It’s Who You Look Like, Not Who You Are

A couple of recent posts made me think about the perception of professionalism.

I once worked for a auto recovery service and the owner was usually in the office (well, the trailer that served as an office for the yard) by seven in the morning.

However, he never answered his phone before the “official” opening time of nine, instead he would let the answering machine field calls. When I asked about that he said, “If you keep banker’s hours, people will think you’re a bank.”

It was a subtle thing, but the principle stuck in my mind. He did a lot of things like that–he bought expensive stationary and used a laser printer back when laser printers were huge monsters. Unless someone tracked down the yard and saw the trailer (and his correspondence all used a P O Box in an upscale zip code [and just said #100 instead of box number 100, which made it look like a suite number]) the impression was that he was a major financial institution.

I have been thinking of applying those principles to indie book sales. There has been a lot of talk about quality, and obviously that’s important. But I think that there are other markers that say “amateur” or “professional” to potential readers. Things that may have no bearing on the actual book, but can influence readers without our being aware of it.

I have two examples, and then I’d like to ask other readers and authors their impression.

First, Create Space templates. They aren’t bad in and of themselves, but certain ones are, in my opinion, really overused. There’s one–I can’t come up with the name of it, offhand–that uses a photo bled to the edges, a black title box with white sans serif text, and a translucent bar for the author’s name. It’s a fine design, but there are so many using that design out there that they all look the same after a while.

Second, formats. I have an irrational distrust of books that are published only as an e-book. I say irrational because I wouldn’t usually buy the paperback anyway. The fact that a paperback isn’t available, though, gives me the same feeling as knowing that a film is “Direct To Video”.

I’ve given away more trade paperbacks than I have sold, honestly. As a revenue stream they have been a complete non-starter for me. But I believe that the fact that my Amazon page shows my books in multiple formats (e-book, paperback, and audiobook) makes the books appear more like “real books”.

So, thoughts?

About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle.
This entry was posted in Artists That I Admire, On Promotion, On Publishing, On Writing, Who I am and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to It’s Who You Look Like, Not Who You Are

  1. Rachel says:

    Considering that I have not published or self-published anything yet, I can’t really speak as an “author.” However, as a “reader” I have to say I agree with you.

    When l see a book that is only in ebook format it makes me question a lot of things. I wonder why the author didn’t make the book under multiple formats. Wouldn’t they want more formats to sell more? I understand it costs a lot of money, though. I don’t know what it is, but l don’t really “trust” it either as you said.

  2. Dave Higgins says:

    Another thing that can repay the time investment is learning the basics of typesetting and ebook compilation. Despite many big publishers not actually making their ebooks any better than the versions autoconverting a basic Word DOC produces, readers assume a product with tight formatting, good menus, &c. is a proper product.

    As well as the risk of templates looking unprofessional to some readers, templates often group by genres and a powerful template can overwhelm the differences in smaller images. So a busy reader might skim over your cover on a site because they think it is a book they have already read.

    Another benefit of having paperback/hardback as well as ebook is that many people unconsciously treat a price difference and a discount as the same thing: so, as most print books will support a higher price, the layout of most retailers will make the ebook seem to be on sale. Amazon even list the saving between formats as if it were a discounted version of the same product.

  3. For the most part, I agree with you, though I do offer one reason why something may be e-book only: length. There’s nothing that says I can’t make Blogs from the Basement available as a trade paperback. I even have a version of it formatted specifically for that purpose. I just can’t justify to myself selling it for the minimum price of $6, while 99 cents seems okay for something you can read in an hour or two. But my thinking is often flawed, so…

  4. I’m in full agreement with you on this. Cover art is SO important, and every time I see one of those transparent bar covers, I cringe and automatically move past it. The book inside may be amazing, but the generic cover art makes me question the originality of the content inside. You CAN judge a book by its cover, etc. etc.

    As for ebook and print versions, I’d never thought about it like that, but you’re right — ebook only availability does suggest a certain DTR feel, doesn’t it? I do feel more inclined to purchase a book when I see there are multiple formats available — it makes me feel like I have a choice, which is always nice for a customer to have.

    I’d also say — and this is just for print versions — that it’s incredibly important to make sure your interior formatting is decent. Having just gone through the paperback formatting process myself, it’s really not that hard, so nowadays when I pick up a self-pubbed print book and see things like weird spacing or page numbers on pages they shouldn’t exist, or header text on chapter title pages, etc., I get hit with that feeling of “this isn’t a professional book, someone didn’t take the time to make this properly”. And the cause of these minor formatting problems is inevitably that the author making the file simply didn’t know the conventions … but it still makes me wince.

    Well, this was fun! Thank you for my evening thought exercise. I will now sleep.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Formatting can be a pain, but you’re right, small errors aren’t really small when it comes to how a book looks to potential readers.

      • The upside of print books is the reader can’t really get a good look inside the book until they’ve bought it off Amazon and it’s been delivered to their house — and by that point it’s too late! Ahahaha. So if they think the interior looks a bit amateurish, well, tough toenails for them.

      • MishaBurnett says:

        Granted, but it certainly cuts into your repeat business.

  5. Katie Robles says:

    I like the idea of looking professional no matter the size of you operation. I hadn’t thought about the impression of an e-book only offer, but I have to agree with the other readers….e-book only makes me wonder if the book wasn’t “good enough” for print….which is illogical, but there you go.

  6. LindaGHill says:

    I too wonder about a book that does not have an option to buy a print copy. It screams half-assed effort to me. You’ve brought up some good points in this.

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