Earlier this year, my co-writer and I released three novels of a mythological mystery/thriller series. Unfortunately, we didn't know quite know where our story fit, since it had elements of urban fantasy but was set on an island. And it was kind of a thriller, but also a mystery.
So we considered our specific story, which featured:
Armed with that information, we approached a designer, told her what we wanted, and she delivered three beautiful covers according to our request. Mind you, these were shorter books, we were releasing on a quick schedule, and we chose to streamline the look to save some money.
Behind these covers are fabulous stories that you totally want to read—trust me!—but the books weren't selling well.
We decided to rethink our strategy, and along came a guest blogger here on Writers in the Storm who nailed where we'd gone wrong. From Your Cover Sells Your Book by Melinda VanLone:
A side note about the genre: Pick one. Just one. This story will have to go on a digital shelf. If you can’t focus on one genre, then you don’t know your customer well enough yet. Go back and think about how and where they look for books like yours. Study what keywords they type in, what aisle in the bookstore they linger over. The story can’t be all things to all people. It must be the right thing for the right person.
She expanded this idea further in The Cover Two-Step:
Be honest. Did you really write a romance? Or did you write a mystery with romantic elements? Forget subgenres, mashups, and crossovers. We’re looking for the overall broad category.
Sure enough, our story wasn't easily categorized, but we could focus on the genre we were closest to—urban fantasy. Thankfully, within that area is an upcoming category titled supernatural suspense, which fit us even better.
Now we had something to work with—a target to aim for. And it no longer mattered to us whether the cover represented the story just so. Rather, the cover had to fit the genre, the tone, the imagery a potential reader was looking for.
We changed designers to a company that specialized in producing urban fantasy covers that had sold well. We spent hours upon hours going through covers in our genre to see what features were common, choosing stock photos we could recommend, and wording our request to our designer to give her an overall sense what we wanted, while allowing her to bring her own expertise into the process.
And then we waited.
Any author who has ever waited for a book cover — not knowing exactly what will show up — knows that it's the nail-biting and tenterhooks kind of waiting.
While we did do some back-and-forth with the designer on the first round, we fairly quickly arrived at these new covers:
What a difference, right?!
Now you can immediately see that this is a supernatural suspense series with a strong female heroine. Who cares that she's a forensic psychologist? (You learn that on page one.) Who cares that she's uptight? (Also on page one.) Who cares that the sands are pink? (Chapter two.)
The point is knowing what kind of story you'll be getting. That's the promise we're making.
Do you need to redesign your cover(s)? Ask yourself a few questions.
A cover redesign is not a guarantee of increased book sales. But I've heard enough positive testimonies to know that your cover matters. Your books having the right covers could be the difference between getting passed over and getting purchased. What a difference a cover makes!
Have you had a redesign of your book cover(s)? Are you considering a redesign now?
Julie Glover writes cozy mysteries, young adult fiction, and supernatural suspense (under the pen name Jules Lynn). Her upcoming YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart®, and her co-written Muse Island Series is available now, beginning with book one, Mark of the Gods.
You can visit her website here.
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Excellent post. I knew I needed a professional for my book, but I found an image I loved on Deposit Photos. The image shows the hero and heroine dancing backlit by a campfire. Journey of Honor takes place on the Oregon Trail in 1845. The climax of the first scene is music and dancing at the end of the first day on the trail.
I went and looked at that photo. Not only does it match your story, it matches reader expectations. I immediately knew genre and tone! Thanks for sharing.
I’m getting ready to release a book, but for scheduling reasons didn’t start working with the cover designer till yesterday. I made a nice-enough temporary cover to use for early promo & ARCs, but the concept she cane up with blew mine out of the water. I can’t wait to show it off!
It's amazing what some designers can do! Many authors think they can just do own thing—and, mind you, I have done that with shorts and giveaways—but a professional design can be the difference between ho-hum and hallelujah!
So glad you like the cover you got. And congrats on the release!!!
I redesigned covers for two of my series to (I hope) better show readers that the books are romances at heart. Playing up the suspense angle garnered too many reviews that objected to the ... romance, and then the sex. This was compounded by the fact that I also have a mystery series, and --although crossover sales are usually a good thing--some reader went on to buy the romantic suspense books thinking they were getting the same thing. Apparently people don't read the descriptions.
I talked about my own cover makeovers here: https://terryodell.com/author-branding-part-2-cover-art/
I'm always amazed when people don't read book descriptions, since I read them thoroughly, but many don't. OR they forget what they read when they first purchased the book. But the packaging always send a signal you can't ignore. It helped when I started thinking about covers like cereal boxes. Because I was also that kid who read the entire cereal box, but I can't recall any of that now. What I can describe is the picture on a Cheerios box, down to the strawberries. Like it or not, packaging makes an impression, and we have to be cognizant of that.
