Gone are the days when there was one and only one tried and tested way of distributing your book. Life has more choices and complications now. You can choose between the form in which to distribute the book. e.g. e-book or print book. You can choose the distribution medium for the book, which could be online or offline. Certain book design decisions will depend on which of these choices have you made.
We will specifically talk about distribution of print books through online mediums vs. offline mediums. Let us first look at some characteristics of online and offline mediums.
- Search vs. Browse: This refers to whether a potential reader has reached your book by searching (for specific content) or by browsing (through all kinds of content). In general browsing will be more common way a reader will find your book in the offline store (especially the modern format retails where they encourage browsing), whereas search will be the dominant one in online mediums.
- Distraction opportunities and options to engage the reader: Online stores will typically have a book page, which will, at the minimum, give information about the book. Information about the author, publisher, other contributors can also be typically made available. Then editorial and user generated reviews might be there. Overall, once a reader has reached the book page, there are ample opportunities to increase the engagement for that particular book without the actual book coming into picture. In the offline world, this opportunity will be missing. The books will mostly be kept next to each other and quickly passing on to the next book is easy.Online world has its own challenges for you as an author trying to sell the book. In an offline store, the physical book is immediately there in the hands of the reader. Quickly flipping through the book and reading a few paragraphs is easier for the reader and creates good engagement with the book. Even with features like preview or search inside, the effect of actually holding the book is not quite replicated in the online world.
What does all this mean in terms of design decisions?
- Cover Design is extremely important in the offline world. It does not mean that you should have a bad cover if you are selling purely online, but in offline stores, the difference between a catchy and a non-catchy cover can be a lot. Word to note here is ‘catchy‘. Yes – the cover has to be beautiful and suitable for the book, but it also has to stand out and get the attention. A beautiful cover, if not catchy enough, would fail to ensure that the book gets picked up. Hence while designing the cover, a fine line between being catchy and being suitable has to be treaded. In trying to make the cover catchy, you can not make it too loud for its subject or target audience.In search oriented discovery, the cover design may not be that crucial. You still need to have a good and suitable cover. But you can relax a bit on the catchiness aspect.
- Sub-title and back cover text must be used cleverly in offline world. In the offline stores, there is no equivalent of a “book page” from the online world. So, there is no separate place for you to put in engaging information about the book. All you have is the physical book, title, sub-title and back cover text.
- You need a short, catchy and suitable title. Short because people may not read a long title in the short attention span they have. Catchy because once people read the title, they should be tempted to pick up the book. Suitable because if kids are getting attracted by the title of the book which was meant for techies, it would not result in the final sale.
- If the title is catchy, but too symbolic, sub-title is the place to explain what the book is about. If the reader can’t quickly make up her mind about whether or not the book is interesting to her, she may be distracted easily.
- After the book is picked up and title+sub-title encouraged the reader enough, in most of the cases she would either flip through the pages, look at the back cover or do both in no particular order. Here, the back cover text becomes very important and the space must be used properly. Typical text that can go on the back cover includes
- About the author
- A synopsis of the book
- Excerpts from the Reviews of the book
What works best depends on the genre of the book, popularity of the author etc. If it is a fiction by a new author, then a gripping synopsis or reviews will work better than the detailed author’s bio. If the fiction is by a well known author, then reference to author’s earlier work will definitely work to an advantage. If the book is a non-fiction and author’s professional life can show her to be an expert in the area, then author’s bio with details of her professional achievements will work well. There is no universally correct practice about what should go in the back cover text. Depending on the genre and the author, suitable text to attract the readers should be placed. Feel free to get creative, but remember that creativity should entice the reader, not confuse them!
- Last, but not the least, the interior design comes in to picture. As mentioned, reader will tend to flip through the pages of the book before deciding to buy. Two things about interior design that are important would be
- Looks of the interior: The interior should not be ugly. It should follow the good practices for headers, body text, separators, fonts, text-justification etc. The book should not be over-designed either. Unless it is a colorful children’s book or a coffee table book, where the design is the main part, the interior design should be such that it is not noticed! It should facilitate reading content, not hamper it. So, to repeat – not ugly, not over designed.
- Readability of text: As the reader is flipping through the book, she wants to be able to read some parts from the book. If a readable font is not used or if the text is too dense, this gets hampered. Hence, the fonts and line spacing should be chosen carefully.
In the online world, the information provided on the book page assumes similar importance. The content on the book page should be guided by the same overarching question of ‘What will make the reader want to pick the book up’.
Overall, the conclusion is that the design of the book, especially the cover, matters a lot in the offline world. It does not mean that if you are selling your book online, you should throw a bad design at your readers. What it means is that you have to be extra careful on the design aspects if you are planning to sell through offline store. Because small and subtle things may decide the fate of your book irrespective of its content. The design of the book has to ensure that it gets picked up by the target audience in an environment full of distraction.