For most of what I’ve written in the first post on graphic design for authors, we’re talking tactics vs. strategy. What I mean by that is, tactics are the methods employed to support a strategy. Strategies are long-term plans employed to reach your goal. Typically when I’m doing design work, I’m also doing a fair amount of marketing strategy.
This might include:
- Competitive analysis of other book covers in that industry,
- Researching the trends in cover design particularly for a specific genre,
- Asking clients detailed questions about their audience, their goals, and their value proposition
Much of this depends greatly on the type of book. For a book cover, a detailed competitive analysis is perhaps is more appropriate for a nonfiction book, though you do still want to know what book covers in your genre look like so that you can find the balance of communicating the genre via the cover design, while also making your cover stand out from other books.
Some of these questions you don’t need to answer until you’re doing collateral materials like postcards or advertising. However, these are all things that someone eventually has to take into account. If I’m working for a publisher on behalf of an author, the publisher ideally has all that information together. If I’m working directly for an author, they might not have thought about some of the strategic questions that I’m asking. That typically means considerably more work on my part.
The Cover is Your Flagship
In the last article I said that your book cover is the most important piece of your marketing package because it’s used on everything you do to promote your book. Author Kristine Kathryn Rusch agrees with me on that and mentions the same thing in her “Discoverability” series. It’s a fantastic set of articles on the challenges of modern publishing and promotion and I highly recommend any author read it.
Put bluntly, when you have a really stunning book cover, that can make designing future collateral easier. An amazing cover is worth putting up on a poster or a table banner. A mediocre or poor cover is not.
What Information Is Needed?
Sometimes, the only information I might need is the genre, the themes in the book (vampires, werewolves, etc.) and the visual description of the characters, as well as some of the various plot points that might need to be reflected in the design of the cover. However, if you’re writing a series of books, you’re really going to want all the books to have a similar visual design for the covers. That’s also something that a good cover designer can take into account. In a future article I’ll talk specifically about visual branding.
Other times, I might need rather a lot more information than just what the characters look like, particularly if I’m also doing other graphic design pieces such as ads, brochures, and web graphics. It’s crucial that a fiction cover communicate the mood of the book. Can you break down the overall mood and themes of your story in a sentence? In three words? The cover design should communicate that, without words.
For nonfiction, I need to know more about the audience and what we’re trying to communicate to them, including the benefits of the book. Why should someone read this book? What are they going to get out of it? How will it make their lives better?
Going through the process of thinking about marketing strategy will help you think beyond the book cover. Where will the book cover be seen and used? Will you be printing postcards or flyers? Are you going to do a direct mail campaign? If so, how will your piece stand out? Will you mail a postcard or use a clear envelope? Will you be purchasing advertising? If so, you’ll want your ad to stand out from the crowd, which means you or your designer needs a copy of that magazine in order to see what the other ads look like.
Beyond advertising, there are other forms of marketing. Using press releases and other contacts to get interviews in magazines and on the radio, getting interviews on podcasts, getting bookstores to host you for readings or workshops, submitting articles to magazines to gain exposure, becoming a guest presenter at conferences, getting reviews, doing blog hops, social media…all of those are potential parts of your marketing plan. If you do a little strategic work when planning your cover design and any collateral pieces, you’ll have a pretty good foundation for a lot of other types of marketing.
The document I use to capture information like this is called a Creative Brief. It’s shorter than a full marketing strategy document. The document template I use asks a number of questions that may be redundant for some projects and some questions may not apply to you. Here are some questions adapted from my Creative Brief that you are going to want to be able to answer whether you’re engaging a graphic designer and illustrator, or doing the design work yourself.
- What is the goal of the project? What are we trying to accomplish?
- What do we want to say? What’s the single most important thing we can communicate to achieve the objective?
- Who are we talking to? (The more precise and detailed the better. Hint: The answer is not “Everyone.”)
Key target audience insight:
- What insights do we have about them? What do they care about?
- What do we want them to think, feel, or do?
- What is the most compelling thing we want the audience to think after they experience the project/designed piece?
- What is the tone/manner/personality traits the project must communicate?
- How is this product or service different from your competition?
- What have your competitors done well, or done poorly?
- Key benefits, describe the problem(s) that this product is going to solve.
- How will you achieve the objectives? How will you convince the audience?
- How will you measure the success of the project?
- Technology : Print size, banner sizes
- Legal: Trademarks, copyrights, taglines, artwork usage rights, logotypes, privacy policies, etc.
- Any positive emotional attributes (or, specific attributes) you want this project/product to be associated with.
Here’s the full Creative Brief template that I use:
I’ll focus on branding in a future article, but branding is a key part of your marketing. For instance, as a designer, I’m going to come up with a completely different cover design for an emotionally-wrenching urban fantasy than for an erotic paranormal. That being said, my approach to those designs will still be different based upon the overall brand of an author. It might be hard to determine your brand as an author when you’re new—but, I imagine that even if you’ve just published your first book, you have a few other books you’re working on or that you have ideas for. And, though many authors these days write in several different genres, there are usually underlying themes.
Most of my current fiction releases aren’t big epic heroic stories, they are shorter romances. However, the bulk of my writing that will be coming out over the next years is more sweeping and epic whether it’s urban fantasy, paranormal romance, high fantasy, or space opera. So I want my cover designs to reflect the mood of my overall brand so that when those books start coming out, the covers are visually cohesive and look good together on a brochure or banner.
In my case, I write both fiction and nonfiction, and I’m an artistso I’ve worked to create a visual author brand that connects my fiction, nonfiction, artwork, design work, and my consulting work. The tagline I’m working with at the moment is “Awaken mythic imagination,” which covers most of my bases since I write fantastical fiction, nonfiction focused on metaphysical and esoteric techniques and personal growth, and my artwork and design work also have a mythic bent.
The best thing you can do is keep asking questions. What are the themes most present in your work? What audiences are you targeting? What are the core benefits of your book? What are you trying to communicate?
Does this sound complicated? It is. It’s why good designers and marketing strategists charge a lot of money. Most aren’t trying to take you for a ride, they’re doing hard work that takes a lot of professional expertise. And for a lot of authors, the WIBBOW rule comes into effect. Would I Be Better Off Writing?
Whether you’re looking to hire a graphic designer, or if you’re looking to do some of your own design work, begin to think about things more strategically. Sometimes you just have to figure it out one step at a time, but that hopefully allows you be more strategic the next time around.
Next article we’ll focus in on cover design do’s and don’ts.
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: http://www.shaunaauraknight.com
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: http://shaunaknightarts.wordpress.com