But I did go look at your before & after, and WOW, nice redesign! The branding across books is also clear, which makes a difference. Congrats on the new covers!
OK, pick one genre might be a good approach for you, but our novel crosses perceived genre lines. Hopefully our cover (you can search for Wandmaking 101 on Amazon to see the excellent cover our artist in Portugal made for us) to see our results. We fully intend to make what we've done, and what we'll do later, a success. -tc
Tom, I went and looked and think you did pick a genre. It's clearly a fantasy-based novel for kids. I can see from other aspects that it's suspenseful, and the title says MAGIC. But to me, it's in line with genre expectations. And by the way, it's a really nice cover! Well done. Hope your sales skyrocket!
Yes, we did pick a genre for our cover, and we're guessing it won't turn off the readers who buy the book because the description warns it's part military and part Lovecraft (the bad guys are raising a Lovecraftian god to reshape the world so they can live here- which will eliminate the possibility of human survivors who don't flee to other worlds as the changes occur, if they succeed.) We've attempted to turn the military part on its ear so the people who're enjoying the coming-of-age story aren't turned off by the traditional Sci-Fi military narrative: our narrator for much of that is a girl who is from a culture where 14-year-olds are welcome in their military, and has been brought over with other students from a military academy who fight in the military action. Charlie (short for Charlotte) is an unusual choice for POV of the military action, but we're hoping that on balance our readers will like her piece of the narrative instead of just being horrified that children are fighting in a pitched battle. Of course, the military part to try to end the plan BEFORE the Cthulhuian monstrosity arrives MUST succeed we everybody who can't flee is dead, which raises the stakes. As the military in our narrative is magic-short, having the sorcery students of a military academy along is pretty much vital to their chance of not having the military participants wiped out before they can succeed. So, we hope we know our readers--but there are no guarantees we're right. -tc
The tagline on the bottom of the cover 'The Muse Island Series" caught my eye and interest. Enough that I would pick it up to read the summary on the back.
Great post and thanks for sharing
Aw, thank you! We personally love the name of our series, as well as all the stories we tell that happen on that island. 🙂
Thank you so much for the comparison! That really makes the lesson clear. I love the second covers. You hit the intrigue so well.
Thanks! And I like when people share examples like that, so I hoped ours would be helpful to others. Good to hear that they are!
Julie, this discussion hits close to home! After three or four months of back and forth, my publishers and I came up with a final title and cover for my Women's Fiction with Suspense debut novel . That cover was released to the world. Shortly thereafter, concerns developed that the initial response was not as strong as hoped for. Fortunately, the publisher took fast action and decided both title and cover needed to be targeted more towards Women's Fiction. The new cover for 'Wildland' does just that and has been well-received. What a difference a cover makes!
So glad your publisher caught that quick and was willing to make adjustments. And your cover is wonderful! Definitely says women's fiction. Though I can also see the promise of intrigue there.
What a difference.
I never had say on my anthology covers, but I was able to help tweak the cover for my one single release. I was much happier with it, but it didn't sell well--I made the most money off of it.
The anthology covers for two of the anthologies were awful. But, it was also a sign of the publisher which is now out of business. They weren't designing covers correctly. They looked like a hot mess. Have you ever been embarrassed by a cover? I was for one in particular.
Oh yeah. I've heard some stories about anthology covers. You just have to hope the person in charge of getting the design gets something good, but too often, they don't. On the upside, I know of authors who took a story first published in an anthology, wrapped it in better cover and did targeted marketing, and did very well that way.
Oh, Julie. How did you know this was EXACTLY what I needed to read today? I went for an expensive cover I LOVED...not the cover the reader needs to see. SIGH. Thank you for sharing your process.
It's frustrating to think of the money we spent with the first round of covers and then having to spend money for the new ones. But it wasn't the designer's fault. We just didn't get the right thing, and there's no use continuing to do something that isn't going to sell your books! Glad this helped you. (You know I love your book.)
Right now I love my covers too much to even think about changing them, Julie. Maybe once I have more books in the series.
Oh, I think your covers fit your genre, Fae! If the genre look changes, you may want to update later.
I hadn't seen those new covers! SO much better. I love them to pieces and they are much more compelling.
So true! My publisher gave my books mushy romance-y covers (couple in a clutch) for my psychic suspense series. When I got the rights back I went with suspense covers and have had a great response. The two sets of covers attract a totally different set of readers!
Reading back through posts here on covers as I'm playing with designs before hiring a cover artist. Late to the party, but great reinforcement on the points Melinda made and those new covers are great!!