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Graphic Design for Authors: Calls to Action and Tracking Success by Shauna Aura Knight

There are a number of things you’ll need to take into account when designing marketing collateral. Core benefits, calls to action, and tracking results are all a part of your visual design work in that you will need to consider all of them when designing your pieces. In some cases, they’ll impact the whole design and who you are targeting with that design. In other cases, they will require space for certain types of copy.

However, most people hear the word “design” and just think “pretty visuals.”

Design is actually just as much about strategy and planning.

Benefits and Timing

In last month’s column I addressed benefits and selling experiences vs. books. As you start to focus on identifying the benefits of what you’re selling, also consider the timing. If you’ve just given a presentation at a bookstore, your best chance to sell a book is right there when they’ve had the positive experience of your presentation. However, an effective postcard or flyer can extend that time a bit and give people a reminder when they go home to check out your site.

It’s important to understand, though, that it is harder to get someone to type in a web address off of a postcard you gave them at your talk once that emotional energy of attending your event has worn off.

This is why authors will invest in dropcards to sell eBooks right there at their table at a convention. This is also where freebie downloads can come into play. It’s easier to get someone to go home from a presentation where they met you if they’re motivated to go to your website so they can download your freebie book, thus extending the “experience” of you and giving you another shot at converting them into a book buyer.

This is where benefits connect to a call to action. You want your postcard, or other collateral, to offer a clear indication of what the person is supposed to do (and the benefits they receive for doing it). “Click here” to register for my workshop. Sign up for my newsletter to get a free book. Buy my book online in the next week and you’ll get 20% off.

1CollateralCallsToAction_CallsToActionCall to Action

This is a crucial part of many of the collateral materials you might use, especially advertising. What’s the purpose of your postcard or ad, to get someone to buy your books? Then, that has to be a clear goal of the design. In fact, it helps to be more specific even than that. If you’ve designed a visually stunning postcard or brochure, you need to close with a call to action. You want to ask people to do something, like go to your web site and buy your book, or sign up for your newsletter.

A weak call to action is just as bad as an overbearing one.

I was once asked to design a brochure for someone planning to lead a series of workshops at a bookstore. However, the client didn’t want the dates of the workshop printed on the brochure; she had a date and location for the first workshop but not the subsequent ones. I pointed out that without a specific call to action like “Register for this weekend workshop on ABC dates at XYZ location,” nobody was ever going to bother contacting her.

“Contact us for future dates” is a pretty weak call to action. It’s too vague.

I suggested that printing shorter runs of flyers or postcards for each individual workshop with a strong call to action might make more financial sense than printing an expensive brochure with a weak call to action. The flyers could be adapted and printed for each upcoming workshop: same design, just change out the dates/locations.

Here’s a great article detailing why it’s useful to get really specific in an advertisement.


Calls To Action and Specifics

If you’re selling a book, it’s useful to note things like the price, if the book is on sale—and how long it’s on sale for, or any discount codes. This is why programs like BookBub are so successful; they are pretty darn specific.

You obviously want to include how the customer can buy the book. It’s easy if your banner ad directly links to your book’s landing page with all the buy links, though for brochures and postcards you can also list your website address. You want to make it as easy as possible for people to be able to take the action.

Sometimes online ads for books are just a graphic of your book cover. However, the book will either link to a page with buy links, or sometimes you’ll be able to put text underneath the book cover with a call to action like “On sale for $.99! Click to read an excerpt.” Or, if the book cover is your graphic callout at the end of a blog post, you can indicate that with your blurb.


Here’s an example of a letter-size flyer I designed for my nonfiction books, with a call to action on the right. People are invited to:

  • Hire me as a speaker at their event
  • Join my mailing list for free resources
  • Buy my books (or buy them wholesale)

Generally with a call to action you want to focus on just one action, but sometimes it makes sense to put in related actions. In this case, the audience reading these flyers is a mixture of event organizers who might hire me to speak at their event, or people who would just be interested in reading my book. There’s some heavy crossover there in my audiences.

