Should Your Book Fit In or Stand OUT?

July 25, 2019Categories: Publishing, Writing

The title of today’s post raises some important questions.

When it comes to your book and its content, packaging and presentation, which approach is best?

Do you want your book to fit in?

To look and feel like other books out there in the marketplaces?

Or do you want your book to STAND OUT?

To jump off the shelf and grab attention?

Think about it for a moment.

Got your answer? Ready for mine? Are you sure?

OK, well here it is:

It depends.

Yep. That’s what I’ve got for you.

I know, I know.

That answer is about as profoundly satisfying as an adult diaper.

(Actually, my Depend’s joke sort of got soiled. And yes, thank you, I did just single-handedly elevate that groaner to the exalted status of “joke”. You see, I visited the Depend’s homepage, and the headline reads: “Depend FIT-FLEX® Underwear feels tailored to me.” And well, frankly, that does sound pretty satisfying. “Depend”-ing on your needs, perhaps I can help you find your perfectly tailored fit as well…).

Satisfying or not, it’s true.

Like most things in publishing, in business, and life (and apparently, in the realm of incontinence products as well): one size does not fit all.

(OK, that’s the last time I’ll go there. Promise. Keep reading?)

It really depends is predicated on a variety of factors. Including:

Your Goal.
Your Genre.
Your Strategy.
Your Competition.

And, here’s the Big One:

Your Readers.

Yeah, that is a biggie, alright.

What do your readers want?

What do they expect?

What will thrill them?

For example, let’s say you're writing a business book. And let’s say your goal is to use the book to attract speaking and consulting engagements in corporate environments. In that case,“fitting in” might fit. If your strategy involves building your credibility and expertise as an expert, consultant, and keynote speaker, then packaging and presenting your book like a serious business book appropriate to the genre makes sense.

At, we frequently hear from authors who express a desire for their book to “fit in” with mainstream books in terms of packaging and appearance. We—including our talented design team—are happy to oblige. (And yes, the quality of the paper, printing, etc. on our Print On Demand books will certainly compete with most mainstream books).

Hot Tip: When working with a publishing partner or designer, don’t make the mistake of assuming they will automatically know your intention. Not all books, clients, and strategies are the same. Share your vision and specific intentions with everyone you may involve in your book project.

We are currently working on a book with a conspiratorial twinge. The author has passages throughout the book that are redacted (with crossed-out text). She wishes to arouse reader curiosity, evoke intrigue, and enhance the secretive and privileged feel of the text. This author clearly intends for her book to “stand out” in a highly unique way.

The trick with standing out is to avoid appearing gimmicky.

I just Googled the word “gimmick,” and the font-of-wisdom-that-is-Wikipedia served up the following:

A gimmick is a novel device or idea designed primarily to attract attention or increase appeal, often with little intrinsic value. When applied to retail marketing, it is a unique or quirky feature designed to make a product or service "stand out" from its competitors.

(By the way, did you notice how “stand out” stands out in quotes in the very definition? Funny, eh? Notice also how it says it’s a “novel device”? Wait, you mean it can only be used for fiction? I kid, I kid.)

Does the very definition imply that all attempts to “stand out” with a “unique or quirky feature” are simply gimmicks?

I don’t believe so. I’ll explain.

My first creative writing teacher in college (Timothy Westmoreland—you can listen to a short NPR interview with him here) warned the class to avoid gimmicks.

He suggested that any unusual embellishments should be story-driven (for non-fiction writers, we can perhaps extrapolate that as project-driven). They should arise naturally, out of the story (project), and not be imposed “on top” or shoehorned in.

If the creative “trick” or quirky flourish is leading the project, it’s probably a gimmick.

If you still aren't clear on what distinguishes a gimmick, check out this article for some really good (meaning really bad) examples from the fiction world.

How can we apply this to non-fiction?

If you come up with a unique idea for the presentation of your book before you’ve identified the project or content, that might be an indication that you’re relying on a gimmick. You’ve likely put form before content. And style before substance.

Still confused? Fear not.

In the end, it’s a judgment call.

You can always test-market your idea with friends, family, colleagues, or your writers’ group. Be sure to ask for honest feedback. Careful of the bias other may have to tell you exactly what you want—or exactly the opposite of what you want—to hear. Can this person realistically set his or her predispositions aside, and evaluate your idea on its merits? If so, green light go.

“Answers! I Want Answers, Darn it!”

As I suggested earlier, there are few “one-size-fits-all” answers. But perhaps we can get a bit more prescriptive. Let’s identify some common ground where we can be reasonably sure to make a safe landing.

Here are areas where nearly every author, regardless of topic, genre, or goal should make an effort to “fit in” with the best of the best, especially within their genre:

  • Accuracy
  • Aesthetics (Beauty)
  • Creativity
  • Development (of thoughts, ideas, story)
  • Editing
  • Heart & Soul
  • Ideas
  • Layout
  • Message
  • Organization
  • Proofreading
  • Storytelling
  • Style

Let’s face it. The self-publishing world is filled with a lot of junk. (Your works, Dear Reader, excluded, of course).

As writers, we can do better.

We owe it to ourselves.

We owe it to our readers.

And our readers have a right to expect it from us.

There’s a paradox here.

By fitting in in the above areas, your book will have an increased opportunity to stand out from the mountains upon mountains of sloppily churned out self-published books.

Once the boxes above are definitively checked, you’ll likely have a solid work of supreme value. And in today’s world, a book like that is remarkable.

According to thought-leader Seth Godin, author of Purple Cow (and many other disrupting business books):

Something remarkable is [by definition] worth talking about.

Give your readers a book that both “fits in” and “stands out” in all the right ways, and you’ll give them a book worth talking about.

Delighted readers will then share their delight with other readers, and your book will have a chance to rise to the top, leading to increased positive reviews and royalties.

Ryan Levesque served as the President of from the company’s inception in 2010 through 2019. Ryan now serves as a Publishing Concierge, working directly with authors and publishers to provide customized services (book marketing, one-to-one “hand holding”, video trailers, and more) which go beyond the core offerings of Oh, and he occasionally blogs for us, too.

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