Small Ads Can be Beautiful and Work, too!

Let’s talk about producing an ad design for your book. You’ve already assembled your media information, and narrowed down the potential venues to the ones you believe will give you the best targeted exposure for your money. On one side, you’ve got a list of the venues, sizes and color considerations that fit your budget. On the other, you’ve listed your “If only…” publications and online venues. These are usually places you’d like to see your ad based upon such careful research as “Wouldn’t my ad look great there! I’d be so proud!” They are usually the kind of venues that would somehow give credibility to your book, just for the association with the venue.


First thing, pick up the “If only…” list, crumple it up, and throw it into the nearest circular file. Advertising venues don’t exist to grace your book by hosting your advertising. They exist to obtain your money in exchange for space. All the credibility you need, assuming you haven’t rushed the book to market without adequate editing and developmental re-writing, is in the fact that your book is complete and ready for sale. You’ve already achieved much more than most writers in just sticking to your guns and believing in your story.

Cost-Effective is the Key to Effective Design…

Now that we’re back to the work-table, and the “what-ifs” are buried properly, we’re going to prepare some cost-effective advertising to test the waters for your book. You’ll be testing each of the affordable venues to see if you can detect an edge for one over another. The results you are looking for are track-able inquiries for your book. It might show up as online click-throughs, impressions, or some other media-generated term that implies your ad was read. Each medium will have its own language and explanation for the fees you will be paying, so pay attention, and make sure you are set up to record and watch the results.


Let me make the point here, that IMHO, any reasonably skilled idiot can produce a beautiful, effective full-page ad.  It’s much, much harder to create an effective ad in 1/8 page or smaller, so assume the challenge. "Man" (or woman) up, here! You’ll be proud of what you can do in almost no space at all, if it is handled right.

Vector art, not "Paint Program" art…

Then, if you haven’t already done so, acquire a vector-based graphics and layout program. I was never able to justify the huge added cost of the Adobe, Quark and other “professional” caliber software. My design business was able to produce excellent results using CorelDraw and a few shareware add-ons. Since I didn’t have to a share files very often with other designers, it wasn’t worth paying twice the price for a program that really only did the same basic job. Same thing goes for the argument to buy a Mac rather than use your PC. I’ve been using a PC to do four-color separations and high-end, high resolution graphics since I threw out my color markers, around 1988. So do the best you can afford – don’t overextend yourself. It’s not as much the software as the brain behind it anyway.


Why Vector and not a “paint” program alone? Because you can achieve more with a vector program and have cleaner results. There are vector images, and there are bitmapped images. Vector images are mathematically-expressed descriptions of the outline of an object, which is then “filled” with coloor, or what have you. A bit mapped image , like a jpeg, is a collection of thousands (even Millions!) of tiny square, pieces of the whole.

Bitmap issues…

Bitmaps are resolved to be clear and fine in one resolution setting, one size. Vector images can be manipulated in size and shape with no diminishing of their final resolution or appearance. In the old, photo-mechanical graphics trade, we used to talk about generations of degradation in images, even type headlines. Each change in size, etc. used to cost about 10% of the clarity of the image. The more changes, the worse each image got. That holds true with bitmaps. It’s best to only have to re-scale and adjust a bitmap once, if at all possible, for the best results.

Vector benefits…

But with a vector image, it doesn’t matter how many times you tweak it, it will be perfect when you are ready for output. If, for example, your headline type is bitmapped type, then if you need to make it a bit taller and a bit narrower, the results will probably be less crisp than the original. If a headline needs to be tweaked with vector type, such as True Type fonts, then after the font is happily residing in your outline of a box as a headline, it can be tweaked as much as you want, height, width, letter spacing, etc., etc., with no ill effects in resolution at the output stage. I like Vector artwork for the same reason. Look exactly like a hand-rendered illustration with all the benefits explained above. You’ll still import any bitmapped photographic images into the vector program where you can now add type overprints and reverses with no ill-effects!  Anyway, onward…

First, the Headline…

I start every ad with a group of possible headlines. These are the calling cards for the concepts they represent. The idea, of course, is to motivate the reader to an action. The action, in print, may be to complete an inquiry form, or take a coupon to a book seller, or just copy down an online url for a later visit. The latter, in a print ad, is very difficult to track, beyond hoping for increased sales. Print advertising is generally more expensive, and generally needs more space to achieve trackable results, as you will need to allow for a form or a coupon, or you can utilize the numbered response service offered by some publications – at a higher price. I recommend, that for the most cost-effective use of your budget, you should do most of your initial testing online.


