The Three Rules of Book Cover Design & Marketing

The Three Rules of Book Cover Design & Marketing

Let’s talk about covers. No matter what the saying says, books are judged by them. It’s instinctual and immediate, a snap judgement on first impression that decides whether the jacket copy is even read. This is why graphic design is crucially important. If you want your book to stand out on the shelf in a store, library, or online marketplace, you have to know who you are designing for and what to do to attract their attention. Your book jacket and cover are marketing pieces. Mess them up, and your book won’t sell.

Every marketplace has its own variations to keep in mind. Think about where your work will primarily be sold. For example, when you design for Amazon, your book cover will be judged as a small thumbnail. Few readers will bother to open and zoom in on the image. However, when your book is on display at Barnes and Noble, it will be viewed primarily from the spine unless you’re lucky enough to get a display stand. Then the cover will be visible, but it still has to call to readers from across the room. It must demand attention.

Here, we’ll list the three basic rules of book jacket design and marketing, then we’ll expand on each in detail:

1. Know your target audience.

2. Design for scalability.

3. Make your cover stand out.

Let’s start with rule number one: Know your target audience.

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Basically, you need to know who it is that’s going to read your book in order to market to that persona. If you’re writing in genre, check out the established cover and jacket design trends for similar books. What does the art of the most popular books look like? It’s up to you if you want to design with or against them. You can make your book jacket so different from everything else in the genre that it will pop out immediately as something new, or you could let it blend in a little more and share the popularity of an already successful style.

For example, paperback romance novels all tend to have similar design elements: large, embossed author names and titles, photos of shirtless male models… If that’s the kind of book you’re trying to sell, you might want to do something similar. But I’ll warn you that each genre has its own clichés and connotations. If you make your book look like a pulp paperback, it will sell like one. People will see the cover and expect that’s all it is—even if what’s inside is new and different.

Rule number two: Design for scalability.

Here’s the deal. Book covers, much like album art for music, have had to adjust and grow into the digital age. Where before books were primarily sold in physical stores, now many are sold in online marketplaces such as on Amazon or through e-book platforms. Your cover may only ever be seen as a small thumbnail image. But it will also be seen full-size if you’re selling a physical book. This is why it’s crucial to design for scalability. The imagery must be eye-catching and the text readable at any viewing level.

Think of your book title graphic as a logo. Logos, like book covers, must be scalable and memorable. Usually, they are designed in thicker lettering than standard text so that they can be easily read at all sizes and from far away. Your title doesn’t have to be as original as the Harry Potter logo, where the typeface was altered to look like a lightning bolt, but needs to be able to represent the story on its own. If you make your title text versatile and scalable, you’ll be able to use it across multiple books in a series, or brand your stand-alone novel from ads to posters to social media accounts and more. This will allow you to develop a cohesive brand system as the need arises.

Rule three: Make your cover stand out.

If you want your cover to catch the readers’ eye, use contrast to your advantage. Strong negative space gives the eye a place to rest and provides separation between elements of text, images, and the margins of the page. Use fonts that contrast or provide harmony, and only two different typefaces, tops. Different type sizes should be used intentionally and carefully to create visual hierarchy. This will help keep your cover simple, uncluttered, and easy to look at.

For examples of book covers that work well and others that don’t, check out our Pinterest boards for inspiration. @TheNovelPlan

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Why Magic Must Have Rules

Why Magic Must Have Rules If you’re writing a fantasy, chances are there’s some sort of magic or magical force present in your story. Not having a defined system for that magic is like playing a game and making up the rules as you go along. Everyone else will know you’re cheating.

I’m not suggesting you write out a list of rules and affix them to the endpapers of your novel like formulas in an algebra textbook. What matters is that your magic follows a logical system. You can allow readers to infer the rules over time through demonstration.

But why must there be a system? Doesn’t that defeat the awesomeness of magic?

No. Actually, it’s the other way around. Anything is possible when there are no rules, so even awesome abilities become arbitrary. Tension only exists in a story when there are foreseeable consequences to actions. These are the stakes. When you use magic as a dues ex machina to solve your problems on a whim, it feels like a cheat. It implies that none of the consequences were ever of concern, or perhaps worse, that the author is bending the rules of the world whenever it’s convenient for a certain character or the plot.

The eagles that repeatedly save Gandalf and the others in Lord of the Rings are a bit of a dues ex machina. They save the day when it’s convenient for the story, but aren’t available otherwise. Is there a reason Gandalf can’t just call the eagles to fly Frodo and the ring up to Mount Doom in the first place? That sure would have saved a lot of trouble. Because there’s no defined system for when and where the eagles can save the day, it feels like Tolkien could just write them in anywhere.

