Your cover should engage readers in such a way that they’re inspired to buy the book.

Whether your focus is print, electronic, or a combination of the two, your product must exude quality and attention to detail before it’s even opened. Promotional efforts through Twitter, blogs, and Facebook are secondary. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t pursue them. Social media can help a book’s sales tremendously, but don’t count on it to overcome bad packaging. The front cover is the face of your book, and invariably, it’s the most effective marketing piece you have.

If you think your book cover is just packaging, think again.

Packaging is responsible for attracting customers and providing them what they need to make a buying decision. It’s a primary sales tool for nearly every form of consumer product, and books are no different. If you want to stand out among the thousands of titles published each month, you’ll need more than a great story and five-star reviews. You’ll need stellar packaging.

A few of the top selling book covers of 2012 in various categories

Whether we like to admit it or not, most of us are avid consumers of something, and we enjoy making those purchases. For some, it’s technology. For others, it’s clothing. And for many of us, it’s books. As consumers, we not only appreciate, but, in fact, explicitly want to be spurred into buying decisions. We long to be inspired, excited, and tempted by the promise of a state of emotion or a stimulation of the senses. Packaging is the first step in creating that experience.

Packaging and Customer Satisfaction

Studies on product presentation and consumer behavior reveal a fascinating truth about the psychology of packaging. Not only does the right packaging succeed in getting a sale, it actually increases customer satisfaction with the product itself.

When a product is placed in well-designed, high-quality packaging, consumers report greater satisfaction of the product than when the same item is presented in lower-grade packaging. In these studies, better packaging improved the customer experience. This may be news to some, but it’s well understood by marketers and advertisers. Does the psychology of packaging translate to books? Do better book covers improve the reading experience? The experts say yes.

Product marketers have long been aware of the connection between packaging and the consumer experience. To that end, companies often spend more on packaging than on the product itself, and from a business standpoint, it makes perfect sense. Increasing sales generates more revenue and creates profit. When a single factor improves the likability of a product and increase sales, it quickly becomes a top business priority.

Professional marketers will go so far as to say that the packaging is the product identity. And they are often right. The classic example of this is the Coca Cola bottle and logo. Across the globe, Coke remains instantly recognizable, impossible to be mistaken for something else, and increasingly popular with consumers around the globe.

While your book may not be the literary equivalent of Coca Cola, its success will depend on the same two things: the product and the packaging. In other words, the content and the cover.

Three Objectives of a Book Cover

A successful cover achieves three goals: increases visibility of the product, conveys a sense of quality, and facilitate a purchase.

First, a good design draws attention. Consumers consistently respond well to products with a distinct and eye-catching appearance. Without it, a cover recedes into the seemingly homogenous background of thousands of meaningless titles, and realizes few sales.

Successful cover designs use deliberate techniques (including layout, contrast, and convergence) to catch they eye. See the page on layout for more on this topic.

Good news for you—the market is flooded with amateur looking covers. Over 100,000 books are published every month, the majority of which are self-published—and they look like it. If the enormous amount of competition feels discouraging, consider the opportunity it presents. In a sea of generic and forgettable covers, a professional edge in cover design makes it easier to stand out than ever before. Simply sporting a decent cover, these days, places a book well ahead of 99% of its competition.

The second thing a cover must do is convey professionalism. Study after study demonstrates that buyers look to packaging as an indicator of product quality. Packaging cannot simply use text to describe the value of the content; it must convey the quality through its overall appearance. The cover must be strong enough to stand on its own, as a product by itself.

Potential readers are influenced and convinced by the work of art that is produced by the cover. We find it easier to believe that a book is worth reading when we see it wrapped in a professional design.

Finally, the cover must bring about a purchase. Once the cover catches attention and instills a sense of confidence in the consumer, it must provide the information necessary to compel shoppers to buy it. Endorsements, blurbs, author credibility, previously published works, and enticing descriptions work together to close the deal.

Edging out the Competition

If you work in self-publishing or plan to self-publish a book  (an industry where the competition is intense and the opportunities are boundless), you need to arm yourself with as much information and know-how as you possibly can. Despite the strengths a book may have, or how well it’s been received by preliminary reviewers, the brutal truth is that it doesn’t stand a chance without a respectable cover.

If you’ve already published a book and it’s not generating the sales you wanted, consider the cover. One of the easiest things you can do to increase book sales is improve the existing cover. That’s right, it’s okay to swap out your first-run cover for an improved version.

Book sales aside, you’ve worked hard on your book and it deserves an outstanding cover. Our objective is to provide you with the tools necessary to create one, regardless of your background or artistic ability.


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By Stacie Vander Pol