Online advertising venues include social sites, discussion forums, special interest sites (including merchandise that may relate to your reader’s interest) and of course blog sites. You’ve already got a few of these in your list of possibles, so lets, just for clarity’s sake say three have similar space size, resolution and color requirements. You’re, of course, going to use full color in your ad, unless you have a very compelling reason not to do so. Your book’s content will determine the best way to market it, and you may have a specific idea of an ad layout featuring black and white, with just a touch of color in exactly the right spot to grab the eye and get your meaning across – say a single drop of red blood, poised to drip off the end of your book’s title.


A hard-hitting ad is one that forces the reader to read it. It can’t be ignored and will stand out from other ads on the page upon which it’s presented. You need to test this phenomena by scooting your computer chair away from the screen for a moment, a bit further than arm’s length and while looking at a typical “page” on the venue you’re considering, see which ad or ads immediately grab your eye, even (especially!) if you can;t read them. These ads have an arresting design going for them, and after you’ve tested this a few times in different venues, you’ll get a good idea of what you’;re trying to achieve graphically.


The headline can’t be too long. Preferably, it will be two to four words, which will tell the reader to do something. A short, directive subheading is also a good idea, but it shouldn’t have to “explain” the headline. The headline should also, of course, be VERY legible. At arm’s length (my arm is pretty long — even better), whether in print or online, it should still jump off the page. In a small ad, with little room to sell, the headline should dominate the layout.

Legible! Legible! Legible!

Don’t use fancy type here unless you can test its legibility.  There are both serif (type with feet) and sans serif (no feet) type fonts that have lots of punch without losing any legibili8ty.  Choose one that "fits" with your book’s content, as to formal vs informal, business vs how to,  modern fiction vs literary. Look at book covers that work with ther content and see what type fonts are chosen. Find one you like, but also one that works well.


  If the type face is too busy, it will detract from the effectiveness of the message, while the reader has to figure it out. One exception might be using type that is so associated with your book’s content, the nature of the type face chosen accents the message. For example, you’ve written a thriller about a kidnapping. There are display typefaces that resemble the cliched “Ransom Note” made up of cut-out letters from magazines, etc. If you keep the headline short, the overall “design” is something the reader is probably already familiar with, so they don’t have to figure it out, only read it.


Another example, you’ve written the latest post-post-modern coming of age story set within in a dysfunctional family (maybe they are also vampires, but that’s another subject…). You might want to capture some of the essence of the story by using a “fractured-look” typeface, but again, it must be legible, legible, legible. The headline is the hook.

Color? Of course!

You may want to incorporate a full color background, a section of your book’s cover (for recognition’s sake) or say a related object. Keep it simple, and keep the type legible. Whether the type is reversed or “knocked out” of a color background to show in white or a highly contrasting color, or whether it stands alone in color itself, be sure it still jumps off the page. If using a section of your cover photograph, or illustration, be sure it is a section that when cropped down to a small sizer, is still recognizable, or that relates to the book’s content.


If your book isn’t fiction, but an instructive book, or a specific subject non-fiction, concentrate on a detail that your reader would respond to, and make that your “hook” graphic. This is the one, dominant graphic element that holds the reader’s eye, once the headline has done its job. Of course, if your book’s cover artwork has little to do with the content, beyond carrying the title and other information, then I wouldn’t recommend using it in this manner. I’d build my ad using type only or type plus color plus object. The hold-em graphic should always relate strongly to the content, and if your headline is a question – which is a great idea, as long as the answer can’t be “no” – then it should embellish or further associate the reader to the answer. The answer being, of course, within your book. I’ll give you an example in my own book ad.

