A Book’s Cover: One of Its Strongest Marketing Tools

The adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” has been proven to be bad advice not only for readers but also for publishers’ marketing teams. As it turns out, books’ covers are often exactly what they’re judged by. For readers, this means a discerning eye for visual cues can help them find the books they enjoy; for marketers, it means having a discerning eye (and hand) in the design process can actually boost sales.

A simple glance at scientific conclusions on cerebral functions reveals that visual intake occupies approximately 30 percent of our cortex. That’s 30 percent of a potential reader’s functionality available to be attracted by an especially engaging cover. And, at the risk of belaboring adages, it has often been said that one has but one opportunity to make a first impression. First impressions are, as Malcolm Gladwell says in his bestseller Blink, in fact quite accurate and lasting for each person. Taken together, these physical and cultural facts lead to the conclusion that a striking visual first impression ought to be made if one wants a product to be memorable.

Now to consider book covers themselves. There are the basic elements expected from each: title, author name, and some kind of artistic element that alludes to the book’s content. These elements can be combined in innumerable ways depending on the book, and no single element is more important than the others: it all depends on audience, content, trends, time of year, and so on. The only solid piece of advice that applies across the board is to prioritize clarity over all other design elements. The consumer has to remember not only what the cover looks like but also what it says.

Okay, so far we know why the cover needs to look good. We don’t know exactly how to make it look good, but we know to hire someone (here’s looking at you, innovative cover designers) to make it so. But there is a final piece to this puzzle: placement. After all, how can a tool be useful if not properly utilized? The use of the cover by the marketing team can be as important as the cover itself.

Recent media has concluded that some tried-and-true methods of using a cover as a marketing tool are events such as prelaunch campaigns, cover reveals, and social media campaigns. Prelaunch can wear a lot of hats but essentially involves generating buzz around the title before the cover has been released. This leads into cover reveals, which are exactly what they sound like but are most prevalent in social media and online outlets. These in turn lead into the third type of event, social media campaigns, which can look like many things but should always feature either the cover itself or a banner that has the same design elements as the cover.

Circling back around, think back to the weight of visual first impressions. There is only one chance to make a first impression with a book cover, and that impression had better be a good one if you want a title to have a chance at competing with the myriad of other impressions floating around in people’s heads. However, this creates a viable opportunity for a publisher or a self-published author. Take good care of your cover design, treat it generously and appropriately as the marketing tool that it is, and watch your book succeed.

Book Marketing for Good: The Importance of Reaching a Young Adult Readership

When a manuscript is submitted to Ooligan, it has to be something more than entertainment. It must fit specific requirements: it must be of particular importance to the Pacific Northwest, and, ideally, it should represent traditionally underserved voices. As a culture, we are growing more inclusive every day, but not all young readers grow up in the same environment. Not every town offers good examples, not every family is understanding, and not every book teaches the same thing.

When you’re marketing a novel to a young adult readership, it is important to understand that while the internet is a map to nearly every young reader, it can also be the thing that destroys a novel.

The Publishers Weekly article “Reaching YA Readers Where They Are: Online” shows how publishers have emerged online since 2015. One cannot begin to reach a young adult readership without an online presence. Often, these publishers will have a complete online persona in the form of an interactive website with only YA-related content. For example, Penguin Random House’s website Penguin Teen features “Meet the Author” pages that are all linked to authors’ websites and social media accounts. They have quizzes, blogs, and categories like “What’s Trending” and “Books to Look Out For.” These sites have a large social media presence, getting around 250,000 views per post and reaching an additional audience through hashtags and handles.

YA readers have a different relationship to authors than older readers do. Getting to know an author personally helps YA readers understand and care about a novel. According to Diana Urban, the industry marketing manager at BookBub, “Readers can sense when an author is being authentic.” When an author truly believes in their book and they express that on their public accounts, young viewers will develop a strong connection to that author. They will put the book stickers and buttons on their belongings and use their influence to post on every platform, furthering awareness. Word of mouth is still a major part of a book’s life, and publishers need to understand that the majority of word of mouth now takes place on social media. If a beautiful story reaches a number of readers, but then something resurfaces from years prior that shows the author acting contrary to how they seemed to portray their beliefs in their writing, this will spread to every young reader. Sales will plummet, and the book will be dead in the water. Personal branding is important, but it should never be manufactured. Thanks to social media and our young readers today, our society has started to hold authors to a higher standard of authenticity and civility. For a book to truly reach a YA readership, the author needs to be who they appear to be.

Marketing can be a highly stigmatized area, and some feel targeted by it in an exploitative way. After all, we all get advertised things we don’t want. But marketing a hand sanitizer or ketchup bottle is a very different task from what book marketers do every day. People who work with books believe wholeheartedly in what they are working with, and they want that book to reach as many people as it can, whether it’s a story about grief, coming of age, overcoming obstacles, love, hate, diversity, history, or anything else. Young readers are out there, and they’re eager for content. Using social media to promote a book with an equally eager and authentic author is the only way to reach them.

Marketing with Politics: Femvertising and Doing it Right

Using popular politics for marketing a political book makes sense. My last post referenced this when Macmillan expedited the pub date of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury. It’s not clear what spurred this decision, but expediting the pub date was a political statement, a middle finger to Trump, whose tweets made his stance on the book’s value and relevance clear. By doing this, Henry Holt and Company caused a scene that exploded all over news outlets, causing Fire and Fury‘s name to pinball around the internet. Whether this move was an intentional marketing tactic or not, it still served as one, and elated Democrats and furious Republicans bought it in kind.

But what about using politics to market non-political books? How can publishers cash in on socio-political trends along with the rest of the world, without sacrificing authenticity? In the interest of keeping this post a manageable length, I’m going to focus on feminism; on the ways feminism is used to sell us things, and how publishers can accomplish authenticity rather painlessly. This is an amazingly complex issue and this blog post can’t delve into it all, but the links in here should lead you down an endless rabbit hole that I’m just now leaving behind me, for a little bit, for my mental health.

The issue of authenticity arises because using feminism to market a book including a strong female character doesn’t necessarily tell us what the book is about. All it does is tell us that the book is filling a gaping hole in the literary canon, a term that refers to all the books in the world. The canon, according to the Women’s National Book Association is predominantly populated with cis, white males. Basically, the politics of Wolff’s book and the politics that helped sell it have the same content and message. Feminism and a fiction book featuring a strong female character do not. While the book becomes a tool for feminism by providing girls with a role model, the book is bereft of the politics and theory that spurr the movement—references to these happen inexplicitly and in the background of the story’s narrative. So, for example, the Hunger Games trilogy has feminist themes but isn’t necessarily about feminism.

In fourth wave feminism , this is where companies can get themselves in trouble. In an interview, Everyday Sexism Project founder Laura Bates states that if a company uses the fact that feminism is #trending to advertise their products—if they “femvertise”—they must also make sure that the products themselves have the “principle of equality at heart,” or, at the corporate level, “embody that message by acting internally on issues from equal pay to parental leave.” Show us you actually care.

A non-literary example of this femvertising pitfall is Unilever’s Dove beauty products. The Real Beauty campaign focuses on women on an individual level, leaving viewers with a “feel good” message of empowerment. However, as Bitch Magazine co-founder Andi Ziesler mentions in an AdAge interview, Dove’s parent company, Unilever, also contains the company Fair and Lovely, which sells skin-lightening cream in South Asia. Ziesler says that if companies aren’t accountable on a systemic level, ads like Real Beauty “aren’t progress, they’re pandering.” Nosheen Iqbal of The Guardian seconds this statement, while adding the fact that this type of femvertising, which appeals to the individual, is easy to perpetuate with shares and likes and you-go-girl comments on social media. This is likely why advertisers like it; going viral means more visibility for their product. But it forgets that the root of the issue is systemic. So, by holding different values in its separate companies, Unilever is blatantly showing us that they don’t care about empowering women, they care about making money, and it just so happens that feminism sells in the States and perpetuating the idea that lighter skin is more beautiful sells in South Asia.

The individual attention and the feel-good messages are examples of good advertising, and companies shouldn’t be punished for good advertising. The problem arises when their values don’t line up with their ads.

In publishing, Henry Holt and Company made a political statement by expediting the pub date of Wolff’s book, thereby aligning themselves with a liberal, and therefore feminist, audience. However, Henry Holt is also scheduled to publish Bill O’Reilly’s newest book in the fall. For those who have forgotten, Bill O’Reilly was fired from Fox News—a conservative news outlet—for numerous sexual harassment claims against him by women. Henry Holt is standing by their man, (their cash cow), and his newest book is being published in September.

Publishing, an industry that’s 80 percent female, has the potential to push back on this superficial femvertising, but systemic sexism is present here as well. Although women make up 80 percent of the workforce, they hold only 49 percent of managerial positions. This is why women dominate the Indie publishing scene; they’re fed up with trying to claw their way to the top and are taking off on their own to create the type of work environment they want. Laura Stanfill of Forest Avenue Press shows how feminism can be incorporated at a systemic level. “If men are putting things into the world that I don’t want to forward, I will say that we are a women-run press, I’m not interested, and here’s why. I don’t know if that changes their perspectives on submitting to a women-run press, but it’s an opportunity I have to use my voice and say, ‘This is not okay with me.'” It should go without saying that as publishers, we must make sure that our mission, our books, and our best practices line up with our advertising if we wish to be taken seriously. Forest Avenue Press does this, Henry Holt and Company does not.

Is it surprising that Forest Avenue Press’s Publisher is a woman, while Henry Holt’s president and publisher is male? Not at all.