Marketing Your Book: Avoid Mixed Messages

Authors spend a great deal of time and effort in writing a book, but sadly, they lose some common sense when it comes to marketing that book. Mixed messages about the book in the marketing pieces can result in lost sales because readers are not clear what the book is about.

Everything used to market a book, whether it’s the cover, the website, marketing pieces, or the words out of the author’s mouth, need to send a clear message about what the book is about. Too many authors forget that their purpose is to spread their message and sell books when it comes to presenting their book to the public. Following are a few examples of mixed messages authors send in different areas of their marketing and how an author can instead make his or her book’s message clear.

The Front Cover

The front cover of your book is your biggest marketing tool. No one is going to read the back cover, or anything else you write about your book, unless the front cover grabs his or her attention. The front cover must, in one image, not only convey what the book is about, but show that the book’s subject is interesting. Mixed messages from book covers can badly hurt book sales. For example, if your book is about overcoming fear, a photo of something fearful like a grizzly bear is not going to convey the message, even though it may convey the “fear” part. A picture of an eagle soaring, however, will provide a sense of freedom from fear, from obstacles. Similarly, generic images such as beaches or nature scenes may not convey your message of how to succeed in business, although they may suggest you are successful enough to retire. A better image might include a person in a business suit, a briefcase, or something else associated with business—commercials of businessmen conducting business on their cell phones on a beach have effectively displayed this concept.

The Back Cover

Once the front cover grabs the reader’s attention, the back cover has to convince the person to buy the book. The back cover must also convey the book’s message. Author biographies and book endorsements can help, but the back cover should not be limited to these because they don’t tell you what the book is about. An effective back cover will have at least one paragraph making it clear what is the book’s subject, or in fiction, what is the book’s plot.

Please don’t try to stretch what the book is about if it’s not about something. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve been disappointed in because the back cover built up my expectations, only to have the book fail to deliver what the back cover promised. Many of those books I would have enjoyed more had I simply not been given false expectations about them. By not having a truthful back cover, you send the reader down the wrong road while reading the book, trying to find or interpret what is not there, and he may not get back on the right road then to appreciate what is in the book, but instead stay focused on what is not present.

Author Photo

The author photo is extremely important in conveying a message about your book. Unfortunately, too many authors do not have tasteful and professional photographs taken. The authors need to tell a professional photographer what his book is about and that he wants that message conveyed in his photo. That doesn’t mean you need a gimmick in your photo. It may just be a straight headshot, but the pose should have dignity if you want your book taken seriously, or you should be smiling or even laughing if your book is humorous. Too many authors take photos with their pets, which conveys a mixed message. Why would a writer of murder mysteries want a cat in her photo? The book isn’t about cats. I’ve seen history books with photos of the author in his biking gear. Save that photo for your book on mountain biking. If you’re writing about business, you may want to look professional with a suit and tie, but if you’re writing about great travel destinations, instead of the suit and tie, a (tasteful) Hawaiian shirt might be more in order.


People do not read websites. They skim them. If you have a website and look at your website statistics, you’ll quickly see that the majority of traffic stays less than thirty seconds. You only have a few seconds to let people know what your site is about and why they should look at it in more detail. If your message isn’t clear from the start, visitors won’t stay. You should have your book cover and a clear message about that book on the home page. Avoid the images that take forever to load or the music that when it starts to play makes someone jump out of his seat. Your book cover and a phrase or paragraph on what your book is about should quickly convey a clear message, and then have clear links to your other pages—About the Author, Buy the Book, a page for more information on the book, your blog—pages that will all convey your message and make it clear to the reader how to purchase that message in the form of your book.

Business Cards and Other Marketing Pieces

Anything you are going to give to potential readers needs to have a clear message about your book. If you’re a dog groomer, but also an author, a business card with dog grooming information on it is not going to work. You need separate business cards to promote you as a romance author. Whenever possible, put your book cover on your business card so you present a clear message that you are an author and here is your book.

All other marketing pieces—brochures, postcards, posters, etc.—also need to convey a straightforward message about your book. If you love Jesus, that’s great, but don’t assume people who want to read your historical novel do. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen Bible quotes on marketing pieces. They isolate your readers and send mixed messages, making people think your Civil War novel is Christian fiction, and they may not want to read Christian fiction. If it is Christian fiction, however, then those Bible quotes will help to make your message clear.

Graphics are great if you can find graphics that convey your message. Don’t use flowers, birds, butterflies, etc. unless they are relevant to your book. If your book is about gardening, the flowers are fine. If it’s a “How to” book about engine repair, a car might be appropriate. Images stick in the mind so make sure they convey your message, and not a message you don’t intend to convey. Somehow pretty butterflies and murder mysteries just don’t mesh.

Promoting Your Book in Public

When promoting your book in public, make sure you don’t convey mixed messages. You can send mixed messages even by wearing inappropriate clothing—for example a beer shirt when you’re marketing your fantasy novel at a Renaissance Festival. Find something “fantasy-like” to wear instead. A suit probably won’t sell a cookbook, but a chef’s outfit will help.

Make sure when giving interviews that you are presenting a clear message. You can’t control what the interviewer may ask, but you can steer the interviewer in the right direction. Most interviewers won’t read your book before the interview, so you need to be prepared to do a little steering. If you get a question that isn’t relevant, it’s fine to say, “Well, I don’t really cover that subject, but I do talk about….” And then move the conversation in the right direction. You don’t have to take control, but if you plan beforehand what are the two or three points you want to make about your book’s message, you’ll have those in the forefront of your mind and work them into your answers so your message is clear to listeners.

Figure out early on what your book’s message is (early on means before writing the book or at least when writing it), and then figure out ways to convey that message with images, and in a few words, in a sentence, and in a paragraph. Make sure the message is clear each time you present it to people, whether online, on paper, or in person. What your book is about is going to determine whether people want to read it, so sending a clear message about your book is the best way to find your readers, and to make sure they are receptive to your message and not expecting something else. In the end, you want your message to hit home with your readers, and then have them convey that message to their friends—your future readers.

Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.