Friday, December 29, 2006

Confessions of a Former Bookseller, Part III

My intentions with this blog is to put forth my thoughts about writing/publishing and my love of drama. My goal is to update it at least weekly in the new year.


There are still some gems of knowledge that I gleaned from working at a bookstore that I feel I should share. So until I exhaust that theme, here's part III in my series of Confessions of a Former Book Seller:


In defense of a good spine


I believe a book's spine is more important than its cover.


I don't want to diminish the power of good cover art, or wonderful hooks and blurbs on back covers that entice readers to crack open books to read the contents. Nope. I'm saying that if the spine is lousy, the cover art won't have a chance to work its magic.


That's because most books are not placed "face out" on book shelves. They are instead placed with their spines out. If your book has a bad spine, it'll never get picked off the shelf.


You not only have to have a compelling title that will intrigue someone who is browsing the book shelves, you also need to make sure they can read the title.


When I worked as a bookseller, I saw a lot of bad examples of how not to create a book. The worst I remember was a book that had a white cover with pink italic script. I remember picking up that book and laughing with other booksellers in the back room about it. We weren't laughing at the book's content, but rather the fact that no one would be able see the name of the book on its spine or its cover.


I mean, what where they thinking when they picked that combination? Did the author want the book to match her favorite dress? And on a field of white? Then there was the italics. That font should only be used on front covers and only in subtitles. It should never be on a spine, because the reader is trying to read titles sideways, please don't make it any harder on them than it already is. The longer the book length, the wider your spine will be and you should try to make the font of the title as big and as bold as possible. You want your book to stand out from all of the competing titles on the shelf and scream, "LOOK AT ME! PICK ME!"


Part of what makes a good spine is contrast in color. You need to have the text stand out from the background color of the cover. A friend of mine has a book that graces my shelf which unfortunatetly does not follow that simple rule. The background color is blue and the text is black. If I didn't know what to look for, I would have a hard time finding it on my shelf. That's because it is almost camouflaged and my eye automatically jumps to spines that are easier to read.


Try your own experiment and look at the books on your shelf. See which ones you can read with ease and from the average distance you would stand away from a shelf at a bookstore. Find out what you think works best and what is difficult to read. Also remember that as people age, their eyesight isn't what it used to be and the larger the font the easier it is to read.


And please, do not go for saddle stitching. Unless your book is for arts and crafts and destined to be sold in risers or spinners in specialty markets, it is the death knell to go for a staple to be your spine. The same goes for spiral binding. Just don't.


If you can't read the book's title when it's on the shelf then it is doomed to gather dust there. No one will pick it off the shelf either to buy it, or a bookseller to return it. Instead, your pride and joy will be destined to remain unloved on the shelf like a forgotten toy.


I would have thought that these concepts about having a spine with a good contrast would be common sense. However, I have brought this subject up at writers conferences and most recently at a meeting of my writers club and you'd have thought that I had just given them a revelation from on high from the reactions I got from people.


So please while obsessing about what images you want to have gracing your cover, I humbly implore you to spend a little time thinking about your spine as well.

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