Marketing One Book with Multiple Stories

Ooligan’s staff are excitedly preparing all the marketing details for the upcoming release of the literary fiction novel Three Sides Water by Peter Donahue in May. In this vein, I’ve decided to discuss the marketing process for books. Since every book is unique, all the books at Ooligan Press have their own marketing strategy and target audience carefully planned from the very beginning of the publishing process. This makes discussing the marketing of books in general rather difficult, because each book will have different strengths and challenges to consider when planning a marketing campaign, and, thus, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to marketing a book. However, Three Sides Water is unique from most fiction novels, because it contains not just one narrative, but three separate short stories. Novels that contain multiple short stories have a slightly more challenging marketing process overall, because succinctly describing the book and its message to the potential reader is more difficult.

This isn’t to deride short story collections in any way. Short story author Michael Knight says, “A good [short story] takes a novel’s worth of emotional complexity, strips away all the fat, and compresses what’s left into a much more confined space, which can make for a reading experience that’s hard to match in terms of its intensity.” Short stories are a literary art form that can show off an author’s raw talent, and there is a host of amazing collections of short stories by famous authors, such as the Brothers Grimm, Roald Dahl, Alice Munro, and Agatha Christie. Short story collections can be wonderful ways to get quick, scintillating reads; I am personally quite fond of reading short stories by Edgar Allan Poe during the month of October. But that gets us back to marketing these books.

I read Edgar Allan Poe in October. Why? For his scary stories. I know what I’m getting from any of Poe’s stories before I read them. Book publishers signal this to me in many ways: a black cover covered with creepy ravens, a sinister-looking font in red, the word “macabre” in the description on the back, the book’s location in the horror section, creepy excerpts from the book used in promotional materials, reviews and blurbs by other famous horror aficionados and authors, and publicity and advertising around October in preparation for Halloween. While each story by Poe is different, they are unified by one theme––horror. Elements like those listed above can all be part of a marketing strategy, but the common thread is what helps guide the marketing process.

The Huffington Post notes that authors without the established reputation and brand to sell their writing on their name alone should craft their collection of short stories to contain the same central characters, setting, or theme. With this cohesive thread, a literary agent—or a publisher, such as Ooligan—will have an idea of how to market your collection and get copies of it into the hands of interested readers. For the reader who is not attracted to short stories as a form, but to a genre, setting, or character-type, these themes can market the book as containing many examples of the kind of stories they like as opposed to just a collection of stories. A unifying thread can also comfort the reader in their choice to buy a whole collection of works rather than seeking out individual pieces, because the collection may offer greater insight and nuance into the message the author wishes to convey.

A challenge for authors writing a collection of short stories (and their publishers) is to find the thread that will resonate with their audience and make it known to them. That way, more people will be willing to dive into a collection of separate stories.

Three Sides Water: Designing One Cover for Three Stories

In the world of publishing, we know that a good cover design can go far in making a potential reader interested enough to pick up a book. Covers are the first things readers see, which means that they must convey everything about the story in one image (or collage of images). The eternal dilemma that designers face is how best to represent the themes, characters, plot, and mood of the work in a way that piques the reader’s interest. This is difficult enough when the work is only one story—add two more into the same title and the challenges increase.

Ooligan Press recently acquired a set of three short novels (to be published in one volume) called Three Sides Water, by Pacific Northwest–based author Peter Donahue. Each of the stories takes place in different time periods—1920s, 1960s, and present day—and each feature a different cast of characters. The only constants are the setting (all stories take place on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington) and the main theme of finding identity. We recently wrapped up the cover design process, through which we received many diverse and compelling concepts to solve this designer’s dilemma.

So what things can a designer do when faced with the challenge of representing three separate stories in one cover? Here are some tips:

Use the Cover Design Brief

This seems to be one of those “goes without saying” things, but it can never be overemphasized. At Ooligan Press, the cover design brief is put together by members of the project team after careful consideration of the type of cover that would fit the vision of the rest of the team. Included within the design brief are lists of key and minor visual elements from the works, main themes, and published examples of what to do and what not to do. Taking all of these things into consideration is the first step in creating your concept.

Pick a Direction (or Two) to Work With

Narrowing down your focus on the kind of cover you want to create does wonders for generating specific ideas. Once you know where you’d like your cover to go creatively, then you can figure out the how. A design brief might specify both illustrative and photographic directions as possibilities, and if you can decide on which one to put your energy into, you’ll be one step closer to putting the pieces together. (Of course, you can choose to do both.) Deciding to go in a more photographic direction would allow you focus on searching for the right photo, while choosing an illustrative approach would shift your focus into the style of illustration that you’ll be using.

Pick a Key Visual Element to Portray

Choosing a style of cover can also help in deciding what visuals you’ll be using to represent the works by allowing you to zero in on which visual elements will be done the most justice through your creative direction. For example, one of the key visual elements that appear in all three stories in Three Sides Water is the physical setting where they take place. If you, as the designer, decided to take a photographic direction, you could focus on the place element and search for the right photo of the setting. In the case of titles like Three Sides Water, it’s important to choose as few visual elements as possible to portray on the cover so that readers are not overwhelmed with images that could become confusing.

The main challenges that face a cover designer in any situation are how to make a cover that fits the genre, but not in a clichéd way, and to create something visually interesting and unique, but not so far from the norm of the genre that it doesn’t feel right to the reader. This is complicated when looking at not one, but three distinct stories that need to be represented on the cover. The unique challenge posed by this title has yielded interesting concepts, and the final cover reflects them beautifully.