nancyfulda (nancyfulda) wrote,

What Sells an Anthology?

I'm sure I don't know, except for the widely accepted principles of how good the cover looks, who the authors are, and whether you're able to get it to the right distributors.

While playing around on AnthologyBuilder, though, I've noticed several principles that shed light on the habits of marketing departments in major publishing houses. I can't guarantee that any of these actually improve book sales, but it certainly improves my emotional response on first encounter with the book.

Cover Image
It's commonly accepted knowledge that a book's cover image is the single largest factor in determining whether a customer buys it. But what makes a cover appealing? The answer will depend a great deal upon the interests and temperament of the customer, but here are a few guiding factors:

(1) High Contrast
In the internet world of online thumbnails, and to a lesser extent in real-world book browsing, a book not only has to stand on its own aesthetics, but must also stand out from the crowd. It needs to be daring enough to stand up and shout "Me! Me! Look at me!"

A Cabinet of Curiousities, a Circus of Marvels

Paradoxical Pasts

In the two covers above, I consider the leftmost to have the more sophisticated design and the most overall appeal. But in a thumbnail setting, it's the cover on the right that jumps out at me. In a screen full of thumbnails, my eye might skip past the left cover without even noticing, but I'd be certain to notice the one on the right and, once I'd noticed it, the incongrous image of Abraham Lincoln in a spacesuit would probably tempt me to read at least the first few pages.

(2) A Focal Point
Here we have a second pair of covers, both with about the same level of contrast, but one of them has a clear item of interest.

With Stars in His Eyes


Covers that have a clear subject, an image I can latch onto, are intrinsically more likely to hold my interest. In this respect, they are very like the opening paragraphs of a novel or short story.

Legible Text

Your title can be as grabby as you want; that's not going to help snag a buyer if they have to squint to read what it says.

When My Job's Done

Tales Retold

Titles are easiest to read if they're on a solid or mostly-solid background, or if they have a noticably different brightness level than the background. The key here is to have high contrast between the text and the surrounding image.

Admittedly, this is sometimes difficult to achieve in the current version of AnthologyBuilder. It would be nice if we had features to let editors change the color of the title text or add a solid-color title bar. Nevertheless, a lot can be done simply by taking care where one places the title on the page.

Text Size
This is perhaps the most common problem I see with books created on AnthologyBuilder. Title text looks intrinsically more legible in the cover design screen than it does in a thumbnail image. It's tempting to keep the title text small rather than polluting a beautiful cover image with bold text, but look at the difference it makes in a reader's first impression:

Incident on a Small Colony

Space Monkeys

Incidentally, this is much easier to achieve with short titles than with long ones. I suspect this is one of the reasons publishers often rename novels to a one- or two-word title that seems inferior to the original. Long, intricate titles -- which work extremely well for short stories, and make the story stand out in both TOCs and in the minds of readers -- are very difficult to feature prominently on the cover of a book.
Tags: anthologybuilder, writing
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