How to Design a Book Ad

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Writing and designing a book ad is intimidating, but it might not be as hard as you think. After all, you write stories, right? You use your imagination to invent characters and situations. You have the ability to revise your story, to eliminate ineffective and useless words and make the rest more effective. You even have the empathy to engage the readers’ emotions to make them feel a certain way, to thrill them with mystery and intrigue, or feel love in romantic situations.

These are the same tools used to write ad copy. You want to engage the reader’s interest, rouse their curiosity about your story, and close the deal with the call to action, whether it’s to click on the link to join your mailing list or visit the online retailer to buy your book.

What’s standing in your way could be the fear that the ad won’t be good enough and that all your effort will be wasted.

All I can say is: relax. If you take your time and try a few tips below, you’ll be on your way to writing effective ad copy. I’ll even recommend a very good book to try if you need more help.

These are general guidelines for writing an ad that can range from one that can go in a convention program or used for a book description on an online retailer.

By the end of the process, you’ll not only have a bunch of words to serve as your ad copy, you’ll have a better idea of your book’s selling points. The best part is that once you’ve written the basic copy for a book, you can re-edit it and trim it further for other uses. One designed for the back of the trade paperback can be modified and used online, or shortened further for a Facebook ad.

Note that I’m not specifying here where the ad is to be used. That’s because it can be used anywhere! It just has to be edited and reshaped to meet each site’s unique requirements. So the copy you write, when it is long, can be used for the back cover of your book. A few sentences lifted out of it can be tweaked for an Amazon ad. A solid paragraph and the headline would be enough for a convention booklet.

Writing an ad is as easy as 1-2-3.

1. Copy

Wait, shouldn’t you write the headline first?

Not if you have no idea what the headline should be about. The headline should lead into the copy. If the copy isn’t written, how will you know what the headline should be about?

So start with the body copy. What you want to do is summarizing the high points of the story, in a way that does not sound like an eight-year-old tell you a story. No “this happened, then this happened, then this happened” stuff. If you need to, you can start that way, but only as a way of making it better.

So start writing without thinking too much about it. If you’re familiar with Stephen King’s On Writing, he calls this part “writing with the door closed.” It’s just you, your subconscious, and your fingers banging out the words. Write as much as you need as long as you need to. Let your prose roam. If you go back to the beginning and tell it again, do so! If there are only phrases, use them, and if they remind you of other phrases that you think has nothing to do with the book, let it go. Ignore the critic. Just get the ideas down on paper.

When you’ve had enough, save what you have and open a new file. Now start again and revise your work. You want to keep your first file in case you need to start over.

As you’re doing this, keep in mind this important goal: Each sentence must encourage the reader to move on to the next sentence.

How can this work? There are a number of techniques. You have to find one that works for your genre and story.

Intrigue: “What did she see in him?” “How did she know so much about him?” “ ‘The map is in the diamond!’ And then he died.” Could your book’s first sentence work here?

Authoritative: If you have a good blurb, or you’re using your authority as a selling point. “Let the woman who sold a million copies of her books show you her secrets of success.”

Direct Challenge: Speak directly to the reader. “If you give me a minute, I’ll tell you why this will be the most talked-about book of the year.”

If you’re still not quite sure how to proceed, check out other books in your genre online. See what authors had to say about their books. Don’t copy their words, but when you find a description that intrigues you, break it down how it did that. Then apply that lesson to your work.

2. Title

Once you have the copy the way you want it, now you can turn to the title.

It’s length will be determined by where the ad will appear, but the principles are the same. Short, punchy, and catchy. Don’t worry about it being incomplete, or not 100% accurate. That might be your desire for perfection warping your judgment.

But as you look over what you write, remember the goal: The title’s job is to get the reader to read the first sentence. If it does that, you’re done! Then look at the first sentence to see if it does its job, and so on.

If you get stuck, there are a number of brainstorming methods you can try.

* Set a timer and write 20 titles down without thinking.

* Toss possibilities back and forth with someone who you know is funny.

* Go for a long walk with a notebook or a digital recorder. Talk out loud your ideas. Your ear might hear a promising phrase that your mind wouldn’t recognize.

* Get silly. Watch a funny movie or TV show. Dance around your house singing “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” in a falsetto. Have a beer or a glass of wine, but just one. Dress up your cats in doll clothes. The idea is to loosen up, not take anything seriously, and let your mind play. Even if it doesn’t work, you’ll feel better.

* Sleep on it. First thing in the morning, bust out the notebook and be prepared to write whatever comes out of your subconscious.

* Go to a public space, an art gallery, or a café or bar with music playing. You might hear or see something that sparks ideas.

* If you’re a member of a writers’ group, whether in meatspace or on Facebook, toss out your ideas and see if someone can come up with something better. It’s an odd truism that it seems easier to solve someone else’s problem than your own.

3. Artwork

Like the tagline, the size of the artwork depends on the size of the ad you’re buying.

In general, using the book’s cover is not a good idea. The artwork, minus the title, author name and tagline, yes, but throwing up a copy of the cover doesn’t look professional.

Again, look to the few consumer magazines that publish book ads for guidance, such as People. Avoid trade-only magazines such as Publisher’s Weekly, unless you’re planning on buying an ad there. You want to reach readers, not authors or publishers.

Look at your cover art. Is there a part of it that can be blown up without causing it to fuzz out? In a romance cover showing a couple in a clinch, for example, it might work to zoom in on the point of contact between them, such as the lips or hands. Eyes are another possibility, especially for thrillers.

Here’s a particularly fine example, from “The Atomic Sea” by Jack Conner. The ad was used at the bottom of a BookBub email.

how to write an ad

Are there illustrations inside the book that you can use? Make sure that you own the reproduction rights to them. If you bought the art from a stock-art website, check the terms of sale. An illustration you paid to reproduce inside the book doesn’t mean it can be used in advertising.

The same with cover art you bought from an artist. While it’s generally assumed that you can use the whole cover for an ad, can you use part of it? Check.