How to do better book marketing visuals and images

12 minutes

Visual marketing is incredibly important. Great images make our campaigns sing. This blog gives 12 tips to make your visual marketing better and the one crime we all do that really lets our visual marketing down.

This is the text of a talk I gave at the London Book Fair at the Book Marketing Society and Publishers Publicity Circle joint meeting about the visual life of campaigns. I hope you find it useful, share it with colleagues who don’t work in marketing or publicity and do get in touch on twitter @juliakingsford if you want to discuss.

Visual Marketing Talk

I was given a pretty big brief for this presentation and in truth I could take an hour and still not cover everything. So I’m going to try to whizz through lots starting with some facts to underline why great visual marketing are so important in book marketing and then both some creative ideas and basic tips for doing them better.

Now I’m a book marketing consultant for a good proportion of my day job and I’m not being paid to do this talk. So it would absolutely be in my interests to give you a really flashy presentation full of big creative ideas and trends forecasts and really sell myself to you as an inspirational creative strategizing genius so that you’ll hire me and pay me big bucks and I could be the new Damian Horner.

But though big ideas are really important, most of us spend most of our time sweating the small stuff. The books that don’t have any budget but that you still want to do great things for. Or the books that have some budget but where you want to use good solid creative ideas to make it stretch as far as possible. So I’m going to mostly focus on every day practicals and I have twelve tips that I hope will make your day to day use of visual media easier and your book marketing better.

So let’s start with a quick primer on why visual marketing is important.

We have pretty lousy memories till a visual is introduced:

When we hear information, we’re likely to remember only 10% of it three days later.
But if a relevant image is paired with that same information, we retain 65% of it.

Without strong visuals everything becomes more forgettable.

In social media terms they’re also vital.

  • Tweets with images receive a third more retweets than those without
  • Facebook posts with images see 2.3 times more engagement than those without.
  • Organic Facebook engagement is highest on posts with videos (13.9%) and photos (13.7%).
  • Snapchat users share 9,000 photos per second.

We share images and they stick in our minds.

Now hopefully you’re convinced. But let me give one more example. This is people sharing their favourite books on World Book Day.

Which one do you find more compelling? Chris’s, right? And to back that up, Sunny’s tweets got 8 likes and 1 retweet in total. Chris got four times that across these ten tweets. And it isn’t because Chris has more followers, far from it, Sunny has over 12,000, Chris only 3000, he just took the time to pop in images and make the tweets jump out at you.

So why do we share images and what images do we share?

Well in part we share images because they jump out at us so we notice them. But also to put it in a truly clichéd way, because a picture is worth a thousand words – they add another dimension to the words alongside. And the images that we do share are the ones that make us feel something. Whether that’s happy, sad, amused, angry, anything else. Your images have to make people feel to get a response, to get shared. So straight informational marketing images don’t get shared very much because no one feels anything for them.

Twelve tips to improve your book marketing
Tip 1: Take advantage of the tools available.

Whatever you’re doing visually there are a huge amount of fantastic, quick, free tools out there that can make your job really easy. Pablo, Canva and Relay are all high performing cheap and easy to use browser based design programmes. And they’re designed to be used across platforms so you can resize or rework images to fit everywhere. There are more photo manipulation apps for your phone than anyone could possibly need. Experiment, find the ones that work for you. You can find a free or cheap tool to do literally everything, you don’t have to be a designer and you don’t have to pay a fortune to Adobe for Photoshop or Illustrator to make great visuals.

Tip 2: Analyse your data.

The platforms give you an amazing amount of data on impressions and engagement for every single tweet and I’m always surprised how many people don’t know this and how many people don’t look. Decide what’s important for you: there’s plenty of things visually that impressions are enough for or times you want engagement. See what works and then do it more often.

Tip 3: Pick an easy way to really show off your books visually.

I’m going to come later to how much of a crime just tweeting jpegs of jackets is, especially when there are endless possibilities to show off our gorgeous design with plain or more interesting backgrounds. Or you could tessellate your book – I’d love to see someone adopt this as a house style for sharing all their book jackets – or do like Canelo do and make landscape jackets that you then cut down. I couldn’t find a great image of a jacket with someone more in the frame (possibly because its awkward to take alone and make look professional) but I’d like to see it more. We’re human, we respond to people in pictures. I’d love to see books shot well in the wild. On someone’s lap, resting beside their hand and a coffee at a table. But whatever route you go down make your jackets sing.

I particularly love Simon & Schuster and how these have such a clear brand style whilst being totally unique to each book. And Waterstones, whose simple use of a detail from the jacket with the book in front is quick, easy and stunning (though I’d love to see them watermark their logo in the corner so when people nick them the brand is always still there).

Picador have really made image collages their own.


And Penguin were able to get far more across in their Everywoman campaign by utilising Twitters full image quota


Tip 4: Make the image collage a campaign

This is a General Electric ad from a few years ago using a combination of strong image and text in a collage that really stands out.