If Harry Potter had suddenly realized he could solve all the world’s problems by clapping his hands and clicking his heels, all his prior struggles would have been pointless. Part of the series’ success can be attributed to its clearly defined magic system. Rowling designed limits to what magic could do, and special procedures and even consequences for using it. Without this structure and rules, anything would have been possible, and the wizarding world would have lacked tension.

It is not what the hero can do that’s important, it’s what they can’t.

By limiting the magic in your world and defining a system, you enable the building of stakes through potential consequences. Readers can trust that the author is not going to ruin the tension by making up arbitrary conveniences as they go along.

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How to Edit Your Own Writing

How to Edit Your Own WritingThere’s a reason even the best authors have editors. That’s because it’s nearly impossible to edit your own writing with the fresh perspective an outside reader provides. We often read our writing in the way it was intended to be written—instead of as it actually sits on the page.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to make editing your own work easier and more productive. This is especially helpful if you don’t have anyone available to edit for you.

Walk away.

The first and best thing you should do is put your writing down and leave it alone. Wait as long as you can. If you only have overnight, give it that, but really you need to leave your writing be for a couple days or weeks, minimum. The trick here is to forget the state of mind you were in when you wrote it. Forget what you intended to say. You can think about your story or continue onward if you’re still writing it, but don’t turn back and try to edit it. Not just yet.

The longer you let your words settle, the better you’ll be able to edit them.

This same principle applies to other fields as well. When I’m working on a design project, I often find myself becoming “screen blind” after too long spent on one project. But if I step away and take a break, I’m able to refresh both my mind and my perspective.

The second method of self-editing can be accomplished without wait.

Look at your writing in a different medium.

If you wrote on a computer, print it out. If you penned it out, type it in. Even switching from a tablet screen to a computer monitor can help. The idea with this method is to separate your words from the context you wrote them in.

The way that works best for me is to see a typed, hard-copy version. I’ll then go through with a highlighter and color any sentences, words, or phrases that stick-out to me. Is something uncomfortable to read? Did I trip over that word? Think I meant to say something else there? Highlight it.

The reason I always start by highlighting is this: Your first impression is the best tool, but also the most fleeting.

If you allow yourself to get lost in detail, you risk losing perspective. It’s crucial to work fast when you begin editing. Speed allows you to continue seeing your writing with fresh eyes. Only after the initial read-through and highlighting is complete, then it’s time to pull out the fine-tooth comb. Then you no longer have to worry about getting lost in details. That’s the beauty of highlighting everything that needs work—you will always know exactly where to focus.

Have a great day, and good luck with all your writing endeavors!


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The Basis of Every Scene: Conflict and Emotional Change

Conflict and emotional changeYou’ve probably heard before that something needs to happen in every scene of your story. But “something” is a pretty vague word. What exactly is this “something” that needs to happen in order for your plot to advance? Each scene must provide important development that pushes your narrative along: conflict and emotional change.

Let’s envision a scene.

It’s a glorious Tuesday morning, as glorious a Tuesday can be. The sun is shining bright overhead and little birds are singing in all the branches of all the trees. Yes, just glorious. Little Suzie is swinging for the blue sky when her headband flies off and lands in the tanbark ten feet below. By the time the swing slows down enough that she can jump off, her classmate Joey has already grabbed the headband and started running. She has to chase him all over the playground. By the time she gives up and calls the Yard Duty, she’s in tears.

What’s going on here?

We have a clear example of conflict: Joey steals Suzie’s headband and she wants it back.

Suzie started out feeling happy and peaceful, but ended up frustrated. She was angry at Joey for stealing her headband, and worried that she wasn’t going to get it back. That’s why she had to resort to tattling.

Overall, the scene went from an emotional positive (+) to a negative (-). As you can see, conflict initiates emotional change.

I also find it an interesting and often enlightening exercise to imagine the scene from the antagonist’s perspective. Why did Joey steal Suzie’s headband? The awesome thing about being a creative fiction writer is that you don’t have to settle for theorizing—you get to make it up. I know why Joey stole Suzie’s headband: It’s because he likes her and doesn’t know how to express this or get her attention. That’s why he stole her headband—so she’d have to chase him all around. And boy, was it exhilarating. Joey started out at an emotional high (+), but ends up at an emotional low (-) because the Yard Duty sent him to see the principal, and that means he won’t be getting dessert at dinner again. Plus, now he thinks Suzie probably hates him.

