Book spines -- oh, they're important alright. I was reminded just how important they are on my weekend book-buying binge at our (sadly) closing Borders. At the end of the day I left with nearly 30 new mysteries. And then I ordered 11 more online to fill in the gaps in the series, and still have another order or two to place in coming weeks to finish the collection.

What does that have to do with book spine designs? Everything. I went in looking for some Sarah Strohmeyer (started a first book from her and love it) and Victoria Laurie (haven't read yet but have heard good things) books. I left with books from at least a half dozen authors, and it was all because of their spine designs.

Why Book Spines Matter in Marketing

In a physical bookstore the book spine is probably the first thing a potential buyer sees, assuming you're in the stacks and not out on display. Similar books often have similar cover and spine design elements. I can look at a book spine and say "this is a cozy mystery probably featuring a female amateur sleuth" before I even look at the book's title, nonetheless pull it off the shelf to read the back cover. And if I'm looking for something new as a reader, that instant visual attraction is what ropes me in over Joe Schmo's book next to yours.

Now not all indie published books will make it to physical bookstore shelves. But the same applies in libraries -- when someone wants to check out a new author, the book spine might be the first thing to attract them. When it comes to online sales, the front cover is more important.

What a Book Spine Tells (or Should Tell) a Reader

From that perspective of a buyer, there are a couple of things I expect a book spine to tell me before I even touch a book:

  1. What genre (or sub-genre in the case of mysteries) your book falls into;
  2. What the book is about, at least in a vague sense.

The first can be relatively easy. Some genres and sub-genres have consistent color themes. For example, when I see books in the mystery section with bright pink or pastel color schemes, I can safely bet they're targeting females or at least feature a female sleuth. When I see dark covers with big, bold lettering they tend to lean more towards the thriller side.

The second is apparently tougher, although I don't know why. And it's where a lot of book spine designs fail in my opinion. You have to remember that the spine has to catch someone's eye from at least a few feet away. If they can't read the title of the book from there, they might skim right past you to someone else's book. This is something a few series I picked up struggled with (and I only found them because I was on the hunt for every similar series I could get my hands on that day -- a less discerning reader than usual). Some focus on obnoxiously dainty title text which is almost unreadable until the book is in-hand. It doesn't catch my eye. It doesn't give me a better idea of the series, not to mention the individual book's story. It doesn't usually help you make the sale. I'll pass you over.

I know you don't have a lot of room to work with. But please, keep the text bold enough that your title is clear. If you're selling solely online this might not be an issue. If you plan to sell in print outlets or rely heavily on libraries to drive interest in your books, these are things you might want to consider. And remember, even if they aren't sold off of a book case, they'll probably end up on one. And those spines can still play a role when readers decide which book to pick up and re-read (and therefore spread the word about when they realize how much they love your book all over again).

Do you think your spine designs have helped or hurt your book sales? Have they not impacted sales at all because you only sell online? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.

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