Tip 5: Quotes.

Inspirational quotes on inspirational images are ridiculously popular across social media. They may not appeal personally to you but they do to many of your readers and if someone gets it right there’s serious potential to spread viral engagement. Twitter’s own research of some 2 million tweets found that those with inspirational quotes were 18% more likely to be retweeted. If this is your market you have a massive opportunity utilising your content.

Macmillan have just announced the final Nelson Mandela memoir. Imagine the retweet power of using one of his most famous quotes and watching it fly.

Bluebird. Yellow Kite. Penguin Life. Ebury. Every lifestyle publisher or publisher of any book aimed at a mass audience. Use inspirational quotes. Or use quotes from your books. Create something that will make people want to share. To feel like an image you create is something that speaks to them, will speak to their followers so they want to pass it on.

Tip 6: Think about how text can work for you

There are of course other ways to use text and my sixth tip is to think about how it can work for you because the words on the page are our bread and butter and we don’t show them off as much as we could. You can take screen grabs from ebooks. You can photograph pages. You can even use filters on photo apps to blur out the bits you don’t want people to bother reading and make promo cards with the image like I’ve done here. Text has to be used carefully because lots and lots of text can be a bit of a turn off but used well it’s a really great way to drag people into a book and to get them to share.

Tip 7: Take great photos.

I’m not going to dwell on this except to say that it’s ridiculously important and so very easy to do well these days. All you need is some good lighting or some nifty filters. Go out and have fun. And then use the tools in photo apps to make your books even more beautiful than they usually are.

Tip 8: Tell stories.

Use all of this to tell great stories. Check out the A Little Life Instagram feed to see what started as quite simple visual storytelling that’s built a huge collaborative project around the book.

Tip 9: Short videos are great (and not as hard as they look).

Animated jackets and stop motion filming add life to still images. Youtubers are doing incredible things, you can too (but don’t rip them off, hire them to do some consulting and come and teach you stuff). And book trailers seem to be really coming into their own. Possibly because the possibilities for what can be done on our small budgets have significantly improved.

But my advice with video would be to experiment in a small way, don’t jump in too deep too fast. There’s a stat that 75% of internet traffic is now video which means everyone’s having internal conversations about making video, but this doesn’t mean we’re spending 75% of our time watching videos, simply that they take up a lot of bandwith. Plus 85% of video on facebook is watched without sound. You really need to create something visually powerful that doesn’t need sound to make an impact.

(And a very quick practical tip for when you do start experimenting: use manual focus. Auto focus is great but it often results in what’s known as ‘focus breathing’ where the contrast literally goes back and forth from dark to light, like drawing breath, because your camera doesn’t know what its meant to be focusing on. Do it manually and you’ll be fine.

Tip 10: Gifs!

Let’s make great book and reading gifs and propagate the internet with them. Imagine something classily done with your beautiful jackets on display and a great quote about how amazing books and/or reading are and how much it would be shared.

Tip 11: Think about ways to have fun with your community

So I couldn’t talk about visuals without remembering National Book Tokens’ fantastic visual puzzle competitions (which you can still play here). Amazing. Creative and hugely shareable. It’s hard to come close to this one but there was a meme that went round recently that had a similar visual puzzle feel. These were simply pictures of dogs where you zoom in on the nose and then you get a puzzle leading you round the page till eventually you get an inspirational message, usually telling you you’re beautiful or can conquer the world in some way.

Now like the rest of you I know nothing about the new Dan Brown thriller. But he always sets them somewhere very real and visual. So imagine a map of that place with Easter Eggs for fans. We don’t all publish Dan Brown but many of you have series with fanatical fans who would love that sort of thing done well.

So from dogs, bear with me for a minute while I talk about kittens. Obviously if you have access to actual kittens you should relentlessly photograph them with books. Sure it’s a cynical way of getting shares but, come on, it’s kittens. Or make a collage, three pictures of cute animals and one of your book and make it a thing you do. Why isn’t that how we do cover reveals? Why didn’t I think of this for my business partner Charlie’s book Herding Cats? Who wouldn’t share that?

Now I don’t expect anyone here to actually do this because we’re serious people running serious businesses. But in many ways kittens are a metaphor to think about how we market better.

Short big thought about how we market better

Because people share kitten pictures because they make them happy and they want to make other people happy with them too. It’s not just about them, they’re thinking about the people who will see what they’re putting out there. Really great marketing hits the sweet spot where people are getting something from what you put out there. Where it’s connecting with them or touching them in some way. Where it’s more than just this is a book and this is a quote about it. Where it isn’t all about you and what you want them to know, where you think about what they might end up feeling too.

I could write a whole talk / blog post [and at some point probably will] about this. But the short version is THINK ABOUT YOUR MARKET. Think about how people are likely to respond to what you’re putting out there. Think about how you respond to content about things you love but aren’t your day job. How might someone go about marketing to you to get you to go the cinema more often or to see a particular film. Then think about how that can inform your marketing to engage people with books.

Tip 12: Creating great visuals to make your platform bigger.

So now on to the more impressive large scale visuals. Faber’s billboard with feathers is kind of the ultimate example of this (though I’d be fascinated for their reasons for not using a hashtag to make sharing even more obvious). I would love to see everyone be more creative in their posters, making ads that use our great visuals, content and creativity to become viral and shareable rather than just being marketing messages. Creating something with the power of Dove’s Real Beauty campaign or dare I say it John Lewis’ Christmas ads.

But at the same time I know as well as you do the limits of our business and I know how frustrating that can be. I remember being at the Bookseller Marketing & Publicity conference when a man said ‘oh this campaign was quite cheap, only about 70K’ and we all laughed. I know selling soap and selling Max’s debut novel are different. So I suppose the twelfth tip is really that creating great engaging campaigns isn’t always about spending big money. Yes everyone notices when you do but it can also very simply be about having ideas that reach out to people and connect with them.

When I was at Foyles we did a poster at Christmas that did rather well for us. We spent £30K on tube ads – which was a lot of money for Foyles at the time and it was a risky campaign because long copy wasn’t fashionable back then like it is now. But I was convinced that if we did something to powerfully connect with our customers it would pay off, and it did, with an 18% like for like sales increase on the previous Christmas. I look back on it and think what a gift social is to creative marketers because you don’t need to spend that kind of money anymore. If you do the right campaign that makes people respond their social feeds become your billboard.

So that’s my twelve tips but I want to finish by covering off one basic thing, quickly, which is the crime most often committed and most easily avoided in visual campaigns.

GREATEST CRIME: Not giving thought to whether your visual fits your medium.

We’ve all done it. And I really do mean all of us. It particularly applies to book jackets but also to any images in portrait and anything landscape that doesn’t take account of crops and the need for safe space at the edge of images, like bleeds in print.

We shouldn’t do this because it is lazy and we are wasting our time, creativity and brilliance every time we do it. Because the images don’t look good, we, our books, our brands and our companies don’t look good and crucially it’s a waste of time because badly done images get shared less.
One study found images that displayed well were three times more likely to be shared, those with bad images or links to images hosted elsewhere were half as likely to be shared. Getting this right matters.

And it’s sad when our beautifully shot photos get cropped badly. Our carefully designed posters lose something of their messages. And our gorgeous book jackets can’t be seen in full.

Yes it is slightly annoying to have to make the effort to design a card or photograph the book in landscape rather than just attach the jacket you have on file and it would be nice if social media platforms just changed to suit us, but it doesn’t take that much extra effort to produce graphics that really sing.

And there’s a quick tip for creating very quick good landscape visuals on mobiles (or computers).

If you have to tweet about a book quickly it’s very tempting to just shove in the jacket or not bother. But you can very quickly get a good landscape image simply by googling the book & looking in images. There should be a handful of jackets lined up next to each other. If you’re lucky there may even be a landscape graphic. Simply take a photo, crop it down and put it in your tweet. This is what I did when I suddenly found myself wanting to tweet about The Good Immigrant’s shortlisting and the Jhalak prize winner. Nothing more complicated and both are great visual tweets.


But for campaign purposes replacing a book jacket with a card takes a moment and can make a huge difference to your brand and your ROI.



But word to the wise, make sure you leave safe space because it’s almost as bad when we get that wrong. It means our stunning powerful images don’t get the right message across.

I mean maybe the big revelation is that she doesn’t have any ears! But it certainly wasn’t what HC were trying to say!

And it is again something everyone does. Because we think the ratio is 2:1 but on mobiles or on Tweetdeck it gets taken down to about 1.7:1. I could fill a dozen slides with examples. Forgive me if any of you were doing this on purpose to get your engagement numbers up because you have to expand the image but I personally think the what we gain in engagement we lose in reputations for great design.

So I’ve created this guide that you can just pop over your images to see exactly what the safe space at each edge needs to be (its a png so its see through, if you download and lay it over your image you can see the guides and your image beneath)

But I don’t want to give you the idea that as an industry we’re uniquely bad at this. Oh no.
And even those who should really, really, really know better get it wrong.

So I want you to join with me in a new book marketing and publicity pledge, to commit together to all getting the basics right

And so I’ll finish save one final indulgence, one last shot at the creative big time. Because I said this wasn’t going to be about big ideas but I couldn’t quite help myself. I started thinking about how beautiful the covers we create are, how they are as exquisite works of design as anything that goes down the runways at London Fashion Week and, well, I had this idea for the ultimate visual collaboration that Samar Habib at S&S kindly put together for me. The book cover as high fashion visor. It would make the most incredible collaboration and clearly it’s never going to happen. But think about what you could do with cover themed photoshoots on Instagram and maybe it isn’t quite so crazy…

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