Writing a book can be one of the most difficult things in the world to do. While each author’s experience is very different, the process is almost always the same.
Winston Churchill, the author of many books in addition to being one of the most significant world leaders in history, once summed it up by saying: “Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public.”
That last part is the rub, though. You don’t just fling a book out to the public. It has to be presented in a way that is both representative of your message and that resonates with the public. In my 21-plus years in this business, I’ve encountered a wide variety of issues that have been problematic for authors and which could have been avoided if the author realized how it would hinder his or her marketing campaign.
So, whether you’re writing a non-fiction book that builds your credibility as an expert in your field, or a fiction author writing novel after novel, here are some things to keep in mind:
The Book Cover- I have read some amazing books in my time that have been dragged down by covers that weren’t up to the task. The problem that led to those cover disasters was the lack of professional guidance, which caused some of the most basic rules to be violated. For instance, a general rule in cover design dictates that the key graphic, title, photograph or illustration that represents your message has to be 2/3 the size of other elements, otherwise it creates tension in the design.
Just as most authors are considered experts on their topics, good book designers and graphic artists are experts in theirs. They are trained in the art of distilling your message and expertise through the filter of what is attractive to consumers in order to produce a cover image that is striking enough to get attention.
But, the sticky part are those authors who become emotionally attached to an image they envision would be the perfect cover for their books, while the image lacks the professionalism needed to carry their message. That emotional attachment can become the biggest obstacle in marketing a book without the author even realizing it’s the reason why bookstores aren’t carrying it on their shelf, or producers aren’t booking them as a guest, or journalists aren’t following through on doing an interview.
My advice for authors who feel strongly about their creative choices, but are in conflict with the designer, is to survey people you trust. Show the cover to your family, friends and business associates whose opinions you respect and who you know are people who won’t just tell you what you want to hear.
And, if you’re still unsure, take a trip to your local bookstore and look at the covers of books on the shelf – notice the trends in color, design, images and layout. See how your cover matches up against the professionalism of those books that have made it to the bookshelf.
Interior Design- This is also important and worthy to speak about. The interior layout and design should be aesthetically pleasing and the type and font size should be easy to read. Some important references you can use for deciding the look you want comes from a study done many years ago by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. They determined that most people like classic serif type styles like Bodoni, Bookman, Century, Garamond and even Times Roman for type in the 8 to 12 point ranges. When you get above 12 points, most people like Sans Serif typefaces such as Arial, Helvetica and Verdana. If you have graphics or illustrations in your book, ensure they are produced with high contrast if they are in black and white. Halftone reproduction in books can be spotty if the original image doesn’t have clear contrast and sharpness.
The guts of your book can and should be created in a way to enhance the readers’ experience. If done poorly it can cost you book buyers. If done right it can earn you customers and supporters.
Pseudonyms- Over the years, I’ve encountered many authors who choose, for whatever reason, to use a pen name for their books. In a few cases, it’s absolutely necessary, while in others, it’s not. For instance, we recently represented a gentleman who went by the pseudonym of Reza Kahlili. He wrote a book about the true story of how he served as a double agent for the CIA, posing as a member of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard. The book exposed dozens of human rights abuses and peeled away the public face of the government of Iran. Clearly, this is someone whose true identity needed to be protected.
But, in too many other cases, some authors have used a pseudonym because they just didn’t like their real names or they thought it was hard to spell or pronounce. One of the funniest pseudonym examples was told to me by my Senior Campaign Strategist who worked for a legend in the comic book industry, Marvel Comics founder and co-creator of Spider-Man, The X-Men, The Hulk and more – Stan Lee. He said, “When Lee was a teenager just starting out in the comics business in the 1940s, it wasn’t big business. Comics were disposable cheap entertainment for kids, and Stan – whose real name was Stanley Martin Lieber – didn’t want to waste using his real name in comics. He was saving it for when he wrote the great American novel, which never happened. So, by his own admission, he came up with the dumbest pen name in history, Stan Lee and the name stuck. To this day, he still contends it was the worst decision of his career.”
So, the moral of the story is – don’t use a pen name if you don’t really have to. It can reduce your credibility with the media and it may also come back to bite you someday.
And I hate to sound like Dear Abby, whose advice typically ends with “seek professional help,” but in this context, it’s really true. Your book is representative of you and particularly if it’s a marketing vehicle for your business, it’s even more critical that it looks as powerful as you and your message, and as professional as the products or services you’re selling.
I started with a quote from Churchill, so I’ll finish with a quote from Abraham Lincoln: “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.”