Chances are, you’re familiar with the concept of a book series. Usually, your series experiences have been with fiction books. Your first experiences might have with the Hardy Boys series, or the Nancy Drew or Bobbsey Twins series. Later, you might have graduated to mystery books like Sue Grafton’s alphabetical series, i.e. A is for Alibi, B is for Burglary, etc.
If so, you’re already familiar with one of the most important series characteristics of a book series, book covers create a confidence-inspiring brand for each title in a series. The series brand eliminates the disappointment that may follow purchasing a book by a new or unfamiliar author.
The confidence that comes with has a multiplier effect on other books in the series. Each new title presells earlier titles in the series. At the same time, existing books in a series presell new titles as they appear.
Nonfiction book series
Nonfiction books also benefit from the the series approach. You may also be familiar with the two most popular nonfiction book series. One is the … for Dummies series. One of the most popular titles was my Microsoft Office 97 for Windows for Dummies.
Another popular nonfiction book series, with over 250 titles, was Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen’s Chicken Soup for the …. Titles include Chicken Soup for the Soul, Chicken Soup for the Golfer’s Soul, and Chicken Soup for the Cancer Survivor’s Soul.
But, nonfiction series don’t have to sell hundreds of titles to be successful. Sarah Susanka has built her career on The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live, which was later expanded into a series with titles like Creating the Not so Big House: Insights and Ideas for the New American House, Inside the Not So Big House: Discovering the Details that Bring a Home to Life, and Not So Big Remodeling: Tailoring Your Home for the Way You Really Live.
Bob Burg and John David Mann began their inspiring and long-lived series with their The Go-Giver: A Little Story about a Powerful Business Idea which recently celebrated its 10th Anniversary with over 1 million copies sold.
A nonfiction book series doesn’t need impressive sales to be considered successful as long as the initial title in the series resonates with its market and the book covers communicate a strong family resemblance. Harry Beckwith’s first volume, Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing is an example. It launched his Minneapolis advertising agency to worldwide clients, as he later explained in a latter volume.
Fundamentals of book cover design for series success
Designing book covers for a nonfiction books boils down to a few tips you can explore by reviewing the examples above or visiting the above links.
- Size is one of the first immediately obvious branding clues to a nonfiction book series. All books in a series should be the same size. Size refers to book’s height, width, and thickness. A book’s thickness is determined by the page count—or number of pages. Thickness is also influenced by the weight and coating of the paper used on inside pages. Don’t worry if there are not the exact same number of pages in each volume, but avoid dramatic differences (i.e., 50 to 75 pages).
- Orientation refers to whether the book book is printed in portrait or landscape Portrait means the book is taller than its width. Landscape means the book is wider than it is tall. Or, you can brand your book series by choosing a square format.
- Colors. The colors used for background and foreground elements is another highly branding elements in a book series. Sometimes all the titles in a series will use a single background color—like the bright yellow that books in the “… for Dummies” In other cases, each title may have its own color, chosen from a palette of colors that work especially well with each other. At a glance, subtly color influences the prospect’s mood.
- Typography refers to the fonts—or typefaces—used on the book cover. Typography also refers to the size and colors of the text on the front cover. Type size and style should reflect the hierarchy, or importance, of the text. Use a larger and bolder typeface for book titles and a reduced size for subtitles. Size should reflect the author’s popularity. The names of a new author are likely to be smaller than the name of a high-visibility author. The same fonts should be used for all series titles, but the type size can subtly increase or decrease to accommodate titles of different length. Capitalization should be consistent between books. Avoid using titles set entirely in upper case on some books, while mixing upper- and lower case type on other books.
- Graphics refers to the size and style of the illustrations or photographs that appear on the front cover of books in a series. One category of photographs reflects typical office scenes like departmental meetings around a conference table, a speaker presenting to a large audience, or two individuals shaking hands. Illustrations can be used to establish an idealized mood, like a spark of insight or the successful accomplishment of a goal. The colors in the graphics should work well with the text and background colors. The scale of the graphics should remain consistent from title to title. Avoid using a close-up of a pair of hands for one title, and a telescopic view of the earth from space on the next title.
- Spine and back cover. Avoid placing more emphasis on the front cover while under-estimating the spine and back cover of each book in a series. The spine is the narrow, rectangular part of a book visible when a book is placed in a bookcase. The colors, text, and—most important—the top or bottom edges of the title, author name, and publisher’s logo should align with the text in the spines of other books. Likewise, on the back cover of the book, the typography and placement of text elements—like a summary of current book being considered, the author’s photograph, and testimonials from recognizable experts—should reflect the series branding.
Consistency the most important branding element in a nonfiction book series. This brings up the author or book designer’s skill in balancing the two often-contradictory goals that a series of book covers has to manage. Book covers in a series must have a distinct identity visible at small size on a computer or mobile phone, yet each cover should be clearly differentiated from other covers in a series.
The good news is that, with proper planning, in the future, you’ll be able to separate design from production. Separating design from production can save a lot of money in thee future. Careful design of the first cover can create a template that can be easily updated when subsequent books are published. Design costs more than production, specially if the major changes involve changing background and foreground colors.
Roger C. Parker’s first book was Looking Good in Print: A Guide to Basic Design for Desktop Publishing sold throughout the world. Looking Good was the first of Roger’s 30+ books. It played an important role in the rapid growth of desktop publishing software. Today, Roger offers tools and advice for new authors and a free interactive planning guide, 99 Questions You Should Ask Before Writing and Publishing a Nonfiction Book. Drop Roger an email at email@example.com and he’ll send you a copy for free!
If you like this blog post, you’ll love our Author Toolkit for self-publishing. It includes checklists, templates, worksheets and more. Check it out!