You can’t judge a book by its cover, but I reckon that’s how the majority of people make a decision about whether to read a blurb and pull the trigger on purchasing a book, especially those by debut authors.
Enter Path to Publication IV: The cover and marketing (click here and here and here for the earlier instalments). In short, I’m tracing the journey of publication for my book, The Foundation, from the pitch right through to release.
In this edition I’ll be looking at the steps that the author has limited control over: Cover and marketing. This edition will have the most quotes from the fine people at Momentum, because these are areas they largely control.
It’s funny, for something so important to the success of a book, the cover is actually something I had few thoughts on. This is a good thing, because you don’t want me in charge of artwork. I left it up to the professionals, beyond saying ‘AWESOME JOB GUYS’ once it was done.
I asked Haylee Nash, commissioning editor at Pan Macmillan, to explain how she goes about scoping and designing a cover:
“When reading a manuscript, I jot down key imagery and icons that appear through the text. I then look at these and the competitive market for the book I’m commissioning to create a cover brief. The cover brief gives key information about the book, tone, setting, mood and potential imagery that I want to be conveyed on the cover. This is sent to a freelance designer, which Momentum has a pool of across different genres from which we select. After that, it’s up to the designer! It often takes a few rounds to find something we’re happy with, but we always get there in the end.”
I received the cover for The Foundation about six weeks out from publication, and I think it’s pretty snazzy.
Edits done, cover designed… the next step is beaming the book out to the world so that you fine people buy it, read it and love it. This helps keep the team at Momentum in business and allows me to keep writing and to say ‘I’m WORKING!’ when my wife asks me to cook.
Obviously the first step in eating a steak off the back of a supermodel is writing a good book. But what helps it sell? I asked Joel Naoum, publisher at Momentum, for his views on what makes a good ebook fly:
‘Ebooks are a very focused sort of reading experience. Readers buying ebooks tend to buy for themselves (rather than gifting books), and they read quickly, immediately looking to the next reading experience if they liked it. The ebooks that fly are the ones that have great pace, action and conflict.
The other thing that helps sell ebooks is genre – readers dive deep into their favourite genres and are willing to try out new authors. Our marketing strategies generally try to tie in these two factors – increase the discoverability of books in ebook stores and build connections with the community of readers around particular genres.’
Enter Patrick Lenton, marketing guru at Momentum. He’s the one responsible for delivering on this marketing vision, getting The Foundation out to the world and keeping me in fine, single malt scotch. I asked him for the approach he took when marketing my book:
‘Digital readers are voracious for thrillers. Momentum has had success with all sorts of thriller writers, including Chris Allen and Greig Beck. Our strategy is simply getting The Foundation out into the community, finding reviewers, getting interviews and guest posts, and just making people intrigued by the premise enough to go and buy a copy.’
Lesson 8: The array of professionals that your publisher brings to your book is formidable. From contract staff to editors to illustrators to marketers to the senior staff that coordinate it all, seeing the whole orchestra in action is an impressive sight. Not all books succeed, but it is this small army of support staff give your book every chance to succeed.
So Momentum has its own marketing mojo, but I wanted to help. It’s in my interest as much as theirs that the book succeeds, both to line my pockets with treasure and so it might make sense to publish another one.
In short, I had to ‘build a brand’ without really knowing how. I quickly decided against the Foghorn Leghorn approach. It’s not me, and I’m not sure how much impact shouting into the void has anyway.
I decided the right approach for me was thinking of how to generate interest prior to release, accepting opportunities that popped up, looking for mutual back scratching opportunities and getting my web/social media thing up to scratch.
Problem is, this is all time consuming and each minute of ‘brand’ is one less minute of ‘writing explosions’. Given the majority of word slammers work full or part-time, writing time is precious.
But when there’s no shelf, each person who buys your book has found your book through word of mouth, reviews, bestseller lists (we can only hope) or ‘people who bought X’ lists. There is a need to (respectfully) help readers to find books.
This all sounds simple, but I didn’t know what type of effort would translate into exposure. It felt a bit like sitting in front of a massive console with heaps of buttons, madly pressing each of them but not knowing which one will do something.
Lesson 9: Even if you don’t know what buttons to press, you owe it to your publisher to do your best to mash the console madly. Publishers will do their thing to market your book, but if you chip in as well, you just might find something that works. In fact, I suspect that publishers, especially in the digital space, have come to expect this sort of effort from their authors.
Press madly I did, right up until the day of release and beyond. I’ll share that with you next time.