“You don’t understand,” the three-time, big-six published author told me. “Books aren’t designed for you, the customer. Today, non-fiction books are business cards–for speaking, consulting, and deals.”
I was meeting this friend for dinner in New York City and had mentioned a trend I had noticed in nearly every book I’d seen in the last year: They never say what they’re about. Almost as a rule, hardcover books (and increasingly e-books) favor laudatory “blurbs” over descriptions–opting for short quotes from important authors, CEOs, celebrities, or media outlets to make their case.
At the time, I was in the middle of designing the back cover of my own book, and being somewhat new to the game, I could not understand the benefits of doing this. Wouldn’t it be better to use that space to describe the contents of the book? Isn’t that what “customers” would want? Why bury the content on the inside?
I was missing a fundamental change that has occurred in the publishing business, particularly for authors. Faced with declining sales and the disappearance of book retailers like Borders, authors have diversified their income streams, and many make substantially more money through new business generated by a book, rather than from it.
Today, authors are in the idea-making business, not the book business. In short, this means that publishing a book is less about sales and much more about creating a brand. The real customers of books are no longer just readers but now include speaking agents, CEOs, investors, and startups.