Thursday, July 28, 2011

What Goes on the Back Cover?

Don't be shy: The first thing I like on a back cover is the author's bio and photo. Many authors resist this, I suppose for the same reason that many people resist having their picture taken at all. However, if you are writing a book, you need to ready to promote your brand. And guess what? You are the brand. What kind of photo? Well, it needs to be something that suits your brand. If your brand is formal, then your photo should be formal. If your brand is casual, then your photo should be casual. By the way, while some authors are resistant to the whole concept, some authors get it so well they put a photo of themselves on the front cover--and it works!

The second thing I like on the back cover is a selection of testimonials. These can be difficult to get before you even publish a book, but it is not impossible. You just need to start early and locate appropriate individuals who are willing to do this for you. A few rules of thumb.

  • Get as many as you can: You will only be able to use three to five on the back cover, but you can use additional testimonials inside the book, on your website, and in your promotional literature.
  • Professional diversity helps: Combine credentialed endorsers (PhDs, for example) with those who might represent your readers.
  • Geographical diversity helps: If you plan to identify endorsers by place, make sure they are not all from your hometown.
  • Get their comments in a letter or email: The Whole Earth Catalog, I believe it was, used to tell its readers not to think about "writing a review" but to just write down some comments in a letter. They got great reviews this way. Go and do likewise.
  • Get their permission: Send them the edited version of the testimonial you plan to use and get their permission to use it, even in email. Confirm the spelling of their names, title, and location.
  • Use names, if possible: Of course, this is preferable to anonymous testimonials. However, in the case of testimonials from children, it's common to identify them only by age or grade. The Publishing Pro.

What's Most Important about Your Cover?

It may not be the image: Many rookie authors, not to mention graphic designers, think the most important element of a cover design is the image. The more clever and complicated the better. (And, not coincidentally, the more expensive.) A cover photo or illustration is important, even essential, to some covers. In this category, I think of Romance novels that rely on bodice-ripping illustrations to get the buyer's adrenalin going.

Nevertheless, in my world, an illustration is rarely required and almost never the most important element on the cover. What is? It could be the title, the subtitle, or the byline.

  • The byline: If you're a famous author, the smart publisher will make your name the biggest, brightest, and easiest-to-read element on the cover. If you're not, skip to the next item.
  • The title and byline: These two items dance together. If your title is sufficiently descriptive, it should dwarf anything else on the page. If your title needs help from a subtitle to describe who the book is for and what it will do for them, the title should remain the largest element (otherwise, booksellers and buyers may become confused about the actual title), but the subtitle should gain more prominence and perhaps pride of place at the top of the cover. If your title and subtitle are particularly strong, and they should be, your publisher may opt for a "type solution"; that is, no image at all. Before you write off this approach as boring, go into a bookstore (if you can find one these days) and check out all the mass market paperbacks and note the simplicity of the cover designs. They are mostly type solutions; most of the type is big and blocky and all caps. And then remind yourself that these are the books that sell the most.
Whether you use and image or not, your title and subtitle (or byline, if that is the most important) needs to be easy to read from ten feet away or as a thumbnail on a computer screen. Over-illustrated covers can be impossible to decipher from a distance or in miniature.

Cover images, along with backgrounds and color schemes, are secondary elements that essentially create the right environment for the most important elements: your title, subtitle, or byline.--The Publishing Pro.