With the onset of the Internet and digital printing, authors are finding it easier than ever to self-publish their books quickly, build their websites, and market their books. Just as with food, however, what is fast and convenient does not necessarily mean it is the healthiest choice for an author.
Today, getting a book published, building a website, and producing marketing pieces can happen within a matter of days or even hours. There are online companies that allow you to upload your manuscript and have an e-book for sale within minutes. Even printed books can be accomplished within a matter of a few days. However, fast and easy does not equate with successful when it comes to producing a marketable product, and especially not when trying to sell books.
Producing a book and building a website can be overwhelming at first. Plenty of companies are out there that will try to convince you they can make the process easy for you, and in some cases, those companies will also help you to produce a quality product. However, companies that use templates and cookie-cutter approaches are companies that are best to avoid. Here are a few examples of how a cookie-cutter approach can be detrimental to an author and his or her book’s image right from the beginning.
Several subsidy or POD companies will offer stock cover formats and images to choose from. Using such a template does not mean your book cover won’t be attractive, but it does allow for the possibility that it will be confused with other book covers. For example, here at Reader Views we once received within one week three different books with different authors and titles, but they all had the same front cover—same format, same colors, same image, obviously all from the same publisher. Furthermore, the image was generic and had little to do with the books’ content.
If as an author, you choose to go the template route rather than hiring a professional cover designer, you will have to settle for a cover that may not best represent your book. Chances are bookstores will realize your book is self-published and be less likely to carry it. Readers might think even they are buying one book and end up buying another if they do not look closely at a book cover. Similarly, people who read another author’s book with the same cover as yours will dismiss yours when they see it, thinking it is another book rather than buying it. In short, not having a distinguishable cover that lets readers know what your book is about will not help your book sales, and most likely will hurt them. Even if people buy your book, if the cover is misleading about the book’s subject, they are unlikely to say anything good about your book to their friends, if they say anything at all, meaning you lose out on the most powerful marketing tool—word-of-mouth.
Just as you can have cookie-cutter covers, you can get cookie-cutter websites. Depending on your type of business, using website templates may not be a bad idea when you are starting out and just learning about websites. Such websites can begin with template choices, and then as your business grows, you can hire a website designer to give it originality. However, doing so after your book has been on the market for six months or a year may not result in continuity for your book’s branding.
The template choices offered by online companies that sell websites might at first seem abundant. You might even have 100 template choices according to the website company’s advertising, but once you purchase the website, you find that those 100 choices are broken into categories such as education, entertainment, healthcare, transportation, etc. The result is that only entertainment really works as a category for your book and you only have three template choices in that field that perhaps are more representative of dance or theatre than books. Not a single template shows a book or anything relevant to what your book is about.
Here is a case in point: I know one author who ended up with a train image on his website. He was writing historical fiction set in the nineteenth century, and trains were mentioned in the book, but his book was not about trains. However, of all the template options, the train picture on the template was the only one that looked remotely historical. After a year of settling for this poor image for his website, he hired a website designer to make his website reflect his product—books.
Many companies out there exist to create marketing materials for authors. Again, they use templates. You can order bookmarkers that will look like the bookmarkers for a thousand other books with the only options being to change the book cover and the information about the book, but the placement of images and text all look the same. Posters are the same way. Many of the POD and subsidy presses will provide marketing materials that have this cookie-cutter look to them. While some of these marketing pieces are attractive, most of them look generic and will use neutral colors of black and white because they will match any book cover image. Paying someone to design your business cards, book markers, postcards, and other marketing pieces so they look original yet are consistent with your brand and image will not only make them look professional, but they will then stand out from the crowd so they are remembered.
Following the Crowd
Being a cookie-cutter author is not limited solely to products, but it might also relate to your mindset. Perhaps you know other authors who have attended certain book festivals and craft shows or followed certain patterns for marketing their books. You listen to them and decide you must do the same. However, their books are about rock-climbing and home improvement. Your book is about cooking. Attending the home builder’s show to sell your book because your home-improvement author friend does is not necessarily going to sell your cookbook. You might do better to sell books at a food festival or to try selling them at restaurants.
In short, while well-intentioned people might tell you, “If you want to sell books, you need to…[do this activity, advertise in this publication, etc.],” remember that no two books are the same, and no two authors are the same. What works for another book will not necessarily work for yours.
Don’t Make Cookies. Make Cake.
In the end, as an author you must do everything possible to be original, to stand out from the crowd, to create a brand for yourself that will get you noticed. That requires an original book cover, a website that looks and feels not only different, but in alignment with your book’s topic, and finding activities and marketing possibilities for your book that are specific to your book’s goals and that will attract your book’s potential audience.
Do not blindly follow what every other author has done. Do not create a cookie-cutter book and image. When the other bakers show up with their plates of cookies, bring a cake to the party, and if you can add some special icing to it, all the better. Give them a product they’ll remember.
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.