That scene is a pretty straightforward example of conflict. But not everything has to be so dramatic. In life, conflict is all around us. Even when everything is going pretty well. It’s there in the morning when someone cuts you off in traffic; it’s there at that unearthly hour when the smoke alarm starts chirping for new batteries and all you want to do is sleep. Same thing in fiction. Conflict arises in your story when something or someone stands between the character and what they are attempting to achieve, no matter how big or how small that obstacle might be. That conflict doesn’t even have to come from a human source. And it can be subtle.

The same goes for emotional change. It doesn’t have to be super dramatic, unless maybe you’re working on a new soap opera. Just remember: Every action has a reaction.

These sequences of conflict and emotional change are the kernels around which your story is built.

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Your Potential Audience is Greater than You Think

Your Potential Audience is Greater than You Think


There are a lot of people on this planet. At the time of writing, there are over 322 million people in the United States alone, with another American baby born every eight seconds. In the world, there are over 7.3 billion people and climbing. And out of all those people, there is only one person who can write what you will.

That’s all great, you say, but more people means more competition. Even if I write something good, is anyone going to read it?

Well, let’s look at some facts.

According to a January 2014 Pew Internet research study, the typical American read five books during the previous twelve month period. So if each American reads five books in a year, and there are 322 million Americans, how many books are read in a year in America? We’ll multiply the number of books read by the number of Americans and get 5 x 322,000,000 = 1,610,000,000. Over 1.6 trillion books read in America each year. That gives your book a lot of chances. And remember—some people will read way more than five books a year.

Okay, so how many new books are published in America each year? According to Worldometers, there were 328,259 published books in 2010.

Let’s have some more probably-unscientific estimating fun. If only new books were read, what’s the average number of copies of each that would be read in a year? We’ll rough-guess it: 1,610,000,000 books read divided by 328,259 new works = 4,904.7 copies of each are read on average. Of course, this estimate is just for fun, because we’re assuming here that no one is reading old books. Which is obviously not the case. The point is just to give you an idea of the scale of numbers that we’re working with. You might be able to extrapolate and say that number of copies read could be a lifetime average, considering that many of the books read each year are not recent works. And hey, nearly five-thousand copies isn’t so bad, especially considering some books will sell much higher.

But how do you keep your work from being on the other end of the spectrum, selling maybe only a handful of copies? Well. There’s no easy answer there, except this: Make it worthwhile. Write the best thing you can, and then make it better. Okay, that’s some hipster inspirational talk or whatever, but seriously. Make something meaningful. Take your time. Look at the classics. Why is it that Les Miserables, for example, has been so loved and celebrated through the years, adapted across mediums from stage to screen and beyond?

Meaningful stories speak truth about the human condition and allow readers to grow by experiencing life through the characters’ perspective. These tales resonate with generation after generation because they are not bound by culture or time. The reader can relate. And through the journey of the story, learns something more about themselves.

Because in the end, it’s not about the numbers read. It’s what you say that matters.

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Story Pocket Cards: Free Templates for Plotting!

Free Story Card Templates

Free Printable Templates

I spend a lot of time staring at a screen. I mean, a lot. Most of us do these days. But there’s something so natural, so tactile about sitting down and working things out on a pad of paper. I swear the brain thinks differently when we’re holding a sheet of paper vs looking at a screen. That’s why when I’m plotting, I love to work everything out analog-style.

Where am I going with this? To another free template for you, my dears.

It started with a problem. When working on paper, I missed the freedom of drag-and-drop that we’re so used to with computers. How could I recreate that in analog? With pieces of paper, of course. I created an outline template with cut-out slots to put paper story cards in. Each section of the story can be labeled to organize it, and the cards stay in place until you want to change them. It’s so simple yet so effective. The cards can be moved around, stacked, removed, and rearranged at will. Plus, I’m including a version that matches up with the eight-beat plotting method. All you’ll need to do is print, cut on the lines, and play. You can use the cards however you like, but my preferred method is sort of like flashcards—write the plot event heading on the font of the card so it sticks out of the slot, and go into more detail on the back.

It’s all free, so download and enjoy!

Enjoyed your free templates?

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Free Motivational Printables

Three Free Inspirational Printables!

It’s the holidays. For many of us, that means our schedules are suddenly overflowing with things to get done, leaving little room to sit down and write. But even when it isn’t the holiday season, writing a novel is a daunting endeavor. There will always be something to keep you from your art. These motivational prints are here to help! May they give you that extra spark, that little push of inspiration to keep going. Best of luck, my friends. You can do it!

