Anyone who has written a series of books might be familiar with the term “Branding.” Certainly you are aware of the Hunger Games trilogy. If you take a look at all three covers of that trilogy you will notice a distinct similarity between them. Let’s suppose that you liked the first book and wanted to purchase the second volume. For the life of you, you can’t remember the title of the new book or the author’s name (which isn’t a very good sign, actually), but when you walk into the book store you find books with a familiar looking cover stacked on a table just inside the door. “Ah-HA! That’s the book I wanted to get.”
That particular consistency of book design is an effort to brand the author and their work. It makes all the sense in the world to have a similar design for a series of books, but branding the work of authors has been going on for a long time. Hit the stacks at your local book store and you will see what I mean. Pick out a favorite author of yours who has a large back catalog of books that have been published and are likely on a second or third printing. Now pull out all of his or her titles that are there on the shelf. Works by one author that are unrelated and not intended to be read as a series will likely have a similar look and feel, nonetheless. This is branding at work.
As a publisher reprints an author’s catalog they will often have all the covers redesigned at the same time. When you grab a Coke off of a grocery store shelf, you know exactly what is inside the distinctive red, white and silver can without even reading the label. The same concept is at work in your book store.
For the purpose of illustrating what I am talking about in this post, I designed a series of mock covers for five Charles Dickens titles. Most of these books are recognizable and the plot lines are familiar. I chose Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, Little Dorrit, The Old Curiosity Shop, and Great Expectations
Each title is a stand-alone, independent novel all unrelated to the others, but the designs are all unifying. The first thing that you might notice is a consistent color pallet. I chose a muted, dingey scheme that fit with the dark themes and settings of the stories. The other aspect that doesn’t change from cover to cover is the use of typeface. The cover illustrations have the same look and feel of a bold, loose graphic interpretation of a main story line within each novel. Oliver holding his bowl out for more, a snow covered head stone (indicating Scrooge’s wish to “sponge away the writing on this stone”), the debtor prison door, a shop sign, a heart broken long ago. If you had recently read Oliver Twist and then went back to the store, you might pick up Little Dorrit, a book you are unfamiliar with because of the same look as a book you previously enjoyed. You would also know without reading the blurb that the story has something to do with a prison (as mentioned a debtor’s prison figures prominently in this tale).
These are not the only ways to brand an authors work. Consistent use of photography instead of illustration can be used effectively in branding your books. You also don’t have to use a similar color pallet if you don’t want to (they didn’t in the case of the Hunger Games books). But however you approach the design of your books, consistency is the key to branding. And don’t wait until you are in your second or subsequent printing to take advantage of branding your work. If you or a designer you are working with can come up with an effective and attention grabbing style, stick with it. An e-book author has the luxury of changing a book cover at any time with little effort. You could begin brnading your work right now. A good design plan from the beginning can earn you return readers later on down the road.
If you would like to see other examples of effective book cover design and the strength in branding you can visit Faceout Books, a blog devoted to book cover design.