By Lisa Woods
Who Moved My Cheese?, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Chicken Soup for the Soulâ€”their covers make self-respecting graphic designers cringe, yet they have astronomical sales. Itâ€™s common sense that attractive covers invite book shoppers and ugly covers repel themâ€” so why do these unsightly titles consistently outsell their better-looking shelfmates? (And why do their creators keep producing similar-looking books?)
The simple answer is that, in a hypercompetitive, overcrowded market, branding trumps beauty.
What Is a Branded Book?
What exactly is a â€œbrandedâ€ book? Well, a successful brand must be
- easily recognizable,
- and distinct from its competition.
But branding is more than a look based on a typeface, a color combination, or a trim size. These are merely symbols of a solid brand. In essence, branding is a perception. A branded book is perceived as having something special that nothing else can offer. When someone who knows the Chicken Soup brand walks into a bookstore to purchase an inspirational book for her teenager, she doesnâ€™t say, â€œCan you tell me where I might find an inspirational book for my teenager?â€ She says, â€œDo you have a Chicken Soup book for teenagers?â€
A brand is an implied promise to the consumer that theyâ€™ll consistently receive a particular experience. This is why publishers donâ€™t like authors to change their writing styles or cover designs too much, because change might upset the consumer who feels that the authorâ€™s brand hasnâ€™t delivered. This is especially true for nonfiction and genre fiction. Think of Sue Graftonâ€™s A Is for Alibi seriesâ€”even if you only saw R Is for Ricochet, youâ€™d immediately know B through Q were also available, all with the same suspense trademarks. And youâ€™d know what youâ€™d expect them to look like.
A consistent look tells the consumer that your new book has the same or more merit than your previous book. But that still leaves us with the question of why so many successfully branded books look so bad.
How Ugly Books Are Born
The typical scenario goes like this: Author writes book. Book becomes huge seller. Book goes into reprint many, many times, keeping the same cover for recognizabilityâ€™s sake. Author writes second book. To capitalize on the success of her first book, she and her designer develop a similar cover. By this time, trends have changed, and the original cover and title are out of date.
But that doesnâ€™t really matter. Or, more accurately, it doesnâ€™t matter as much as the brand equity the first book has gained over the ensuing years. The look and title may not be attractive by the dayâ€™s standards, but they are familiar and capitalize on consumer loyalty. The publishers arenâ€™t relying on the cover to attract a consumerâ€”theyâ€™re using it to remind the consumer.
Thatâ€™s why so many â€œuglyâ€ books are installments in powerful, consistent seriesâ€”because the customer remembers and recommends the first book and associates it with the following books. If the first book doesnâ€™t build a significant base, the design is much less likely to be repeated, and thereâ€™s little danger of it going out of date.
Why Their Brands Wonâ€™t Work for You
Many people see the ways brands work for well-known series and decide thatâ€™s the look they want for their books, too. But your bookâ€™s content is original, and it deserves a cover tailor-made to market its unique message. Imitation is not branding. Nor is it a sound strategy for marketing a book in an overcrowded industry. A copycat cover may do more harm than good by making a book indistinguishable from its competition.
Do what the bestsellers did: Take a great book, give it a unique look, and never disappoint your customers. Take the lead and soon enough others will want to copy you.
How to Brand Your Book
STEP 1: Create a great product.
STEP 2: Figure out what makes your brand unique and stick to it.
STEP 3: Be consistent in marketing your brand. All aspects of your brand need to communicate one core message. Your bookâ€™s content and visuals need to back that message up.
STEP 4: Deliver on the brand. Consumers are fickle. If you disappoint them, youâ€™ll lose them. Whatever your brand image, make sure that it signifies quality.
STEP 5: Continue to evaluate, build, and refine your brand. The only way youâ€™ll know youâ€™re doing it right is by the success you achieve. Trends come and go. Amend your look only when what you have in the bookstore is inconsistent with your brand.
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