I attended a wonderful "Lunch and Learn" event today. Michael Levin, noted author and specialty book publisher, spoke today on the book as marketing tool. He made some exceptionally good points, and I found myself nodding and agreeing with much of what he said. If you get a chance to hear him speak, I recommend it.
A question was raised in the presentation with regards to how to differentiate one's book from the other authority-author titles currently flooding the market. In other words, "If I'm doing a book to differentiate myself from other people in my field, how do I differentiate my book from theirs?"
A very good question.
Let's face it, authors like Seth Godin have made a very good living on books that aren't terribly sophisticated in design or layout. By Seth's own admission, these were farmed out to a graphics student either still in, or just out of, art school. And it shows. Clip art for the cover, Times New Roman for the interior, and fit as much on the page as you can to minimize print costs. But Seth's books are meant for quick impulse sales for those attending his speaking events. Perhaps an equally impulsive sale by people reading his blog. His customers rarely, if ever, are exposed to the opportunity to compare his books to those of his competitors.
If you're a speaker of Seth's freqency and caliber, it may be a good strategy to save money on the production of your books. But if you're selling on Amazon or on a brick-and-mortar bookstore, that's just not going to cut it. Your prospects will have every opportunity to examine your book alongside those of your competitors. Amazon even lets people read some interior pages before the purchase. In that environment, your prospective reader gets a few seconds to look at the cover, scan a few pages, and maybe read the dust jacket. Your content is getting little attention in this scenario. What counts? As in human relationships, first impressions. How does it look? How does it feel? Is the page readable? Does it look like an authoritative book - or does it look like something you banged out in MSWord?
Authors like to think that their content is really what a book is all about. That without their content, the book is meaningless. In a very real sense, they're absolutely correct. But the content isn't the only thing about a book that matters. I like to make an analogy to the automobile. One could certainly say that the engine is what makes a car. Without an engine, a car is meaningless. But only a fool neglects styling and comfort in designing and manufacturing a car. Driversneed an engine and, ultimately, the engine creates the purpose and usefullness in the car. But oftentimes the actual purchase decision is driven by look and feel. Even in books, neglect that reality at your peril.