Monday, August 17, 2009

Book Cover Critique & Consultation--What to Expect

What Really Happens During this Process?
A sneak-peek look at one author’s experience

By Susan Kendrick
A few of my next posts will show examples of how book covers get a major transformation through the critique and consultation process. We often hear from people who say they are interested in getting this kind of feedback, but are not sure what to expect. The following is a behind-the-scenes look at how this process started for self-employment expert Sara Morgan and her new book, No Limits: How I Escaped Corporate America to Live the Self-Employed Life of My Dreams."

Even when people hire us to write their book cover copy for them, they often come to us with working copy in place. Perfect. This is usually the best way to focus your efforts as you write your book and think about moving on to the book cover and marketing stage. Your working copy gets you ready to take this next step.

What to expect from a critique and consultation

The first question authors and experts usually ask is, “Will you tell me if my book cover copy and book cover design ideas really need help, or if I am doing OK?” Absolutely. If you are going strong and just need a few tweaks here and there, we will tell you. If we think you need more help, we’ll tell you that, too. That’s what the following is, my initial feedback to Sara about her cover. Some of my comments will be relevant to you and your book as well.

The Typical Email about Getting Help

Sara emailed me this question:
“I am currently 25% done with the manuscript and expect to be complete with it at the end of June. The name of the book is, "No Limits: How I escaped from Corporate America to live the life of my dreams". I have already purchased the ISBN & bar code for the book and I am working on the web site at this time.

“I have an image that I would like to use for the book's front cover design (if you think it would be appropriate—it is attached in this email) and also need help with my back cover copy.

“Please let me know whether you would be interested in helping me with this project, what your prices are, and whether you can work within my June 30th deadline.”

My Initial Response to Sara

The following is part of my first email back to Sara, to let her know what kind of help I thought she needed:

“Sara, from reading your proposed back cover copy, yours is not so much a copywriting task as much as a positioning task, so that what we will focus on in the critique and consultation is first what to say about your book and why … then how to say it.

What We Addressed and What We Changed

Title and Subtitle:
I did offer Sara feedback on her front cover as well and her back cover. Her proposed title/subtitle was: "No Limits: How I Escaped from Corporate America to Live the Life of My Dreams."

“Sara, your proposed title 'No Limits' is already being used by a host of other books, including one just released by Michael Phelps,
While book titles cannot be copyrighted, and you can certainly use 'No Limits,' ideally you want to create an original new presence of your own and also avoid having your book being confused with any others.”

Sara had a very strong connection with her No Limits title, as it was a mantra of sorts for her during some major transitions in her life and what she uses in her work with clients. The nature of a critique and consultation process is that the author is asking for feedback and so is, in the end, responsible for his or her own decision about how to use that feedback.

What Sara did do was use my suggestion to tweak her subtitle, so that it included the words, “Self-Employment.” Now the book has the clarity plus key words it needs to reach out to her very well-defined target market. “Self-employment” is a highly ranked term in the search engines for her topic. Adding this keyword to her title/subtitle combo gives a major boost to Sara's search engine visibility.

Back Cover Copy:
On her back cover, Sara needed to show why her book is so relevant to her target audience. It needed to be much more tightly positioned and the copy needed to be stronger and more focused.

First, get the headline right

Sara’s headline was a series of three questions. One compelling question is fine, but three can be tricky and are often simply too much to process. All three questions were also the kind that generate only a yes-no response, so if you hit it wrong and get a “no” response from the prospective buyer, you paralyze the selling process. There was no reason to keep reading. You’ve missed your first big opportunity to really grab someone’s attention.

Drill down to the particulars

“Sara, when your headline asks, 'What’s holding you back?' my immediate response is, 'from what …?' It's also like the question, 'what’s keeping your stuck?' that has become so overused at this point. You need to drill down to the particulars and deliver it in a fresh but authoritative way.

Your back cover headline should draw people into the rest of your copy. It should pique interest, surprise, alarm, make them smile, etc. Simply put, it should engage them. Your back cover is a conversation. Be the one in the room they want to listen to. Keep the conversation dynamic. Make your potential buyer expectant and hopeful that you are the expert and have the solution they’re looking for. Remember, people will only spend 10-15 seconds total looking over your back cover. Make every word count.

More Tough Love at Work

… More from my first email back to Sara:
“Overall, the rest of the back cover copy feels general and somewhat vague. It does not relate to me as the potential reader/buyer and my present situation. Nor, does it outline why this book is the solution. Remember, people seek out non-fiction books as a way to answer a question or solve a problem. What I’m not getting is who exactly this book is for?

