Image: Matthew Loffhagen
In this, our twenty-first century world, book marketing is rather futuristic. It’s no longer enough, the marketing gurus tell us, to have written a book and to tell people about said book; you need to have a multifaceted marketing campaign set up and ready to go if you want anyone to actually read the thing you spent so long writing.
One of the more unusual marketing innovations of recent years is the 3D book mockup. Mockups are used across industries from engineering to architecture to test designs and acquire feedback from corporate boards, users, and consumers. In the world of indie publishing, however, mockups are purely marketing tools: they’re used to advertise, not to test or gather feedback.
You’ll have doubtlessly seen a 3D book mockup before, even if you haven’t realized it. You know how, when you go on an author website, blog, or bookshop webpage, you’ll sometimes see a swanky photo of a grinning stock-photo person smiling unnaturally while nose-deep in the advertised book? Well, spoiler alert, that ain’t the real book: that’s the book’s cover projected onto a 3D model of a book which has in turn been Photoshopped onto a suitable background. Magic.
Of course, 3D mockups don’t have to involve glossy humans. In their simplest form, they’re a way to obtain a professional image of your book before it actually exists, giving you the ideal images for online marketing. Many companies who create covers for indie authors will offer 3D mockups to go with them (although usually only with their highest spending tier).
So, are you missing out by not having a 3D book mockup? Should you be throwing your hard-earned money at the designers who’ll provide them? Well, dear reader, it all depends…
Can I create a 3D book mockup for myself?
This is a good question to ask yourself whenever you’re considering paying for a service, and 3D book mockups are no exception. The internet being what it is, there are hundreds of stock 3D models available for free online, but the catch is they typically come as Adobe Photoshop PSD files – which means that a) you have to have a copy of/subscription to Adobe Photoshop, which is rather expensive, and b) you have to know how Photoshop works, or at least be willing to learn.
These PSD templates typically use layered ‘smart objects’ that allow you to drag in and adjust your own book cover over the stock image, but Photoshop isn’t exactly known for being user-friendly, so, if you’re a bit of a luddite, you’ll likely run into trouble fairly quickly. If, however, you’re one of these hot young things born with Wacom tablet in hand, you’ll likely find it a breeze; if that’s you, put your wallet away, my friend – you’ve got this.
Some paid options may also offer PSD files, but they tend to be a little more sophisticated and sellers will likely hold your hand through the process to make sure you’re actually able to use the service you paid for. That said, if you’re not comfortable having any part in creating your 3D mockup, other services will just send a basic, fixed image of your 3D book, which may be all you need.
Beyond this, there’s also the question of quality and taste. Free mockup templates are likely to be more limited in terms of variety and will probably be on the less glamorous/professional end of things, meaning they may not suit your personal vision. If you’re a Photoshop wiz, this likely won’t faze you – you can probably make your own mockup from the ground up. But if you’re only good enough to drag and realign smart layers and objects, you may find the limited selection of free mockups a good enough reason to put money down.
Do I need a 3D book mockup?
The short answer is: probably not. 3D book mockups are nice, sure, but at the end of the day they’re not going to make your writing any better and they’re not going to do too much that a straightforward picture of your book cover won’t. Moreover, 3D mockups won’t be to everyone’s taste – free options can often look rather, well, janky in terms of texture quality and shading, and even professionally produced mockups tend to conjure images of glossy salesmen and corporate focus groups rather than charming, dusty bookshop or romantic writer figures (which could be a good or bad thing depending on your book’s audience and your own tastes).
That said, 3D book mockups can carry a certain psychological weight, especially if your mockup includes a rapt reader enjoying said mockup. They help ebooks seem like actual physical objects and can prompt potential readers to unconsciously think of your books as an actual thing rather than just data in the ether.
3D mockups can be especially useful for snagging social media interest, and especially that of Bookstagram influencers (Bookstagram being Instagram’s community of bookish people, who typically post pictures of artfully arranged books accompanied by quotes or brief reviews), who are likely to be tempted by pretty and carefully composed 3D mockups that fit Bookstagram’s rather twee aesthetic (think knitted goods, reclaimed wood, pastel colors, and mugs with slogans written in italics).
If you’re confused as to why you’d want to snag the attention of a bunch of strangers on Instagram, know that Bookstagram influencers can command a staggering amount of attention; Bookstagram influencer @frombeewithlove has over 50,000 dedicated followers, while @theslowtraveler has over 225,000! If your 3D mockup leads one of these influential personalities to pick up, photograph, and post about your book, that’s a whole load of high-value targeted marketing handed to you for free – an author’s (and publisher’s) dream.
To mock or not to mock?
Ultimately, whether you choose to go for a 3D book mockup will likely depend on the state of your other marketing infrastructure. If you’ve already done everything else, forking out a little extra for a 3D mockup isn’t a bad idea (watch out for the considerably more expensive monthly subscription services offered by several companies, however). It’ll be the icing on the cake of a fleshed-out marketing campaign and is likely to mildly impress the potential readers you’ve already gathered through your author website, blog content, social media feeds, and email newsletters. That said, if you’re expecting a mockup to work wonders by itself, you’ll likely be disappointed; get everything else in place first and worry about mockups as a final touch.
The professional sheen granted by 3D book mockups means that they’ll suit certain genres of book more than others. Your business nonfiction will look great in a 3D mockup and will attract the right readership, but your debut poetry collection may appear rather bizarre when Photoshopped into a glossy stock image.
At the end of the day, 3D book mockups are best viewed as part of a larger process. On their own, they’re not transformative, but they do serve a purpose that could make them valuable in your particular case. A final thing to keep in mind is that the availability of 3D book mockups is still relatively new to the indie scene. It’s possible that in a few years, they’ll move from being an optional extra to an expected part of your online marketing, so if you’re curious about developing the skills to create your own, now may be the time to learn.
Have you been influenced in your purchasing/reading habits by 3D book mockups? Have you had any luck using them to market your own books? Let me know in the comments, and check out Why Images Should Be Part Of Your Book Marketing Strategy and How To Make Instagram Work For You As An Author for more on this topic.