Death by Clickbait for Writers

Clickbait, if you didn’t know, is something designed to get you to click on a webpage link. It can be an image, like the one I used above, or it can be a catchy headline like Bigfoot Found in My Backyard- See Photos!

Actually, it probably wouldn’t be an image like the one I used. It would probably be Kim Kardashian’s butt or Miley Cyrus’ nipple. And now that I’ve said that, you probably have a really good idea of what clickbait is. Because you’ve probably seen those and clicked on them. I did. Most everyone did.

But (no homonym joke intended) what did you find when you got there?

Yeah, you usually found the image, but what else? A bunch of horrible advertising? A gazillion pop-up ads that stopped you from seeing what you went there to see? A one paragraph story obviously plagiarized from the other 20 places that were using the same clickbait?

Did it leave you satisfied? Where you happy you clicked on it?

What about the Headline? Ever clicked on something like Bigfoot Found in My Backyard- See Photos! and found something like this?

Yeah. That’s no fun either.

So where am I going with this?

Book Covers.

Book covers are clickbait. Whether it is to actually get people to click on a link, or to get them to pick up your book and read the back. If your cover is not interesting, or the title is not catchy, people will move right on past it.

The flip side of that is you must deliver on the promise made by your cover.

Trademark and copyright issues aside, you can’t sell a book called Walking on Walls, use an image of Spider-Man on the cover, and then tell the true story of Gandhi’s tailor.

Anyone who buys that book will never buy a book from you again. Not only that, they will be so upset, they will tell everyone they know and they will post about it online and you will get a bad reputation.

But wait, Sam! Isn’t any publicity good publicity?

Um… No.

But Sam! Everyone talked about how horrible 50 Shades of Grey was, but they bought it anyway, and now it’s a movie! Just like Twilight!

Yeah… That’s a different kind of publicity. See, E.L. James and Stephenie Meyer delivered on what was advertised. You got what you thought you would get, even if some people didn’t like it. Those who did, will be back for the next book.

Here is a really interesting article talking about this kind of thing with movie posters. The difference here is that often movies are a “one-off” kind of thing. If there is no “big name” actor or director involved, there is no one the viewer can take note of and say “never again!” So these give great examples of real world clickbait to try to make a buck.

That doesn’t work well with writers. We need to build an audience of people who will watch for our next book and recommend us to their friends. If we alienate them, we’re done.

There has been some arguments discussion about the covers of books in recent times, and it is something anyone designing a cover should take note of. It is an embroiled and heated thing, and you can find a quick summary here at the Guardian. Why do I bring this up? Because in this day and age, it would appear possible for the image on a book cover to ruin a career. I don’t think it likely, but perhaps possible.

As with anything, the more you know, the better you will fare. Be careful with your marketing. Pay attention to what you do, especially what others may perceive as what you did. And be true to your story.

Meanwhile, if you’ve never seen them, you can learn a lot by searching for bad book covers. I don’t want to post any links on this, as I don’t agree with everything that is said on any of them, but you’ll get the gist soon enough.

Also. More clickbait: