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WHAT A QUICK TRIP TO THE BOOKSTORE TAUGHT ME ABOUT BOOK COVER DESIGN

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As a child, I believed that all answers could be found in the bookstore if I looked long enough. If I ever had a question, I would walk the aisles of the various genres perusing the multi-colored spines and covers until something spoke to me and said either through words or visuals, “this is it – this is the answer you’re looking for.” Usually, that guidance was spot-on.

As an adult, and as an author, my trips to the bookstore looking for answers usually involves some kind of direct question, in the name of efficiency, asked to the first available person. On one particular occasion, that person happened to be the store manager of a local Barnes and Noble. I happened to be working on a book at that time, so while he was leading me to my request, it occurred to me to ask him how other similar books were selling and what his observations were of customer selection at the physical point of sale. The advice he gave me was invaluable.

Here’s what he told me:

  1. Other than hype, the cover sells the book. Period.
  2. Book genres each have their own design motif – colors, mood, common visuals, even fonts and sizes for titles and author names.
  3. It is important to inspect the cover design motif of your genre, especially as an establishing or independent author to make sure your book looks like it belongs there – it’s important signaling not only to the reader, but also to the retailer.
  4. Pay as much attention to the spine of your book as you do the cover because most likely, you won’t get a front-facing display. That is promotional positioning that is typically negotiated with the distributor and isn’t necessarily based on merit as you might assume. Think of your book spine as a “mini cover” because most likely that’s all the customer will see of your book until you get major priority with a publisher/distributor.

And there you have it! Major lessons from a minor visit, and why it always pays to ask questions!

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