“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” That is good advice for life, but it doesn’t work for actual books. Readers DO, and always will, judge a book by its cover, and there is nothing you can do about it. No, wait, I lied. There is something you can do about it. You can understand that your cover is a very important marketing tool for your book and act accordingly.
Usually when I come to WITS I talk about branding, and today is different in that instead of discussing your author brand, I’m going to get more specific and discuss your book’s brand by answering a few of the book cover questions I’m frequently asked.
First, remember your author brand represents you as a writer and all your books, regardless of genre. It should not be book or book series specific. Your book brand, on the other hand, applies only to that specific book, though series are branded as well. Your book brand consists of:
For this post I want to focus primarily on the cover, but the advice I’m giving you should help you in all three areas.
That is both difficult and simple. Authors tend to be literal people and want their covers to depict a specific scene, or tell the whole story in an image. But that is both not possible, and not wise. The cover's job is to catch the readers eye and pull them in to read the blurb. It should speak to the genre and general spirit of the story. This can be done in so many different ways. The key is choosing the way that will most catch the reader of your genre. To do that, you must know what else is out there and what sells the best.
I highly recommend that before you choose a title, cover, or even finalize your blurb, you go online and visit Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBooks. (Sure, you can go in to a B&N store, but you will get a larger sampling online.) Go straight to the best sellers, in your genre and subgenre. Amazon is best for this.
Look at the covers for the top 25-50 in your subgenre. What do they have in common? Take close, analyzing looks. How many have people on the cover versus just objects or text? What are common base colors? Are there couples, or just women or men? Now narrow it down to the top ten. How many of those traits do each of those have? Remember to compare the traits in the titles and blurbs separately.
Once you determine the qualities all or most of the covers have in common, you should include those in your own cover.
If you already have a cover, look at it in comparison to the top covers in your subgenre. How does it stand up to them? Does it have any of the common traits they all share? Does it look as professional as the others? If the answer is no, then you may want to re-brand your book.
*TIP: When working with your designer, whether you are starting from scratch with a brand-new book or getting a new cover for an already released book, I recommend having a minimum of 3-5 covers in your genre (good selling preferred) that you like to show your designer. NOT so they can copy them, but to give them a strong idea of what you like and what is working in the genre. Some designers will ask for it, some won’t. But I recommend sending them over regardless. It cuts down on miscommunication and can end in a better cover for you, faster.
By all means, be unique. Do you and your cover how you want. But don’t be surprised if your book doesn’t sell. Am I saying that there is nothing unique in the world and you shouldn’t try? No. What I am saying is, just like writing to formula, people do it because it works. Tropes exist because people buy them. Readers read them. Period. The same goes for book covers. So all of the best selling covers in your genre have shirtless men on the cover, but that just irks you and you don’t want yours to be like that. Fine, but if the top 100 have shirtless men, don’t be irked if you don’t make the list.
The cover's job is to snare the readers attention. Then it’s the blurbs job to reel them in and make them click that buy button. If a shirtless man is what it takes to snag the attention of readers in your genre, then it should be worth serious consideration for you.
You shouldn’t have to decide between being “true to your art” and selling books, but you know what? You often do. So, the best advice I can give you is to make a thorough assessment of your motives for writing and your career goals, and make your decision based on that.
There are a lot of reasons a book doesn’t sell such as:
Some of the reasons are harder to control than others. One thing you should always do for a book that isn’t selling is check how it’s brand lives up to the others in the genre. Use the tips above to evaluate your books brand effectiveness. If it does not fit will with the other books, then yes, you should absolutely re-brand. Of course there are other considerations, such as cost and time commitment. Also, if you have it published as an audio book you may not be able to change that cover.
But on the whole, I am a fan of re-branding if you can afford it and have done the research to make sure that your changes will work better. But don’t take my word for it. Before writing this post I talked to many other authors who have, for one reason or another, re-branded their books or series. Though some had different reasons for changing their covers, the common main reason was that their cover was not right for their genre. They all reported positive results once they changed their covers to something more genre appropriate.
As you can see in these examples from those authors, some of them had wonderful, professional looking covers to start with. Yet they didn’t fit the genre. All of these cover before & after examples are from authors who said that once they re-branded their sales increased. Here are the links to these author's websites: Colette Cameron, Dany Rae Miller,Claire Delacroix, Holly Mortimer.
Do you have questions for June? If you've done something "outside the box" that worked, we'd love to hear about it!
June Stevens Westerfield is author of romantic fiction. She has been in the publishing field one way or another for over decade. She has helped launch several small publishing houses, worked in acquisitions, editing, cover art, web design, as a blogger, radio host, and assisted many authors in their self-publishing journeys. Her particular expertise is in design and branding.
On a personal note, when not writing or working for ABE, she designs greeting cards. She has a wonderful husband, a brilliant stepson, 6 fur-children, purple hair, and a chronically filthy house.
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