An example of a small online ad:


 The ad runs regularly here and on a few blog and discussion sites. It is pretty small, as you can see. What I wanted to do was create recognition, and motivate the reader to click through. I use the title of the book to set up a question: “What red gate?” “Where?” Why is this important to me”, then use the subhead to direct the reader to act: Uncover the secret.


The small "triskelle" graphic below the subhead is instantly recognizable to readers with an interest in Celtic or Irish traditions, which "places" my bokk’s subject with little clutter. The overall photo section from the cover of the book sets up a mysterious, disturbing emotion, plkus it creates bookstore and online regcognition.


The really great thing about online ads is that all the reader has to do is click! You don’t have to add space for contact information, or anything else at all – that will reside on the link that comes up, of course! My ad links directly to Amazon, where they can sample the book, see it’s full cover, read reviews, and click once to buy! I leave a lot of the selling to Amazon. All my ad has to do is get them to click on it to get some questions answered.


One of the things that can be very useful in online advertising as in print campaigns, is to vary the copy. Changing the subheading can actually, with enough time and a good sequence, set up the reader to “look forward” to seeing the next one in the series. It also allows you to fine-tune your ads until they work the best they can, in the given venue.


I’ve also used a display typeface that is legible, but that also conveys the concept of antiquity. This alone adds more information. To the reader: uncover “ancient” secrets. In other words, "want to uncover these secrets? click the ad!"


You’ll notice that in my ad, I don’t even put my name in. My name doesn’t mean anything to the reader…yet. It isn’t important enough as a motivator to take up space. Maybe in a few years’ time it will be, but I’m not fooling myself – right now, it’s a zero when it comes to setting up a reader to click on my ad. It does exist on the cover of the book, of course, and when they click through, they’ll have access to as much information as they need to make the decision to buy.

Print considerations….

In print advertising, the creative work is more difficult because you need to push much harder setting up the reader’s motivation to action. In print, the action requires more from the reader than it does online. You’re, at the very least, asking them to remember your ad. Remember? In this A.D.D. World? If you need to actually do more than set up recognition for eventual book store or online action, then you will need to incorporate a device such as a coupon, contact information, a “reader service number” etc.


However, in magazine print, you have a lot more detail possible, as the resolution is usually pretty high. Newsprint can be hard for bitmapped photographic images in small sizes as the resoluition is very low.  You need to choose your eloements based upon the printed resolution. 


Keep it simple, Don’t ask too much of the reader of your ad. Make it easy for them to respond. Make everything as legible as it can be, and be sure to allow all the room they will need to respond properly, if it’s a cut-out form. More important, because you’re asking more from them, you have to make it worth their while. Offer them a discount, then be sure to make it enough that the savings are actually a factor, and not just “lipservice” Offer Free Shipping. Offer a Free Read. Free: the most effective word used in headlines in print when it comes to response.

Layout Issues….

Finally, set up the components of the ad in a motivating design. We’ve discussed some of the frameworks to creating an effective cover design, so use these in your ad as well. Reinforce the circular form of the reader’s eye movement to holed them in the ad. Have the various components “feed” the readers eye and lead into the next component. The idea is to hold them as long as possible. Give the individual components breathing room. Don’t crowd them against each other, for example, unless confusion and confrontation is the feeling you’re trying to achieve. If they stick with your ad long enough to actually process some thoughts about what you’re pitching, you’ve won the battle – the chances are you’ve bagged ’em.

Wrap it up with alternatives….

Finally, once you have a working layout, try making up a few alternates, using different colors, different type faces, different key graphics, so that you can place these upon examples of the pages they’d be inserted in (I always thought it was funny that that was the verb used to describe your ad being added to a page pf media, but then my humor can be pretty sophomoric…) so you can test how they come across in the actual environment where they will appear to the reader. Almost every ad layout looks great on a page of white space. What else can your eye be drawn to? Try it with other ads above and below, and in print, side to side, where unless it’s really good, it will be buried. If it works like this, and try it with a few people if you can, then it will do it’s job and you’ll get the best bang for your bucks.


Next week: Output — mechanical requirements, resolutions, file formats, and other jargon-riddled detail. This is what you send to the ad venue.