Click to download these three, free motivational printables!

 


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The Eight-Beat Plotting Method

Free Eight-Beat Story Structure Worksheets

Eight-Beat Story Structure 

I am a self-identified pantster, AKA, I like to write by the seat of my pants. Meaning I don’t like to plot first. Usually.

For years, I dreaded plotting. I would try it with a story here and there, but ultimately either end up getting so deep into my plot outline that it turned into a novel in itself, or I’d get bored and never write the actual story. The latter is something that tends to happen with me when I feel like all the details are already decided and there’s nothing left to surprise me later. I like to feel like I’m reading my novel as I write it.

That’s why I love the eight-beat plotting method. It’s a system adapted from the film industry that breaks the overall story into manageable sections. Each beat works like a peg that you hang the rest of your story off of. This system provides a basic framework around which you can develop the supporting scenes and details for your novel. The best part is that the entire outline can take less than a page, leaving plenty of room for adding detail as you go.

I’ve provided a free, eight-beat story structure worksheet. Below, I’ve divided it into sections and described each one.

Beat One: Status Quo and Inciting Incident
  • This is the start of your story
  • Here, you can hint at what dangers and problems are lurking ahead
  • The inciting incident is what throws out the balance and sets the plot in motion
  • The inciting incident usually comes at the end of beat sequence one
Beat Two: Predicament and Lock-In
  • Sets up the problem that will be central to the entire story
  • First hints at possible obstacles
  • At the end of this sequence, tension is established when the main character is locked-into the problem and propelled in a new direction to obtain their goal
Beat Three: First Obstacle and Stakes are Raised
  • The first major obstacle is introduced
  • Ways to solve the problem are starting to be eliminated
  • The goal is starting to seem less attainable
Beat Four: First Shift and Midpoint
  • A bigger obstacle is presented (rising action)
  • There is a shift that changes the entire direction of the story
  • This leads to the first culmination, which parallels the end outcome:
    • In some way, this is the main character’s first victory
    • For the first time, success seems like a possibility
Beat Five: It Hits the Fan
  • Internal and external forces mount to defeat the main character in their goal
    • Internal: Insecurities such as doubt, jealousy, and fear
    • External: Antagonists regroup for attack
  • Main character demonstrates their reaffirmed commitment to the goal
Beat Six: Black Moment
  • This is inverse of the end outcome
  •  The last idea to solve the problem is tried—and fails
  •  This is the Black Moment, the lowest point, all is lost
  •  The main character cannot see a way out
  •  The reader should not be able to see a way out of this situation either
  •  The immense consequences and stakes that have been building over the entire novel are not enough to force the main character to continue–they lose hope and give up
  •  Things somehow keep getting worse—right on into the first half of beat seven
Beat Seven: Second Shift and Climax
  • This is the second shift—something major happens that, again, changes the entire direction of the story
  • Tension is ramping up for the final showdown
  • The main character has gathered all their mental and physical resources to achieve their goal
  • At the climax, everything learned so far is used
  • If the character has fatal flaws, this is the time to show how they can triumph over their shortcomings
Beat Eight: The Resolution
  • At long last, balance is regained
  • However, this balance has been changed and developed by the cumulative events of the story
  • Whether or not there is a happy ending, the main character is, at least in some way, in a better place than when they began
Don’t forget: Download your free, eight-beat story structure worksheet. I’ve also included inside a bonus eight-beat storyboard template that you can use alongside.

 


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Storyboard Your Novel

Free Storyboard Templates from The Novel Plan

Why You Should Storyboard Your Novel

Storyboards are sequences of images that illustrate key actions within a narrative. From filmmakers to advertisers, creatives use storyboards to plan projects. Storyboarding allows teams to pitch and share ideas, sketching sequences that can be easily revised rather than costing thousands of dollars to make changes during post-production. As a writer, storyboards will help you save hours of editing time. When you sketch a scene, you are forced to think visually and spatially. This enables you to better understand each character’s perspective and will help you find alternative possibilities and direction you may have missed. Ultimately, a good storyboard will serve as a visual outline from which you can write your narrative.
But what if you can’t draw? Keep reading, and I’ll tell you why this isn’t as much of a problem as you may think.

