Interview by Danuta Kean
Auriol Bishop Can you sell a book by its cover? Yes, is the resolute reply from Auriol Bishop. She should know: as head of creative at Hodder & Stoughton, she oversees the design of a book from cover to type, as well as its marketing campaign.
Bishop has worked in marketing since earning her English and Philosophy degree. After rising through the ranks at Penguin, she moved to Momentum Pictures before returning to publishing as head of marketing at Hodder. Her current role involves both marketing and design. ‘It makes sense to have the two departments together because they are both about the vision for a book,’ she explains. When reading a new acquisition Bishop looks for a ‘book hook,’ something that can be shouted from cover to campaign in order to entice buyers. Then, intensive market research plays a vital role: Bishop’s team stay up-to-date with whatever’s going on in the wider media – not just in books, but in magazines, newspapers and online outlets. Readers, she explains, need to feel comfortable about being seen with a book: ‘A cover is a signal to everyone around you as to what you like and enjoy.’ If you doubt that a cover is as much a style statement as a handbag or shoes, think about how you feel about being seen reading a book draped in pastel (chick lit), adorned with a near-naked fighting Amazon (fantasy) or underwear (erotica). Get the cover wrong, and a publisher risks alienating the very audience who would read – and love – the book
Hodder also does research into readers’ lifestyles. ‘We ask how they think and shop,’ says Bishop. ‘We also draw on the expertise of our own retailers and our experience in the past of what has worked and what has not.’
Assessing what has worked in her time at Hodder, the campaign and jacket of One Day by David Nicholls spring to mind: ‘We created a really brave cover. When we first toured it, it divided people, but now when you see it, it really works.’ The cover has a wow factor that she believes makes it work on every retail level, whether as a thumbnail on Amazon or as a full package on the Waterstone’s shelf. ‘You can see
it right across the store, or on the other end of a carriage on a train if someone is reading it,’ Bishop says. She admits to being ‘a mad stalker’ on trains, desperately trying to see what her fellow passengers are reading. ‘I get a real tingle-factor if I see someone reading something we have published.’
The campaign for One Day stands out because it was coordinated across media to build word-of-mouth. ‘The campaign used digital media in new and exciting ways,’ she recalls. ‘We created a series of short films that we then seeded across the internet. It genuinely built excitement.’
In the 21st Century, limiting book campaigns to cover, press and a few posters is not an option; digital media is key. ‘It’s about keeping up with how people are shopping, how they are reading and what they want.’ Still, the impact of instore promotions like three-for-twos should not be underestimated. ‘That is why the cover is so important,’ says Bishop. ‘A lot of books don’t have an advertising campaign, but they have their position in-store and therefore you are relying on the cover to make sure people pick it up before anything else on the table top display.’
This is sensitive territory for authors. Often they feel like the last person in the food chain when it comes to approving a jacket treatment. But Bishop insists that retailer support is essential. ‘If you have a cover that the retailers don’t like, it is pointless standing by it because they are not going to stock the book.’ In this case, the retailer is the top priority.
And campaigns are not just about great jackets. They are about creating wordof-mouth buzz even when there are no reviews to get things going. Recently, Hodder placed a bellyband on David Benioff ’s City of Thieves proclaiming that, if readers didn’t love the book, they would give them two other books free. It sounds extreme, but the offer-you-can’t-refuse worked: Thieves made the bestseller lists, excellent news for an unknown writer without review coverage – and excellent news for the triumphant Bishop. ‘Why else,’ she asks, ‘would you pick up that book if you hadn’t been recommended it by a friend or read a review?’
The three musts:
1. Engage with the potential audience: a book cover should convey the emotional experience of reading that book, in the same way a film poster would.
2. Use broad brush stokes: if you are self-publishing, distance yourself from the book and imagine the one thing you want to convey to potential readers: is it a light-hearted, upmarket read or something darker?
3. Stand out. Imagine your book with 20 others on a not-very-welllit display or on a shelf at the back of a shop. How will it still call out to your reader?
BISHOP: head of creative