Since starting work on the Open Source Writing project, I’ve become hyper attentive to many little things that I’d previously overlooked. For example, I’ve started to notice the typefaces in books, magazines and advertisements and think, “I wonder what that is” and even contrive thoughts on how things might have been done better.
I’ve also started to visit my local bookstore much more frequently. I go to browse the art and design books and the magazines. I want to see what other authors are doing (particularly those of art, design and computer books). I enjoy looking at their layouts and comparing them to the style I’ve chose to use. I look at the prose and illustrations and think about components that I might make use of. While in the store, I’ve also become interested in how people interact with the books on display.
If you’ve never people-watched in a bookstore, I highly recommend it. It’s very revealing and you’ll immediately notice several different groups. Some of the buyers like to pull multiple titles from the shelves and then go to the coffee shop to review them; others will wander the aisles until they find a title that catches their eye; and still others will compare similar books side by side.
It doesn’t take long to see that book-store shoppers are very different than those who use sites such as Amazon.com. Browsing in a store is a tactile and interactive experience, and for that reason, decisions are made based on sight and touch as much as they are on feedback, reviews and more logical factors.
For this reason, I want to see which books get picked up by shoppers, and, I want to know which ones stay in hand versus those that go back to the shelf. I’d like to understand why a patron chooses one Photoshop or Illustrator book over another and what factors go into making a purchase. Most importantly, though, I want to know if there are a few general principles that I can use to make my own work more attractive and, as a result, more likely to get bought. (I’ve also spoken with the book store management and they’ve been kind enough to share some of the sales statistics with me.)
It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve learned many lessons that I’m trying to put into practice.
There is one lesson, however, that stands above the rest. The art, design and computer books that are successful all share one thing in common: they are visually stunning and incorporate amazing examples. Every last one of them.
In fact, stunning visuals might just be the single deciding factor as shoppers try and determine which book will go home with them. The content, after all is mostly the same. They all cover the same fundamental principles and techniques, and for that reason, must differentiate themselves on appearance.
And in the very best art/computer graphics/design books (such as Thinking with Type, the Adobe Classroom in a Book series, and anything by Edward Tufte), the illustrations aren’t just stunning, they are positively lavish. More than that, though, they are practical, illustrative, useful, and provide enormous value to the text. They make an impact, and for that reason, they sell books.
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