Vince is a teacher, real estate broker, owner of a real estate school and former marketing executive. He has written nationally and internationally syndicated advertising with over 3,000,000 words in print. He has published in professional journals, wrote a real estate book for the Real Estate Education Company and has written over 100 different real estate seminars approved by Oklahoma for continuing education.
He is currently writing fiction and a nonfiction book on ‘Rewarding the Reader’ which is almost finished! Vince blogs regularly at Philosophy of Romance.
LA: Vince, thank you for being here with us today. Will you please tell us what are the three major missions that need to be accomplished by cover art.
VM: The cover art missions are very similar to the missions an advertising headline must accomplish: (I mention this because millions of dollars have been spent testing direct response headlines and what makes them work.)
- Get the favorable attention of the best prospects for the product.
- When possible make the cover art persuasively promise believable benefits.
- The cover art should entice the reader to read the blurb and hopefully the first line of the story.
VM: A great deal of money is spent by marketing departments seeking to find out just who the best prospects are for a product. Sometimes they are not who the marketing people think they are.
This takes market research. Who is buying the product? How did they find out about the product? What do they use the product for? What do they like best about the product? Why did they buy it rather than a different product? What are their demographics? (Age, sex, education, income, location, etc.)
Finding these things is the job of the author. Notice who comes to book signings. Can you tell who is visiting your blogs? Do you use questionnaires?
Let’s say you write mysteries. A lot of authors write mysteries. What made you different? I read Nevada Barr because she writes about crimes that happen in national parks. Her heroine is a park ranger and the books are full of inside park information that is fascinating.
I also read M. C. Beaton, Hamish Macbeth mysteries, because I like Hamish but I also love her sociological look at the people who live in the Scottish highlands.
Note: I’m not reading these books just because they are mysteries. I read Janet Evanovich, “Stephanie Plum,” books because they are so funny and entertaining. I don’t read them just because they are mysteries.
Now, let’s say you found out that most of the readers who buy your books are women over fifty years old who like your heroines because they are gourmet cooks. It better be clear on your cover that these books are about cooking and chefs.
If you get cute and have an abstract cover that says nothing but ‘look how creative I am’…you have just blown off your best prospects. Also, in selecting media, you should find venues that fifty year old women frequent. That may not be Facebook.
Notice: this is not the same as getting the most people to notice. What good is getting 90% of the people to notice your ad or book if only 10% of the best prospects notice it? It is far better to get only 10% notice if that 10% includes 90% of your best prospects.
LA: HUH? Explain please. That’s sounds contradictory.
VM: The above is one thought: Amateurs in marketing think in terms the most numbers. For example, the lowest cost per 1000 circulation or the most people who noticed the ad. These numbers can be misleading and be very damaging to your marketing efforts.
For example: if you were selling fishing bait would you buy ads on a radio station that cost only $15 a thousand listeners but had very few fisherman listeners? Consider: If there was only one fisherman per 1000 listeners then the cost per prospect would be $15.
Consider a different station that has a fishing show on Sundays. It cost $60 per thousand but it has 90% fisherman listeners. It cost four times more than the $15 per 1000 station but its cost per prospect is much less. Take 90% of 1000. That’s 900 prospects for $60 dollars or just 6.6 cents a prospect. Look how much cheaper the more expensive ad costs when you consider the cost per prospect.
So marketers look at attracting the best prospects and not the most people. They also look at the cost per prospect and not the cost per thousand people.
Advertising amateurs, often want something in the ad to attract the attention of more people. This can be deadly. It will attract more people’s attention but it could drive away the best prospects or turn off people and sour them on your business. It is a cliché in advertising to tell such people, “OK, let’s put a naked lady in the ad, that will get all kinds of attention. Almost everyone will notice it.” Of course, the boss at this point, is horrified. “I can’t do that.”
It is not enough to get attention. It must be favorable attention and it needs to be the attention of people who will actually buy your product.
LA: Okay, but how can Indie Writers do this research? We rarely have book signings. Any suggestions? I know this is new territory.
VM: Polls, questionnaires, asking questions at book signings. Why did you buy this book? What did you like best about it? How did you hear about it? Ask leading questions. If the book takes place in Alaska and Alaskan artwork was on the cover, ask: “Do you like to read books that take place in Alaska? Have you read other books in the past that are set in Alaska?”