How to Storyboard Your Novel

Think of your storyboard as a visual interpretation of your plot outline. Each panel can be altered or even completely removed from the final narrative. At this point, the plot is still likely to change as it grows. That’s why it’s crucial to sketch quickly—to avoid spending too much time on sequences that will be cut. A successful storyboard has just enough visual clues to convey physical space and emotion. You can even use stick figures if you’d like. This is a good option if you don’t have advanced drawing ability. Stick figures allow you to sketch scale and location quickly so that you can keep moving through the panels. The important thing is not the quality of your drawings, but that you are later able to interpret what you’ve drawn and translate that into words. Your storyboard is the guideline for your final project. It’s a tool that will help you establish plot points and decide what details and elements to focus on. If you’re able to look at your storyboard days later and still know what you meant, then it’s working.

 

Things to think about as you create your storyboard panels:

  1. What is the purpose of each scene? What key action is happening? For example, if your protagonist is driving and adjusts their rear-view mirror before seeing something strange in the backseat, show that action. Draw the mirror and what they see inside. If you focus on the important details in your storyboard, you’ll know exactly what to include when you write.
  2. What is the current emotional interaction between characters in each frame? If you don’t feel your sketches are doing this justice, you can always include notes in a description beneath each panel.
  3. If this were a movie, what would make you want to watch it? Even though you will be translating your storyboards into text, if nothing interesting happens in a scene, it’s going to be just as boring to read about as it is to look at–if not more so.
  4. Break it down to the beats. A plot beat is a screenwriting term for the points of action that drive the story. [Because X happened, Y happens.] You don’t have to draw every sequence in your entire novel. When still roughing-out the plot, it’s best to start broad and work your way in. Begin by creating an overall storyboard showing the relationship of the most important beats, the pivotal moments within your narrative. You can go back later and detail each scene.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to download your free storyboard templates.

 


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Writing Flashbacks

Title Graphic: The Abuse of Time: Writing Flashbacks
Writing Flashbacks: The Abuse of Time

Writing Flashbacks

Everyone loves a good story. No one likes to be ripped out of it when they’re enjoying it most. There are already plenty of distractions in everyday life—ringing phones, car alarms—you get the idea. The last thing a reader needs is for the story itself to be the distraction.

The big problem with flashbacks is that they disrupt the flow of time in narrative. They take the reader out of what is happening currently and throw them into the experience of something that happened in the past, a fate that’s already been decided. Unless the entire narrative occurs in one long flashback like in Titanic, the events happening inside the flashback are old news. The real story is in the present.

Not only is it jarring to switch back-and-forth to the past, but there can be little suspense in visiting flashbacks. Did you just see the main character’s dad baking cookies in the kitchen before the flashback? He obviously didn’t die in the car crash four years ago. There has to be some greater point you’re making inside the flashback—something that cannot be accomplished better in any other way.

Writing a flashback is like asking your readers to travel back in time with you. It’s quite the journey, so you’d better make it worthwhile. If you must use a flashback, make it interesting enough that it’s enjoyable to read, but make sure your present story is one readers will want to return to. There has to be continuity in the overall timeline of your story. It’s also important that both your present story and your flashback are crucial and captivating parts of the narrative. Otherwise, you have no business telling either of them. If the past ends up being more interesting than the present story, you need to look at where your focus is. Are you really telling the story that needs to be told? It’s possible that the real story—or an entire separate one—is waiting where you thought a simple flashback was.

Don’t be lazy with flashbacks. That is, don’t use them to reveal large chunks of a character’s backstory and motivation. If you decide to use flashbacks in your work, use the right details to transition smoothly from present to past. Flashbacks are memories. Think about what makes you remember something—a certain smell, a sound, an old artifact from your childhood. Use realistic triggers to soften the transition into the world of your character’s mind.

Only write flashbacks when they are the best way to show an important part of your story. Overusing flashbacks can confuse the overall sense of time and dislodge the reader from the narrative. If you choose to use multiple flashbacks, make sure you do it for a purpose. The well-known television show, Psych, used comedic flashbacks to the main character’s childhood at the start of each episode. This pattern established an expectation from the audience and made the flashback normal. Because this was the defined format for the show, the flashbacks did not seem jarring from the main narrative. They also tied directly into the events that would unfold later in the episode. This is an example of stylistically used flashbacks with purpose. Although this worked for the serialized television format, you will need to consider what is best for the flow of your novel.

One thing not to do is employ flashbacks as a means to help the reader remember something they have already seen. Not only does that repetition add nothing to the story, it shows disrespect for the audience’s memory. Readers who are truly interested in the story will pay attention. Don’t cater to an audience that doesn’t care. If you do, and you employ frequent flashbacks to previously shown events, you’ll risk boring your true audience. 

The main rule of flashbacks is this: If you can do it well and for a purpose, then do it. Otherwise, consider your other options.

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