Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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August 7, 2017

Cover Art FAQ: Answered

June Stevens Westerfield

“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:

  1. The title
  2. The cover
  3. The description/blurb

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.

How do I decide how my cover should look?

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.

But what if I don’t want to be like everyone else?

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.

My book isn’t selling should I re-brand it?

There are a lot of reasons a book doesn’t sell such as:

  1. Little to no market for the book/genre
  2. Poor reviews.
  3. Little (or ineffective) advertising/marketing.
  4. The cover and/or brand isn’t appropriate for the genre.
  5. 99 million other reasons.

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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Author Branding Essentials is dedicated to offering comprehensive author centric branding and design services at competitive prices.  As an Author, your name is your brand. Building your Author Brand is key to success. Many agents encourage authors to begin building that brand long before they are published. At Author Branding Essentials we understand the unique criteria it takes to build an author brand, versus another type of business.  We can help you decide on the best options for your author brand and help you implement them. 

20 comments on “Cover Art FAQ: Answered”

  1. How do you make sure readers who have already bought your book know it's the same book, and not a new one when they see a new cover? People don't like buying something they think is new and finding out it's either a re-release or a new cover?

    1. Terry, when you change the cover on Amazon, Smashwords, etc, it's still the SAME listing. So as far as ebooks go, it will be in their library. If you are worried, you can always put a note that the cover is new at the end of the description. But you really don't need to. Covers are changed all the time. Now, if you are changing the title... THEN you need to make a note.

      Now, if you are REPUBLISHING, which is different than just rebranding, then you should put a note in the copyright area of the front.

      1. Also, if it has the same title and author name, most readers won't make that mistake. However, if something happens and they do, Amazon has a generous (too generous) return policy. But as I said, as long as it's not a re-publication, it's nearly impossible to re-buy and ebook you already bought.

          1. Thanks for asking the question, Terry. And thanks for your answer, June. Before e-books, I "re-purchased" several books with new covers or title changes. I was so angry, I stopped reading those authors.

            1. Fae, the thing is, before ebooks (and even now in non-indie situations) authors HAD NO CONTROL over cover & title choices. If they had any at all, it was very little. So it wasn't their fault. And even now, rebranding is something that must happen sometimes. It's just the way of the business.

  2. What a great article! Thanks for including my covers, before and after, by my alter-ego Claire Delacroix. 🙂 One of the reasons I updated them is that there is a lot more period stock available for historicals than was the case in 2011 when I first published The Beauty Bride in an indie edition. I also decided on a consistent branding for my name after this series was packaged and wanted everything to match. I LOVE the new cover, which was updated by the same cover artist as the first one.

    1. I saw your new cover a week or so ago and I bought your book. When I saw it in June's article I had to laugh because I wouldn't have made the click-through on the first cover.

  3. June, this is so timely for me. I'm at the stage of looking at book design and it seems a little daunting, especially since I don't have a clear picture of what my cover should look like. I know others don't have that problem. I appreciate the suggestion of going and looking at what best sellers have in common. Thanks!

    1. It can be very daunting. I can only offer two hard pieces of advice: educate yourself on what's selling in your genre and hire a designer (unless you really think you can do it... which I posted about last time. If you search my name here on WITS you'll be able to find it.)

  4. Don't worry, mrwrites55. I thought I knew what I wanted for a cover. Thank goodness my cover artist knew better. I read blogs about cover design contests and learned about good and not-so-good design elements.

  5. June, this is truly a keeper article! Thank you. Great advice that's easy to follow and the examples show so why updating covers is important.

  6. Thank you, June - this is really, really helpful. Your advice on catching the eye, the genre and spirit of the book rings true to me because that's exactly what I do when I choose a book. Exceptions are new books of writers I know and love to read.

  7. I am solidly in your boat, Wendy. The cover has to catch my eye, then if the blurb follows through on the promise of the cover, my wallet is out.

  8. June convinced me (although I still want to fight it) that an author shouldn't design her own cover. More great wisdom here. Thanks so much, June!

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