LA: So onto Mission Number 2, what is our "Headline"? The title, the art, a combination of the two?
VM: Both the title and the artwork. If the best prospect likes reading mysteries that take place in National Parks, show an identifiable scene from the park and make what is happening on the cover look interesting from that POV. Is it easy? No.
Publishers are not that helpful here because they are interested in the look of the line and what other books are coming out that month.
An indie can do what she wants and this gives the indie a big advantage in this one area. The indie can design the perfect cover.
The heart of all advertising is ‘promise’ – the promise of benefits and the benefit of those benefits.
From a newspaper ad:
From a newspaper ad:
“Our mattresses are made of the most resilient, twice-tempered, steel coils so you will sleep better and when you sleep better, you feel better and when you feel better life is more enjoyable.”
Some salesmen only see product points and expect the buyer to figure out for himself why a product point is meaningful to him. As Zig Ziglar used to say, “People don’t want ¼” drill bits, they want ¼” holes.”
Don’t talk about product points without giving their benefits. The best salesmen will go on to give the benefits of the benefits. "Not only will this construction help you sleep better but when you sleep better you will feel better and when you feel better life will be more enjoyable."
Talk in terms of the end results.
Talk in terms of the end results.
With a book, the benefits are the many levels of enjoyment that are possible.
Take "Julius Caesar." It can be read as a story of an assignation. It can be read as corporate politics. It can be read as political science. It can be read as ethics: is it ethical to kill a dictator? It can be read as history. It can be read as psychology. “Would Caesar really be a wolf if the senators were not sheep?”
Liz Fielding wrote a contemporary romance that also meets the expectations of a Regency novel but only Regency fans probably know this as they read it. She also wrote a romance version of “Bridget Jones’s Diary” in her “City Girl in Training”…it’s a hoot for those in the know. I love reading Liz because there is always other things going on besides the story.
Missy Tippens actually put her Moral Premise, in one novel, in the exact form of a Moral Premise. Most readers would not know this but authors and advanced fans might love it. As I did.
M.C. Beaton, in her Hamish Macbeth mysteries, is doing wonderful sociology. I just love it. She used to write Regency romances and she has carried over the social situations to her Scotts.
LA: Just how can you show the benefits of the product points or the benefits of the benefits on the cover?
VM: That is hard to do. But think about it. Suppose your novel is called: “The Santorini Love Affair”. What is the benefit of being on Santorini?
Being outdoors, swimming in the water, being on a rich man’s yacht, romantic moonlight dinners.
For this book I’d like to see a sunset on a yacht in the harbor with a good view of the island, some stars in the sky, and a table set for two with candles and champagne. Perhaps you could still see swimmers on the beach. Here the artist is showing the benefits of a Greek island fantasy. Of course, the artist could just paint a still life of a Greek salad and let the title do all the work. I think you know which cover art would attract the most prospects for the book.
LA: In Mission 3 you're saying the title and cover art must entice the reader to "look into" the book? Read the first chapter?
VM: Cover art has both advantages and disadvantages when compared to words. Artwork can show the promise of a great location, interesting profession, or intriguing hobby while words can offer greater specificity.
You must determine who your best prospects are. Ask yourself: who are the best prospects and what would best attract their attention? What element on the cover would get them to read the blurb?
For example, I was a best prospect for a romance that takes place on a Greek island. I bought, “Sailing For You,” by Mona Risk within minutes of seeing the cover.LA: Why? Were you looking for a Greek Island Romance?
VM: OMG! I’ve been to Greek Islands. I love them. The trips were a great experience that I would like to re-experience vicariously in a romance. It brings back the good times. But I want the book to be honest. It must mostly take place on a Greek Island, not just the first chapter! And I want it to be outdoors. I don’t want it to take place mostly inside a hotel. Do you see what I mean? I am always looking for books like that.
Books are more about feelings and the actual reading experience than they are about the story. I don’t think a lot of writers get this.
A good ad guy always knows this and thus the benefit of the benefits is paramount.
