Book Covers and Brand Bungles

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I recently stumbled upon an article that featured a line up of best book covers over last 10 years.

Many were cool, very stylized. But, none made me actually want to buy the books. In fact, I hadn't even heard of any of the books, so I looked them up on amazon. Of the 20 books listed (10 winners and 10 notables), the vast majority had terrible sales ranks. And, of the few that had made it to paperback, a number had cover redesigns, signifying the book didn't sell nearly as well as was hoped... and the cover was a major culprit.

I see this tension all over the place. Design aesthetic/branding versus sales tool.

How can you heap praise on a book cover that fails at its essential task?

Not at being pretty or swishy or eclectic and visually provocative. But, at its fundamental job. Stopping potential readers in their tracks and compelling them to pick up and then buy the book. Ask any publisher and they'll tell you somewhere between 70 and 90% of a book's commercial success comes from the one-two marketing punch delivered by the cover and the title (and subtitle).

I'd love to say that, as consumers, we're less dog-like, less reactionary than that.

Especially since I'm an author. But I can't. It's not enough for a cover to be beautiful or hyper-stylized. That's not its essential role. It's not enough to make the author, publisher and designer feel gooylicious inside. It's got to sell books, plain and simple. That's it's fundamental job.

Truth is, though, this conversation isn't just about books and covers.

It's about mood versus money. Big picture branding. Soul. Communications. Vision. Copywriting. Pain. Headlines. Pride. Logos. Sex and Cars. These things are all part of the sales and marketing funnel. Sure, they play a pivotal role in helping to define our brand...

But, who gives a damn WHAT your brand is if nobody wants to buy what you're selling?

We don't build brands just to be able to point to them and say, "Hey nice brand, dude." That's called branding by ego. And brands built on ego-satisfaction have a name...crapshoots.

We build brands, identities, book covers, packaging and messages because they are tools that help define, differentiate and overcome objections. They do all this in anticipation of something else, though. In service of something else...

Make no mistake, branding is sales' love-slave!

It has no benefit or purpose beyond setting up the sale. Whether we're talking about pretty book covers, fancy logos, gushingly gorgeous slogans or sizzling hot storefront.

In the end, they all suck if they don't lead directly or indirectly to sales.

Play with that next time you want to go sassy on your book cover or understated on your ads.

Ask yourself, "Will this cover/brand/design element make little Tommy run screaming and throwing elbows to be the first in line to buy what I'm selling?

And, if the answer is no, it doesn't matter how pretty it it...start over.