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I was going through some old notes from a seminar I attended a few years ago hosted by an acquisitions editor from one of the major publishers. She covered the entire publishing process from her point of view. She had the unenviable job of finding manuscripts that were destined to be bestsellers. In short, her job is more difficult than trying to hit a 98 mile-per-hour fastball with your eyes closed.
She told one story of acquiring a manuscript by an author who had been published before. She loved the manuscript. Her boss loved it. Everyone who read it loved it. They were all sure it was destined to be a huge success. The editorial staff massaged the manuscript to make it perfect. The marketing team worked on a fail-proof launch. Everyone decided that the manuscript deserved a large initial print run. A fairly large marketing budget was put into place. Everything was going smoothly until the design team started to work on the cover. They went through cover after cover after cover, but they couldn’t find anything that worked. The author gave suggestions, the CEO of the company even put in his two cents, but they couldn’t decide on a design. They vacillated until a decision had to be made in order to meet the publication deadline. They went with the least objectionable. Pre-release industry reviews had been glowing. They were sure they could overcome a mediocre cover design.
The book debuted and quickly flopped. Those who read it loved it, but nobody was buying the book because of the cover. In the meantime, they created a cover for the international release that everybody loved, and as a result the book did phenomenally well overseas. Here’s the thing: the change to the cover wasn’t a major change. They tweaked the image, but the biggest change was going from a muted yellow background color to a more passionate red. It fit the genre and did the trick.
The lesson? People do judge a book by its cover. The cover isn’t just an artistic decision. It is a marketing decision. Don’t settle for something that you’re not completely happy with. Don’t sell yourself short. If you have the budget for it, work with a professional designer to come up with something that will capture people’s attention.

Richard Ridley is an award-winning author

Sam. O. Salau
(Africa’s Leading Author On Campus Issues)
Twitter: @samosalau
Facebook: Sam. O. Salau

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