Now—though I did have three separate calls to action/upsells in this piece, they are all fairly related. This flyer doesn’t focus on my artwork and handmade jewelry, my freelance business as a graphic designer, or my fiction books.

Specifically, this flyer is an upsell for after people have had the experience of meeting me and seeing me teach a workshop or offer a keynote presentation at a conference or event.

Each piece you design must take into account the context–is it an event flyer a bookstore is leaving out for people who haven’t met you or read your books? Or is it a flyer you’re giving out after one of your talks? Big difference in your goals and audience, and in the action you want them to take.


Weak Call

This ad that I designed years ago had a fairly weak call to action. Beautiful image, lots of contrast, and contact info was offered, but not a strong overview of benefits, or a strong call to action. If I were to redesign this ad today, I’d probably add something like, “Join us for our year-long Mystery School. Check out our web site for more information on the program and for a free copy of our magazine.”

This ad was totally appropriate for people who already knew about Diana’s Grove and who might be convinced to reconnect and register for events from this reminder. However, this ad ran in magazines where it many people who hadn’t ever heard of the program and thus would need a little more context (and perhaps the lure of free content) in order to convince them to look up more information on the website.

Postcard Mistake: No Book Cover

The first postcard I ever designed for one of my books was less than effective for one simple reason–I didn’t have the book cover design when I put it together! My novella Werewolves in the Kitchen was originally released in an anthology, and then later as a standalone eBook. The publisher didn’t yet have the cover design for the anthology, and I was about to head out for a 12-day tour from the Midwest to New York teaching workshops focused on my nonfiction books.

I wanted to at least have something to put into people’s hands to let people know I write fiction too, so I came up with the postcard design. This at least got the visuals across, but people kept asking me, “What is this for?” I realized that, even for an eBook, that book cover is really crucial. People need to know that this is a postcard for a book.

The postcard did, however, have a call to action, and a way to track success in the form of a coupon code through my publisher. It was better than not having anything to hand out at all, and I learned a lot from that one mistake.

Tracking the Success of Your Marketing

This relates to the call to action and has less to do with the visual part of graphic design, and more to do with the strategic side of things. However, any graphic designer (including you, if you’re doing your own work) may need to make space for something like a coupon code so that the ad or postcard can be tracked. Often postcards or other pieces will pack in the blurbs for the book and leave no space for contact info and calls to action.

What do I mean by tracking? If you’ve purchased an expensive ad, or you’re printing a lot of postcards, you want to know that your investment worked. One of the ways you can effectively do that is by offering something like a coupon code. “Enter the code LOVE10 for 10% off XYZ product” is probably the most direct way to allow you to track specific promotions; you can use one coupon code for one ad, and a different one for your postcard, etc.

However, this assumes you have control over pricing and the ability to offer a coupon.

There are other ways to track, such as offering a freebie. “Go to link to download a free short story/free chapter/free ebook” and make it a link you can track through something like to get the numbers of clicks, or through other analytic software.

That particular method is a bit trickier to track directly because you might see that you got 1000 downloads of your freebie, and your freebie of course has an upsell for your paid book…however, tracking how many people bought your book that week because of the freebie is more guesswork unless you have some sophisticated analytics.

For that matter, that assumes you’re self publishing and have access to detailed sales numbers, vs. a monthly or quarterly statement. Even a monthly breakdown isn’t going to give you much information about tying in your postcards or an advertisement in with your sales, unless your publisher will agree to something like a coupon code and then share those results with you.

Thus, sometimes you may have to get creative to be able to reasonably track things. If you run an ad and your sales jump up significantly it’s reasonable to assume that the ad was responsible for that. enerally, a rule of thumb that I’d offer is that the more you’re spending on an ad or piece of collateral, the more it’s worth exploring a way to track the success of your investment.

