Let’s get one thing straight up front. Cover design matters.
Too many indie authors get caught in the false assumption that the book cover doesn’t matter as long as the writing is good. I blame the well worn saw about ‘judging books by covers’. But the vast army of unsuccessful indie authors loudly insisting covers shouldn’t matter, aren’t doing the world any favors. The fact is whether you are traditionally published or indie, your product will sit on the shelf along with all the other books. And those shelves are getting more and more full by the day. If you had to choose between the two books below, which would you spend your money on? A or B?
If you choose B, you are not alone. Several thousand people made the same choice. Cover A was the original cover for Noble Man, designed by me when I had no bloody clue what I was doing. It did NOT sell well. Cover B was designed by a professional who understood book cover design and specifically designed the image to match the other military/mystery/thriller books that are selling well. Same book. Different covers. Radically different results.
Initially, I had hoped a cover redesign by a professional artist would result in a 10% increase in sales. Back when I was selling a handful of copies a month, the best seller list didn’t seem possible. Back then, I would have been ecstatic to break a hundred sales in one week.
The result of my new cover?
I went from selling roughly a dozen copies a month to selling over two hundred a day! As of this writing, Noble Man is number 1 in Pulp Best Sellers on Amazon.com. The cover cost $400 bucks and I make on average $100 a day from Noble Man. That means I paid for the cover with four days of sales. The rest is gravy. How’s that for an ROI?
Tell me again why you can’t afford a better cover? You can’t afford NOT to have a professional cover. Your book needs to look just as good if not better than the competition. If it looks like something you threw together in MS Paint, buyers are going to pass it over for something with a more polished presentation.
3 Elements of a great cover
Your cover should fit the genre.
At first glance, this might seem counter-intuitive. Many authors want their book to stand out from the crowd. They mistakenly believe if their book stands out, more people will see it and therefore more people will buy it. As a result of this erroneous thinking, they use a cover that breaks the mold. And then get discouraged when their book doesn’t sell.
You see, the reality is, readers have certain expectations about what books should look like. Readers who enjoy epic Lord of the Rings fantasy literature have been trained by marketing departments to look for certain qualities in a cover. Ditto for romance readers, mystery readers and every other genre under the sun.
Ever wondered why so many movie posters look alike? Ever even noticed how many movie posters look alike? The recent rash of super hero movies are a good example. It’s hard to tell one from the other. Do a quick web search and compare the Avengers movie posters with the X-Men. They look incredibly similar. You’ll find the same thing when it comes to books. Walk through the aisles of a brick and mortar book store. You’ll likely find you can identify the section just by looking at the book covers. For instance, you’ll know if you are standing in the Mystery section or the Romance section, just by glancing at the covers.
All the covers for a given genre fit certain stereotypes.
Before you start thinking this is a perfect excuse to break the mold, remember that marketing departments for the large publishing houses spend millions of dollars on cover designers. These are people who went to school for marketing and graphic arts, they study the trends in design, they know what convinces people to pick a book off the shelf and ultimately buy. Now, you can stick your nose in the air and arrogantly proclaim you know better than all of those marketing professionals working for the Big 5 Publishing houses, but you’re wrong. They do things a certain way because they have decades of experience and they’ve figured out what works.
Bottom line: If a reader can’t look at your book and instantly recognize what genre it fits into, then you need a new cover.
A great cover conveys a sense of story – not a specific scene.
Don’t mistake this for a rehash of tip #1. This can make or break your cover. What do I mean by “a sense of story”? The cover should evoke emotion rather than give story details. A cover is supposed to capture the reader interest, not be an exacting replica of either the main character or a pivotal scene.
Many indie authors make the mistake of trying to accurately depict the lead character or a specific scene from the book. Both of these instincts are a mistake.
When it comes to accurate character description, you’ll never find a stock photo of a model who perfectly fits your character. Neither will your cover artist. As a result, authors harangue the cover artist with nit picky details like the color of the heroine’s eyes, or the hero’s particular shade of hair. In order to please the client, the artist starts painting different hair and eye colors and the result is usually a cheesy cover that looks like a made for TV movie poster.
Take a look at the cover for Noble Man. The model is a decade older than Jake Noble and has short hair. Guess how many fans have emailed me to tell me the cover model looks nothing like my description of the lead character: None. No one cares. And more to the point, if you as the writer are doing your job, your description of the lead character should quickly and easily supplant the cover image in your reader’s imagination.
As to depicting a specific scene from the book: This is even worse than trying to make sure the eyes are the right shade of blue. First, the reader hasn’t read the book yet, so the scene that you think is so jaw dropping awesome, means nothing to them. In fact, it’s more likely to confuse them. And a cover image that is confusing, will make them move onto the next book. Worse, these scenes tend to be complicated and busy. The result is a more sophisticated version of a child’s crayon drawing with too many things happening at once. Good cover artists know that simple is better. If your book is an action thriller, have a guy with a gun on the cover. Done. Writing a romance? Shirtless guy in riding chaps in front of a rolling green landscape. Do these cover accurately depict the characters and setting? No, but that’s what your book description is for.
Remember, the cover has one job: to get the customer to look at your book description. If you are trying to do anything else with the cover, you’ll lose and your sales will suffer.
Simple is always better.
I’m loath to use 50 Shades of Grey as anything but an example of comically bad writing, but the cover is worth a million bucks. Or several million to be exact. Notice two things; One, it’s abstract. The cover artist didn’t try to photoshop of model to perfectly match the author’s description of the main characters. And (Thank God) the artist didn’t try to portray a specific scene from the book. It’s just a necktie.
Want more proof that simple works? Check out the score of teenage vampire love triangle knock offs. Most of them have very simple covers. Or have a gander at Brad Thor’s covers. All very simple. We never even see Scot Harvath. Tom Clancy covers are the same. Simple, visually arresting images that make you want to read the book description to find out what the story is about. That’s the one and only goal of the cover.
Next week, I’ll talk about the second step in a dynamite sales funnel – The book description. A good blurb and cover working together is the difference between working a day job for the rest of your life and making a living as an author.