Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Hey, let’s not forget about the back cover!

While we’re hitting on book covers and their importance, let’s not forget the flip side.

As laid out previously, I believe the importance of the front cover is to get someone to pick up a book. There’s got to be something that makes them want to do that — and that’s where the designer’s expertise comes in. It’s like receiving a Direct Mail envelope at your front door. The whole trick with those is to get someone to open the envelope so that the letter, brochure, order form, etc, gets read. If the unopened envelope is chucked into the garbage, you lose. Same thing with the cover of a book.

So, let’s imagine a customer has picked up the book, what’s next? They will almost invariably turn it over. What they see there had better be good, or they’ll just put it down again. On my research trips to book stores, I’ve seen this happen over and over. How come?

Well, when I look at one of these rejected books myself, I find that there’s either nothing compelling on the back cover, or the person obviously didn’t like what they saw. Not liking what they saw could be due to the subject matter of the book. They read cozies and this turned out to be hard-boiled, for instance. (That’s fine — but you do have to wonder about the front cover design if they were confused as to what the book was about.)

I do find, though, on a lot of these rejected books that the back cover just doesn’t have anything much to recommend it. My thesis is that in the design stage of a book’s cover, the front is the focus and the back is often just an afterthought. The back is easily as important as the front.

First off, who was the idiot who thought a full-cover head shot of the author on a book’s back cover was a good idea? Boy, now there’s a great way to get someone to march over to the cash register and plunk down their money...

To my mind, the front cover sets the hook and a successful back cover uses sell copy to reel that reader in. For housekeeping purposes, you need to have a bar code, so that space is gone. What do you do with the rest of the real estate?

Some strong blurbs are a must and preferably from good publications like Publisher’s Weekly or one of the major newspapers or review websites. Famous authors can be a good alternative, but they’re not as strong as something from a legit review source. It’s not a good idea to have anything from a non-professional source like someone’s blog — unless they’re a recognized expert.

Next is a good, strong, compelling bit of sell copy building on the plot, the characters and the writing. Think of movie trailers here. How do they get you fired up to see that movie? This is the chance to close the deal, or at the very least, get the customer to look further. I’ve asked. People have told me they’ve just had to buy a book because of the sales copy on the back cover (or front flap if it’s a hardcover).

If there’s room left, a bit of bio information on the author can also help — but only if it relates to the plot or establishes the authors credentials as an expert on what they’re writing about, either because of their work record (non-book/author jobs) or because of their track record (“The author of 5 best-selling novels!”)

And then there is the book’s spine...


Vicki Delany said...

As for direct mail, I've noticed that any envelope with IMPORTANT written on it can be thrown out unopened. Really important stuff like bank statements, cheques, tax forms, don't need to say they're IMPORTANT.

Rick Blechta said...

And that's why you'll never see that on a well-designed DM package. Believe me, these things are expensive to design and print and the smart money uses clever lines and design to get to want to see what's inside. The other really weak line is "Tax information enclosed!"

Rick Blechta said...

Should have hit preview first. Here's the missing word: "you". Please insert itin the appropriate space. Thanks.