Since I like professional bicycle racing, the cover on “The Price of Victory,” by Sandra Leesmith helped sell me on the book. In both cases I read the blurb to make sure the book really was about what was shown on the cover.
Books can take place at national parks. They can showcase trips and events people are interested in. Like RV travel and visits to Bluegrass Festivals.
Make the artwork attract and appeal to the ‘many’ best prospects. Add other art elements of high interest to certain prospects. A seaside scene with sail boats and a light house attracts many readers.
LA: Why a lighthouse?
VM: Why? Because many people love lighthouses. There are many lighthouse calendars. There are even catalogs with nothing but lighthouse items for sale. Also many lighthouses are parks with untold visitors a year. And how many people like sail boats? How many own sail boats? How many had an enjoyable experience on a sail boat?
And given the number of pet owners, why a pet on the cover is good should be self evident. But you must get the pet right on the cover and the pet needs a part in the story. Don’t cheat on the cover!!!
The Tale of Two Covers
Below are two covers. Both are from the same publisher and same author. One is outstanding, the other is not.
Example; “A Family to Cherish"
This cover is beautiful. Its says inspirational romace. Notice the mystical lighting in the background. It also shows two adorable little girls. This will strongly attract readers who like inspirational romances that feature adorable girl children. These readers are also the best prospects to buy this book. From a marketing POV, this is an ideal cover.
This is an
attractive cover that serves almost no marketing purpose. It attracts no
specific audience. I have no way of knowing what the story inside is like or if
I would like it.
Please note: this cover will instantly turn off many romance readers. When romance magazines run surveys on what readers would like to see less of, books with children in them usually top the list! Comments include: “Kids are not like that!” “I want to get away from kids!” “I read romances to escape. I sure don’t want kids in a romance.”
You get the idea. So even if 40% of readers will be turned off by this cover, that’s no problem as long as this cover attracts the attention of those readers who want a book like this. This is a great cover for selling the book which is inside. I know this because I have read this book.
|A Five Star Rated Book|
How does a cover like this come about?
I have been in many marketing meetings and I can hear in my mind the arguments for this cover. “It will be the only ‘still life’ cover on the shelves with the other romances.” “It will attract more attention because it is different.” “It’s a beautiful piece of artwork.” “It’s classy.” "We already have the same theme romance for the month this comes out. Let's not have them compete with each other. Hide the theme. Our job is to sell the whole line."
I've been there and I have heard it all. All the above comments may well be true. But one thing is certain: these arguments won’t better attract those readers who are the best prospects to buy this book.
From this cover readers will not know that this is a book for them. They may like the cover but while they are looking on the book shelves, they may see one or two other books that specially 'speak' to them. These readers are more likely to buy those books than read the blurbs on every other book that is ambiguous as to who the target audience is.
Marketing may seem cruel. The artist has a beautiful still life painting that can’t find a cover. She is sure it would win an award and draw praise to both herself and to the author. With such artwork the author at least can say that nothing in the book was misrepresented by the cover. However, with a cover like this, a generic cover that could serve for almost any story, a great selling opportunity was lost.
So we all just got a college short course in Marketing! You're making me think, Vince.
LA: Final Thoughts?
VM: In short, design the cover art to attractive the favorable attention of the best prospects.
Finding out the best prospects is the job of the author. Who buys your books and why? You must find this out or you could waste all your time by saying the wrong things to non prospects. This is the hardest part of marketing. (It’s like asking a philosopher to get to the point and just tell you ‘the ultimate nature of reality’.)
So the idea is for the author to develop a sense of who her best prospects are. Who would most likely buy her books if she could only find them and tell them about her book.
Can authors do this? It is hard because they don’t meet enough people – as salesmen do. But they can do the best that they can do. Perhaps they can ‘meet’ people in a more informative way when they make blog visits. The key is developing ways to get this information and then to always be working on this project. It really needs to become a habit.
I'm quite sure there will be questions out there. Vince will be in and out today so ask away. Those of you who know Vince, knows he won't give you the easy or short J answer, but you'll learn, baby, you'll learn.
Thanks Professor Vince.
Now, I love my cover, but I'm having second thoughts about whether it is reaching it's best prospects. So stay tuned and see what I'm thinking about doing with it.