Beyond Sales: Other Ways of Tracking Success

Sometimes sales aren’t your goal. You might be trying to build your email newsletter list, get more followers on Twitter, or get more people to click “Want to Read” at Goodreads, get more reviews, or any number of similar goals. These are far easier to track. A newer fiction author like myself is often focusing first on building social media presence and email lists.

Here’s how collateral ties into something like an online or in person event.

Let’s say you do a Facebook/author takeover party. I did one of these a few months ago. In a half hour, I gained almost 175 people on my fiction email list.

The event itself had a banner, and the Facebook event/banner was used by all the authors to promote the event. This event was specifically focused on shifter paranormal romances, so the graphics were geared toward that audience, and clear benefits were articulated along the lines of, join in the fun and have a chance to win free giveaways.

Each author posted book blurbs and games/contests. On Facebook, graphics play a huge role in how people engage in your posts. I used my book covers as well as banners to good effect when posting my book blurbs and my contests. I used one banner to offer a teaser for a book that was my opt-in/freebie offer. Join my email newsletter and get this free shifter novella. Good graphics, plus a good offer (a free book) gained me a very clear number of people joining my email list and other social media.

Similarly, when I travel to conferences as a nonfiction author and presenter, I pass around a notebook to get people to sign up for my email list right there. I also pass out business cards and flyers. I can track how many books I sell at a conference as well as how many people joined my email list. I can’t necessarily track how many people bought my books in the weeks after the conference, but I know that the last events I presented at, I definitely had an uptick in sales, plus I’ve had people contact me about presenting workshops for their groups.

Failure of a coupon code or promotion is also useful information. I recently offered a 15% off coupon on my artwork and jewelry in my Etsy store. It was easy to track that this coupon code was pretty solidly a failure. I have some thoughts about why the coupon code didn’t succeed and I’ll try again later in the summer, but I’m able to do that because it was easy to track the success or failure of the coupon.

Similarly, I did a guest post on a popular romance blog that gained me something like 100 retweets on Twitter from other authors…and I sold not a single book from that. Did it gain me visibility? Probably. But those are intangible benefits that are difficult to track. The one tangible thing is that I gained a number of Twitter followers. It didn’t convert to sales, but that’s a longer game.

This is why it’s important to understand the goals of your marketing work. Selling books? Looking to get speaking engagements? Looking to sell wholesale? Or are you just listbuilding to prep for your new book release later this year? Any of those are valid goals for your marketing, as long as you have identified your goal and designed the marketing collateral to achieve that end.


A graphic designer, artist, author, and presenter, Shauna travels nationally offering intensive education in the transformative arts of ritual, community leadership, and personal growth. Her mythic artwork and designs are used for magazine covers, book covers, and illustrations.

She’s the author of urban fantasy and paranormal romance novels including Werewolves in the Kitchen, A Winter Knight’s Vigil, and A Fading Amaranth. She is also the author of the nonfiction books The Leader Within,  Dreamwork for the Initiate’s Path, and forthcoming The Facilitation Handbook: Enchanting a Group

Shauna’s writing and artwork is inspired by the mythic stories of heroes, of swords and magic, and of the darkness we each must overcome. That the challenges we face shape us, and help each character—each person–to become heroes.  Shauna is passionate about creating experiences, spaces, stories, designs, and artwork to awaken mythic imagination.  Web Site:


CoverRitualFacilitationGraphic Design and Consulting:

Shauna’s artwork and graphic design are used for fiction and nonfiction book covers and marketing collateral. Her work often has a dark, mythic, textural flavor. If you’re looking for an honest opinion on your covers or other collateral, she’s happy to offer a brief review for free.  If you’re interested in engaging Shauna for graphic design, mention this article for 30% off your first project (maximum of $200 off).  You can view her portfolio here:



As a child Angel Leigh was quite often found curled up with her nose buried in a book. By her teen years, she was writing as much as she was reading. ...