Distilling the Essence

You may call this a "how to go about distilling the juicy essence of a book". This is a how-to on dissecting the essence of someone’s book, their soul, the product of hundreds of hours of time and capturing it in an image or in a video to market the book and effectively sell it. It’s no easy feat. 

You are about to gain insight into a meeting that gathered this Monday whereby an ingenious entourage met in a small room with a whiteboard and a computer monitor to discuss the beginning process of a new book by Gordon Harris that Catch The Fire Books is going to publish this year.

The question was thrown out:  ‘What does this book mean to you?’ Gordon began to put into words what he’d created, what he'd birthed; meanwhile those words were scribbled onto the whiteboard in order to make some sense of what the underpinning focus was. Our goal was to map out keywords for all the possible themes, and then to condense those down into a 10 word sentence in order to explain to anyone (especially publicity people) in 20 seconds why they should care about this book.  We care about this book; the 8 people in that meeting were enthused with anticipation of what this book could be, how it would look and feel, and who was most likely to read it, but we still didn't know quite how to describe it.

As I said, a list of 7 to 8 words were written on the whiteboard.  Key words that conveyed the body of the text, key words that would communicate the thousands of words within the book in a single image. Some words were re-evaluated for their various nuances and finally we had a rough list that would give us an inkling as to what should grace the front cover. Themes. Motifs.

The front cover of a book is absolutely crucial; it turns out we do all judge a book by its cover. The front cover needs to speak to the reader; it needs to fascinate and compel someone to pick it up among shelves of other books. Make the cover too simple and it can be boring and un-descriptive, however if the cover is too busy it can just look bad; there’s a happy medium we need to arrive at. A cover needs to draw people in, and to visually communicate some aspect of the literary content contained within. We discussed what kind of imagery we want on the front cover; something that is indicative of what the book is about, but at the same time the cover needs to hold enough mystery for a shopper to turn the book over and read the blurb.  There is an entanglement of juxtapositions that need to be satisfied. 

What about the audience? Who is going to want to read this book? Now whilst we may want the answer to be ‘everybody’ we are required to narrow it down significantly in order to come to some conclusions of how to market this book. The middle aged female is renowned as the biggest reader of Christian books, although we wanted to look beyond that.  This is the kind of book where we could expand our audience horizons and look to agnostics, Christian prodigals, those faintly aware of their mother’s faith but have not yet experienced it for themselves.  We glowed at the potential.  But how do we entice them to read a book with a thick undertone of God’s goodness?  We decided that whilst prophetic symbolism can be effective for some books, for this work we have to stay clear of the christianese, should we want to entice different people groups.  Would this book appeal to all races and ethnicities? 

We continued to look at some other front covers that had already been published; covers that were despised, covers that were approved but weren't quite right. We discussed typefaces, colours and trim sizes, the table was piled high with frames of reference.  We used the wide-screen monitor to search up on Google images front covers that Gordon and the rest of the team felt were marked to the same audience, and we discussed what lessons could be learned. We came to some conclusions, however by no means were any ideas set in stone, we had a framework and a rough outline, and we remained flexible in our thinking. 

When it came to discussing the title, there was the consensus that the current working title was a good one, however it didn't perhaps draw readers into what the book was about. We crafted 3 subtitles, and after conducting a quick vote there was surprising accord on which one was the better one.  Subtitles are great, but if you’re going for the clean, simple look on the front cover it can make it look a little crowded, so sometimes it’s better for the subtitle to go on the back, which in fact leaves greater emphasis on the front cover to intrigue the shopper to look at the book and turn it over.  

Overall, as you may have gathered, undertaking this process involves a great deal of discussion; points of reference are required, like other publications and other works and also a great deal of flexibility from both the author and the team. We entered into that meeting with no cohesive idea as to what we were going for and we left the meeting with a greater clue of what Gordon wanted, but it will take a good few drafts from the creative team to come to something that might elegantly represent this book.  The process might be a lengthy one, but definitely one worth paying attention to the details.  

- Jess Watson, publishing intern