If you think of writing and publishing a book as a series of hurdles, finding a bestselling book design is an opportunity to trip up and fall flat on your face.
Having just completed a survey where readers chose the title of my upcoming book, Youthful Aging: How to Live Better for Longer, the next challenge was to magic a bestselling book design out of thin air... gulp.
I consulted Chandler Bolt's Book Launch (which I've been using as a publishing 'bible'). Following his advice, I chose 99Designs to find a designer. The way this works is that your design is put out to tender and designers come up with designs that you can accept or reject. Once you accept a design, the cost is $259.
Not cheap. But seeing that I got 38 designs to choose from, it was worth it. (A cheaper option would have been using Fiverr to find a designer which would have cost more like $10-$25.)
I wrote to all the kind people who had suggested titles and asked them to choose from the final three designs. I also asked the question on Facebook. Here is the shortlist of designs I had chosen:
I secretly liked no. 1 (the left), but I soon had to contend with a rush of conflicting responses.
"The colors are great, but what is she holding over her head? A banner? A kite? Also, why is she alone? Your book is about live better for longer, right? Well this cover may have the opposite effect of turning people off because they don't want to live long ALONE. Keep the couple in the cover."
So, a couple on the cover would be better? But hold on. There was also the opposite stance.
Paul said: I like number 1 as sometimes you do it alone and it’s good to do things for yourself, love what you are doing Mary.
Okay then, onward. What about the designs with a couple? Better, right?
What about no. 2 in the middle?
More colorful, vibrant. You get a sense that the couple loves each other and want to be around to enjoy each other, hence the subtitle "Live better for longer."
Sounds good! Maybe this is the one? However, there was also a conflicting one...
As you can imagine, by this time, I was feeling extremely confused. When I looked at the feedback for no. 3, my eyes began to cross.
Birgit: Wait! Is she trying to get away from him??
Mandy: He looks so uncoordinated! Get rid of him!
And then I got into a conversation with Michelle Vandepas on Facebook:
Michelle: so I'm almost 60, and I don't relate to these images.
Mary: Can you say more about that, please, Michelle? Do the people in the images look too old or too young to you?
Michelle: I'm almost 60 and these people look like they are in assisted living or about to go in.. LOL they look OLD to me. and I'm not ready for what they need.
Later, Michelle added:
Michelle: I figured out why I don't like ones above. They look like a couple retiring to Florida. Although I love Florida, it's not the lifestyle I want. If that's is your audience, perfect.
Meh... Florida retirees are definitely not my audience...
You can see how difficult this is. Michelle's comments triggered a new understanding for me. It seems like there are two different ways to think about a title.
The 'Inspiration versus Aspiration' Dilemma
When I put together the brief for the designer, my focus was on inspiration. I wanted to inspire people looking at the book cover to be active, feel free, be confident, enjoy life, look forward to experiencing mature age as a dawn of new possibilities.
Why? According to Fastcompany.com:
People who are inspired are temporarily stimulated to do or feel something. Aspiration, on the other hand, involves striving in a long-lasting and meaningful way to achieve or become something in particular.
My idea was wrong because a book cover is not the place to inspire people. The book can do that. Instead, the cover has the function to make the reader aspire to something beyond who or what they are at present.
This is where Michelle's comment about how she felt about the age of the people in the image made immediate sense. In order to aspire readers, the people in the image needed to look younger than the reader.
What I've learned from this exercise is that aspiration always tops inspiration. Whatever book design you choose (if it's a nonfiction book), it needs to be aspirational in order to trigger the desire to buy and read the book.
So, which design did I choose?
None of the three shortlisted designs turned out to be really good and I spent a whole day looking for a better image. I wanted to find an image of a man and a woman running on the beach looking happy, each person feeling self-contained and confident, not romantic or dependent.
The age range of the couple in the image is between 50 and 55 (this is the aspirational aspect).
After three hours, I was ready to give up. But finally, as the sun was sinking, I found a good image... phew, what a relief! There is still a way to go until the new design is complete, but I know I'm on the right path now.
Is asking for advice about book designs important?
The step of asking for advice was not only important, it was crucial. When we ask others about their suggestions, we start to inhabit other people's thoughts and feelings. This allows us to let go of our pre-conceived ideas.
For me, the rather chaotic strategy of asking about possible book images finally turned into a valuable step on the way of creating a bestseller (fingers crossed!).
The next step is to create a team of beta-readers. Stay tuned!