- Is it for the person toying with the idea of leaving corporate America?
- Is for the person who, no matter what their present circumstance, wants to have more control over their time, energy, finances, location, etc.?
- Is it for the person who already has an idea or product and wants to take the next step?

“Why this book, and why now?”

“Your bullets, too, seem to span the spectrum from getting inspired, to making a move, to the hard core particulars of taxes and insurances. From your description of the book on the phone, and from the testimonial you showed me, the sense I get is that you what you supply is the inspiration and the examples necessary to get beyond the “dreaming about” stage to having the courage to make the move that either your gut or your present life circumstances tell you is the break you’re looking for. For example, there are whole books dedicated specifically to the logistical details of self-employment—see this amazon link,
What is unique and special about YOUR book. Why this book, and why now?

“And, what happened to your story? That fact that you have done this, and provide examples of other people in the book who have also done this from and to a variety of work scenarios, is key to this book. Make sure that shows up on the back cover.

Be aware of other books on your topic

“Also, as an ‘expert’ on your topic, you need to be aware of other books out there directed at your target market. One reason is to position your book as a unique resource (and be able to clearly differentiate that offering on your book cover, website, etc.) Another reason is to seek out potential joint venture partners who reach out to the same target audience that you do but with a different set of non-competing tools and resources.”

De-clutter your copy

Sara and I are still working together in a consultative relationship. Right now we are fine-tuning her press release. Sara is a joy to work with because she definitely “gets it,” but just needs some “tough love” to help her focus and let her best marketing copy rise to the surface. She is one of those people who just needs someone to help her remove the clutter so that she really shines. See how Sara also followed what we teach about getting all the marketing mileage you can from your book's back cover copy by using it as the content on your book website as well.
Sara's website address, by the way, was developed using the advice in this article about how to register a domain name for your book when your book title is already taken as a domain name.

The last word … from Sara Morgan

"Susan's initial guidance and advice was invaluable to me. She patiently listened to me ramble on about what I was planning and then after reflecting over what I was trying to accomplish and who I was, she offered brilliant advice that just nailed what I needed to do next."

Sara Morgan’s new book is am terrific resource and her cover copy and design is light years from where it started. If you’d like to know if a Critique & Consultation is right for your book cover, please email me at
Please put “Critique and Consultation” in the subject line.

Susan Kendrick, Write to Your Market, Inc. All Rights Reserved., 1-888-634-4120.


Alexis Ahrens said...

Susan, thanks for this informative post. You painted a clear picture of the consulting process. It reminded me of why I hope to work with you on my next book!


Anonymous said...

Dear Susan:
First the good news: Every time you send me an email, I see your picture, (your photograph shows a most attractive, warm-hearted and intelligent-looking person)read the words you write, (your words interest me) and like you, personally, and respect your work, better.

I delete 98% of my emails without reading them; however, when I see your name on an email, I stop, read and enjoy them; that's the good news.

More good news: I read this email regarding your suggestions to Sara Morgan; your comments to Sara gave me food for thought, a meal I always enjoy. I also liked the cover background for her book.

Now the bad news: as a potential reader, I want to know what a book can tell or teach me that I do not already know, which will help me in some way. I need to see the benefit to me in the title, or at least in the subtitle.

No Limits did not suggest any benefit to me; then I read the subtitle, which I interpreted as, Hooray for Sara Morgan -- look at how pleased I feel about what I did for myself. I think that the title and subtitle work wonderfully, If Sara wants to sell the book to herself or to her mother; however, I didn'd see anything that made me, or anyone else, want to buy it.

I would prefer a title that mentioned me. For example, Unlimit yourself: how you can succeed on your own. If you dislike my suggested title, I agree that most anyone could think of a better one.

Also, I like to read; I found the print in the balloon on the book's cover, in your email, too small to read. On the basis of the book's cover, title and subtitle, I would probably not buy it, unless someone I knew read the book and gave me reasons why I should read it, because the book did not sell itself to me.

If I gave tough love to Sara, I would ask if she only wanted to sell the book to herself and her mother; in that case, I think she should keep the present title and subtitle; otherwise, I think she should change the title to include other potential book buyers.

How much do you charge for a critique and consultation for a book like Sara's?

Please continue to write me at

Very truly yours,
(J) C. Raymond