Welcome to the monthly post by Paul Andruss. This time he looks at book covers and their influence on the buying public.. Some interesting experiments that show that time spent on this element of your book is as important as the words inside.
(Andruss) Jane Austen: literary giant or saucy little minx?
You decide *
They say a picture is worth a thousand words.
What if they were wrong?
What if a picture was worth 60,000 words?
60,000 words is almost the length of an average novel.
What if you could instantly download 60,000 words of high impact, emotion-filled advertising straight into the brains of potential readers in the blink of an eye?
Would you hesitate?
Would you heck as like!
Human beings, and other primates, are unique among mammals in that we see in colour. Our eyes have two kinds of light receptors called cones and rods.
Mammals in the Age of Dinosaurs kept safe by being nocturnal. Rods work best in low light, which is fine for nocturnal animals, but they do not process colour. To compensate mammals relied on an acute sense of smell.
Most mammals, like horses, have eyes on either side of the head: to keep a lookout for predators. Up in the trees, monkeys needed to judge the distance from branch to branch, therefore the eyes moved to the front of the face. It made the face flatter, reducing the nose.
The sense of smell suffered. (Think of how much more sensitive a dog’s nose is than ours).
To compensate, we developed cones to see in colour, like birds and reptiles. Although we could no longer smell ripe fruit from a distance, we could certainly see it as ripe fruit changes colour.
Twenty-five million years of evolution left man dependent on vision. We respond to, and process, visual data best. 20% of the brain is devoted to vision. Eyes, as outgrowths of the brain, are the only part of the brain with direct access to the outside world. The visual cortex interacts with at least half the brain including areas for hearing, memory, emotion and automatic responses, which is how we instinctively dodge something even before we see it.
90% of the information we take in is visual.
93% of all our communication is visual: not words!
Reading and writing is only a few thousand years old. Therefore it is no surprise we process images 60,000 times faster than the written word.
Now you know all this, isn’t it time you took control of your book covers and your brand images, icons and posters to effectively communicate the essence of your book in a single high impact visual experience?
I cannot be the only kid who spent his pocket money on records because I loved the LP cover. I did not care what the music sounded like. I bought books for much the same reason.
Today, book covers might not make me buy, but they certainly make me take the book off the shelf. No mean feat in a modern bookstore.
In the 1950s, Victor Weybright of the New American Library set up a quality paperback imprint that sold millions of copies at 50 cents apiece. He originally published mystery stories. One day while reading a novel by William Faulkner, a literary heavy weight and Nobel Prize laureate, he thought…
‘…considering all of Faulkner’s sex and violence, if this book was marketed like a detective novel by Mickey Spillane or Dashsiell Hammett, I could shift copies. Of course the fine writing didn’t help… but in the end presentation is all. A sexy cover can do wonders.
‘I phoned up Faulkner’s publishers and asked for the paperback rights to half a dozen of his novels. The publisher was dumbfounded; we’ve never sold more than 2 or 3 thousand copies of all his works put together and you want to put him on the mass market!
‘I put a sexy cover on ‘Absalom, Absalom!’ and a distinguished one on ‘Sanctuary’. I was astounded when the virtually unreadable Absalom sold in the thousands; while the much better Sanctuary bombed. As an experiment I swapped the covers and watched the sales figures for the two novels flip.
‘It was at this point I realised the contents of a paperback book means nothing. It’s the cover that sells it!’
As writers we pore over our words, reading, editing and honing every aspect of plot, character and motivation; sweating over every clause. But when our perfect novel is finished, how much thought do we really give to the cover? And not only the cover but the entire visual presentation?
In relation to how long it took to write the damn thing, I would say very little. Yet in the end, that eye-catching image might be the difference between buying the Scottish castle next door to J. K. Rowling or having your pride and joy relegated to the bargain bin of the local book store.
An author’s lack of concern about visuals might be a hangover from traditional publishing where the author had little say on the visual marketing strategy. As we never tire of saying, those days are long gone. As ‘indie authors’ we already embrace not only editing and publishing but also promotion and publicity: and isn’t that just visual marketing?
You might protest you are not a graphic artist.
You don’t need to be.
This is not about making your cover and brand image.
This is about choosing it.
You may already outsource your editing, proof-reading and publishing. With each, the final responsibility sits with you, the author. Why should your visual marketing strategy be any different?
Who knows your work better than you?
Who is better placed to say whether an image captures the mood you wish to convey?
Remember the mood you choose to convey may, or may not, be directly, or obliquely, related to, or not at all related to, the subject matter of your book.
A cover image and visual marketing may encourage readers to buy your book but it cannot make your book a good read. Your text stands or falls on its own merits, independent of cover or visual marketing strategy. This is why movie trailers are often better than the actual movies.
Here are psychological principles of visual marketing:
Use a gripping image to get an idea over. If we are told a piece of information, a few days later, we only remember about 10% of what was said. But if it is accompanied by an eye-catching picture the amount of information we retain goes up to 65%.
An image will capture interest in an instant. Given the average person’s attention span is 8 seconds, you have plenty of time to drive a message home.
Use colour. It is more arresting.
We are hard wired to respond to faces. A new born baby recognises its mother. It recognises her smile and even determines her emotional state. As adults we constantly read faces for emotional cues.
Where you can, have the characters’ faces in your marketing tell a story. It will leave people subconsciously curious as to the nature of that story. In the promotional poster for Finn Mac Cool below, you can see Erin’s resentment, seated Finn’s defiant innocence and the muscleman Dermot’s resignation. What impression does it make?
In visual marketing, take care to distinguish promotional materials from the book cover. They are not the same. An e-book cover icon is small. A large picture reduced down is too cluttered and indistinct to have impact. It is better to focus on one detail.
E-book Cover (Andruss)
Our brains love to be stimulated, but our attention span is 8 seconds. After this the brain switches off unless something new happens. Nerves fire at 1,000 electrical ‘pulses’ per second that’s a lot of energy. To understand the information, the visual cortex must communicate with parts of the brain dealing with memory, recognition and comprehension.
When nerve impulses reach a junction, called a synapse, they convert to chemicals to jump the gap. So the chemicals are not exhausted the synapse quickly stops working until something new comes along.
A way to keep the synapse firing is with new data. Animation does this because of the changing images. Animation is a great tool to beat the 8 second rule and create a lasting impression. Here is one that I prepared earlier for the draft cover of Tales from the Irish Garden coming soon by Sally.
I hope this gives you something to think about.
for the original shocking cover to Jane Austen’s Persuasion.
This was banned by the BBCMD
(British Bloggers Committee for Morals and Decency)
for bringing the literary writings of Jane Austen into disrepute
And as such is likely to offend… everyone.
YOU ARE WARNED!
©Paul Andruss 2018
About Paul Andruss
Paul Andruss is a writer whose primary focus is to take a subject, research every element thoroughly and then bring the pieces back together in a unique and thought provoking way. His desire to understand the origins of man, history, religion, politics and the minds of legends who rocked the world is inspiring. He does not hesitate to question, refute or make you rethink your own belief system and his work is always interesting and entertaining. Whilst is reluctant to talk about his own achievements he offers a warm and generous support and friendship to those he comes into contact with.
Paul is the author of two books and you can find out more by clicking the image.
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You can find two directories for Paul Andruss on Smorgasbord – Writer in Residence: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/writer-in-residence-writer-paul-andruss/
and Paul’s Gardening Column: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/the-gardening-column-by-paul-andruss/