(If you haven’t read it yet, here is part one)

I think most authors wish that writing an awesome manuscript was enough to have their name climb to the tops of the best of bestseller’s charts, but I know from experience that many of the books at the top of the lists are not the best books out there. If fact, many good books never even get noticed in the noisy, flashy world that is book buying today. And others that do get noticed get passed over because they don’t even look interesting. Getting notice, getting a book to look intriguing, is the work of marketing, what I consider to be the second storm front that contributes to a book becoming a bestseller.

Quality still matters

There are basically two prongs of marketing that position a book to sell well. First is to give the book the look of quality and genre that help it stand out on the bookstore shelf (which, of course, is not as important as it used to be in the world online booksellers or downloading books onto tablets and e-readers), and the second is to get people to take enough interest in the content to notice it in the first place.

While people know better than to judge a book by its cover, the sad fact is that people rarely pick up ugly books and don’t really give a second thought to ones that are obviously cheaply done. (If you have stories to the contrary, I would love to hear them!)

Books don’t just have to “look right” as far as quality, but there are design differences between genres that give books the “correct” feel and heft. Textbooks are usually large and thick; business books are tend to be smaller than new fiction titles because they want the feel of being concise and punchy. Many books today debut in paperback to make them less expensive and feel more accessible; others are done as hardcovers to show that the author is established and to give you the impression that this is a book you will want to hang onto for a while.

Books of a feather . . .

To see this difference, put a J.K. Rowling title next to a Malcolm Gladwell book, or a paperback on social media marketing next to a Good to Great, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, or a political memoir. Each genre has its own look and feel (though, of course, e-books are the great equalizer for all of this—who knows how they will ultimately affect things). Books not only have to be attractive, but they have to fit their genre or else people aren’t sure how to interpret them, and usually their sales suffer as a result.

The next time you go to a bookstore, pull Essentialism, Rework, and a Pat Lencioni title off the shelf and then compare the sizes. Then take one of them and walk around the bookstore and see if you can find another other books in that same trim and design. I bet you will find a bunch of them in the business and leaderships sections, maybe some in fiction, but hardly any anywhere else. (If you do this, let me know what you find out!)

There are exceptions to all of these rules, of course, but those usually reflect a genius of a different type. You will see these every once in a while and perhaps wonder at them—and then you will see dozens of people trying to catch that same fresh wave.

More than just a pretty face

I find the design of a book foundational. Every time I start a new project, I usually walk the shelves of a bookstore or pull copies from our home library to get an idea of what the final book should look like. Yet none of that is really what we typically think of as marketing, which is to get the book and its content notice so that people will pick it up in the first place. This may well be the part of publishing that has changed the most because of Internet marketing. In fact, to give it the respect it deserves, I will address that all on its own in next week’s blog.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of this in the comments. Are these things you noticed before? When was the last time you picked up a book because of the way it looked and ended up buying it, even though you’d never heard of it before? Have you every read a book that you thought was ugly but got so into the content you didn’t care?


[Click here for part three]