Great framing can change the way we see a piece of art. Great framing can do the same for you and your ideas. If your book’s first edition is from a major publisher, has a handsome cover and comes with blurbs from a full pantheon of quality endorsers, your reader will be nicely teed up to seriously consider the merits of your ideas. In contrast, if you self-publish in a paperback edition, have your art major child design the cover and send an email blast out urging all your friends to buy the book in the hope it will go to #1 on Amazon for ten minutes on Thursday, you may experience a bit more difficulty getting the respect your ideas might deserve.
The title of your book is also part of the framing. Either the title or the subtitle of the book must tell the prospective book buyer what the value offering is for the book. The right title and subtitle will in effect say, “Yes, I’m talking to you!” A typical non-fiction book buyer will take a look at that value offering, and if it’s appealing, open the book and fan through it to see the scope of the book. The chapter titles that appear along the top of the book as it’s being fanned are the next frame. They are saying: These are the topics that the author says are necessary to understand my ideas. The style of the chapter headings — are they funny, do they hang together as a family of ideas — will frame the experience of learning for the reader.
The next framing is the back cover of the book, and the text on the inside flap of the dust jacket. I like to think about the back cover and the flap copy as the beginning of a conversation between author and reader. Here’s where the author (or the publisher) can speak as if they were standing next to the prospective book buyer right there in the aisles of the book store. The flap says, “You are holding in your hands the solution to one of mankind’s great problems.” As a marketer, I often look for the opportunity to direct the reader right into the text of the book. “Want to save $500 on your auto insurance right now? Turn to page 227.”
The next place the prospective buyer heads is to the back flap, where she will look for the author’s short bio. She’s looking for two things: do I already know this author, and if not, what is the author’s credibility.
If we’ve done everything right so far, there will be a short pause here. This is the moment when we’ve made our sale and our prospective reader snaps the book shut, having decided she can’t live without it. She takes us to the checkout counter, buys us, and takes us home.
The next time we’ll see each other may be a few hours later on a plane, or some evening near a cozy fire. But we can’t relax, yet. Our framing work is not yet complete. When our reader opens the book there is still an overwhelming possibility that she’ll read a little bit and put us down, maybe to never return. Yes, it’s horrifying, and yet this terrible scenario plays out thousands of times a day all over the world. A good book bought but never read. What could we have done to lose our reader so fast?
The danger is in not realizing that the frame is over. The curtain is up. We’ve run out of carved wood, filials, fancy mattes and museum lighting. Maybe we haven’t done everything possible to get our reader into the book as quickly as possible. That long acknowledgement to the dozens of folks who helped us write our masterpiece, those caring mates who fed us while we groused over a parenthetical digression, should all be thanked in due time. But not now! Put it in the back. Is there an Introduction, a Preface, or a Foreword (and no, it’s not a “Forward!”)? If so, they must service the reader’s needs, not our own. Don’t waste time on “How to Use This Book,” or why I came to this knowledge. Tell enough about yourself to make certain your reader knows where you’re coming from, and then get out of the way. You have precious seconds to involve your reader. Do it with humor, do it with emotion, do it by showing you understand what powerful need the reader has that you’re going to solve. And then get right to value.
The sad truth is that the framer’s art, like the embalmer’s, no matter how brilliantly practiced, can only set the viewer’s expectations. The job of bringing your ideas to life will be yours.