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A brand is an idea in the mind of the consumer whose power lies in the ability to influence purchasing decisions.
The marketing activity called "branding" is all about focusing the idea down to that "one word" which is uniquely you and planting it inside the reader's mind (called "positioning") so you can establish and grow your foothold in their minds. Through branding, you make yourself, as an Indie Author, interchangeable with the "idea."
Review earlier entries in the Branding (for Indie Authors) Series here to learn more about how to focus your marketing in order to strengthen your brand. Click through the jump-break to learn what impact shape has on your sales and how to use it correctly.
Finally, I've come to a Branding Law that actually talks about visual impact of your book's cover. Yay! Okay, enough celebration because now comes the time for hard work. Your best bet is to hire a professional graphics designer and I'll say that up front, but ultimately, no matter whom you hire to design your book covers, you are going to have to say "yea" or "nay" to the designs they show you. It'll be your name on these suckers so it's going to become associated with you--choose wisely, Grasshopper.
There are actual "laws" to visual design. Many professional graphics artists just "fly by the seat of their pants" and do quite well that way. They may have had no formal training but have what we call "the eye" for good design. I have an eye, two even, but I'm a mediocre designer. I know the CRAP rules of design and my "eye" knows what looks good or doesn't. My brain still craps out when I try to get ideas out of my brain and through my fingers. I'm a writer, not a visual artist. I'm creative in other ways but for some reason, drawing and sketching is a struggle for me (to wit: it took me 10 months to cartoon Dicky).
Some of us can create the images; others just "know" what looks good. The human mind receives all of its impressions through our five senses and for shapes, usually, we get most if not all of our data through vision. We have two eyes, they operate in unison, from a horizontally-mounted position on the front of our heads. That deeply impacts how we perceive the world. If our eyes were mounted at the ends of antennae rising up off the top of our heads--or at the ends of our fingertips--we'd see the world differently. So when we design, we need to design to deliver images in the way the human eyes are designed to receive them.
Although the camera may not lie, the human mind does. Remember, perception is everything and the human mind perceives shapes in ways that make sense based on their "over-simplified" context. You can immediately tell when a book cover is working and when it's not, right? Today, you'll learn why.
Shapes that Work
In his original book on branding, Ries discusses logotypes (or logos, for short) and what shapes they should be as well as which ones work and which ones don't. The same lessons can be easily adapted to the cover of a book.
1) Since human eyes are mounted, horizontally, and only in the front of the head, human vision is limited to a roughly rectangular area directly in front of us--like an automobile windshield. The #1 best shape for recognition and retention, therefore, is "windshield" shaped. That is, rectangular.
Last week, I used the Darden Concepts, Inc. restaurant conglomerate as an example of a corporation that really understands marketing and branding. They not only spun off several great "sibling brands" to correctly create a "family" of brands, but the logos designed for each individual sibling brand is unique, distinctive--and effectively shaped. Let's take a look.
The Original Brand: Red Lobster
Note that the actual logo is only the material contained within the black rectangle. They even made the white lettering curve, like it would on a windshield. Why? Because because it "leads" the eye along.
The First Sibling: Olive Garden
Notice that they still maintained a rectangular "box" background but now the "mood" of the fontography is more relaxed. The eye (or eyes) take this image in whole, in one "eye-shot" as they say.
The Second Sibling: Longhorn Steakhouse
Here, they eliminated the rectangular box background but maintained the sense of a rectangle, or windshield. It is no accident that the horns of the cartoon steer are pointing up and to the right--that's how English readers' eyes track. Note also that the name "Longhorn" stands out more than "steakhouse." That's designed that way because the word "steakhouse" is generic while the name "Longhorn" is the actual Brand Name. The cartoon steer's long horn, pointing up and to the right deliberately lead your eyes so you read "Longhorn" more often than "steakhouse."
Not only that, the word "steakhouse" is actually "lean" in shape. That's on purpose, too. When you get around to reading that second word, you think of lean, red meat--an oxymoron, sure, but Longhorn was launched at a time when red meat was considered the #1 cause of obesity in the U.S. So, "lean red meat" was a positive subliminal message to send with this logo.
How Does Logo Design Translate to Book Covers?
It's nearly the same process and objective. You want to cluster the important visual elements into a rectangular shape and keep the eye tracking (moving) from top left to right bottom. See the "Z" shape of the movement in the diagram at left (click to enlarge).
Typically, for an Indie Author, this means the book's title should be at the top in large print (from "1" to "2") and the imagery scanned along the path from "2" to "3" should be designed to be viewed in that direction (not from "1" to "3"). The words between "3" and "4" might be the Indie Author's name or a tagline for the book. If you were a NYT Best Selling Author (like Nora Roberts), then probably, it'd be your name up at the top, since that's the selling point more than the book title.
Purpose of Design with Typography
There is only one purpose to designing with typography: to draw the eye in so that the person will read the words. It's not which font you use to write the words that matters; but rather, the words being conveyed. The font is the tool used for conveying the words--and the mood.
Take this test. What font does Rolex, Mercedes or Rolls-Royce use? Don't know? I bet you know all of those names, however, and unless you saw them displayed in a cartoon font (indicating a light-hearted, cavalier attitude), you'd recognize them in an instant, wouldn't you? The names are what communicate the power of the brand, not the fonts used to display them, however fonts do convey messages.
Just as using the right font for the right message can enhance your logo or typographical design, using the wrong font can send a mixed message. Bold, sans serif (block) fonts are considered masculine (see Longhorn Steakhouse) while light-weight, serif fonts are more feminine (see Olive Garden).
Even without the gender biases, serif typefaces are considered "old-fashioned" (see the New York Times masthead or Reader's Digest). Likewise, a sans serif typeface is a modern invention so it's associated with more modern brands (see Nike's famous logo or consider some of the famous brands displayed below).
For a book that is crime fiction or detective mystery, you'll want to use a masculine font. For a romance novel, a serif font, definitely, and maybe even a cursive script. If it's a Regency or Historical, something with a lot of curly-queues and for a Romantic Comedy, a "fun" font (like Disney's). One thing all of the logotypes above have in common, however, no matter how exotic or exaggerated their font faces are, the words are still legible.
It's a Balancing Act
If your font selection isn't exaggerated enough, it won't communicate the mood you want. If the exaggeration is too extreme, it won't be legible anymore. You can't just take an exaggerated font and make it larger; choose a more legible font. Sorry. No matter how fun a font might be in theory, if you cannot read the words it spells out, in practice, the book is not going to sell as well as it could. Yes, your book will be judged by its cover--and how its name is displayed.
Instead of exaggerating the font's details, try using color to draw the eye. I'll discuss the Law of Color next week (yes, there's a whole Immutable Law of Branding called the Law of Color!) but for now, notice the way Showtime and Cinemax have both used color to focus you on their 3-letter acronyms (the SHO and MAX that you'll recognize in your cable TV guide). Notice also how Mobil gasoline made the red "o" stand out, like the gaping hole of your open gas tank waiting for Mobil to be delivered.
If you're unsure as to how to get the book cover to look just right, hire a professional. If you can't find one, find a book cover you like and ask that author who designed it for them. Unless they say they did it themselves, you can just ask their designer to do one for you, too.
Tomorrow's Tuesday Tip will briefly discuss LibraryThing, the top competitor for Amazon's Shelfari and a tool you might be surprised to learn is used by libraries in the U.S. Hope to see you then!