want to learn more about the publishing industry.To be a success in this business, you should make visiting a bookstore part of your monthly routine. And be sure to spend some time outside the niche where your kinds of books are sold. Go see what’s happening in business, in heath, in computers, and first fiction. For the observant and the savvy, there are lessons to be learned in every department. The bookstore is where you’ll earn your masters degree in street-smart publishing.I’ll see you at the shelves!
Robin Bartlett is the Director of Marketing for the American College of Physicians and a PMA board member responsible for the PMA University.
This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor March, 2000, and is reprinted with permission of Publishers Marketing Association.

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