Writers in the Storm

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August 10, 2020

Book Covers 101: Updating Your Cover

by Melinda VanLone

Book covers are a lot like fashion, except the expectations change over the course of years instead of seasons. Everyone’s seen the cover of their favorite book change over the years, whether it’s traditionally published or indie. You might even be thinking about how nice it would be to change your own book cover to something more exciting or more “now”, but something is holding you back.

If you spent a lot of money on your current cover, it’s hard to swallow that it might need updating.  After all, that’s even more money and time you’ll have to invest. But there’s a time and place for everything, which means there’s a time when changing your cover is the right move.

Some Reasons to Change Your Cover

1. Trends Change

As with most things in life, nothing lasts forever. That trend of only showing a bare-chested torso today could indicate that your book is out of touch with modern times tomorrow. It’s a smart business practice to keep up with the current trends and adjust when needed. Your book is a product, after all, and it needs the best packaging for the market.

2. Genres Change

New book genres and sub-genres crop up almost every week. When they do, they tend to come with new expectations for cover art. A steamy romance today, for instance, needs more flesh showing on the cover to indicate the heat level of the story. If you’ve written a book that has slipped into a new category…remember when New Adult wasn’t a thing?…you might need to change the art to reflect that in order to reach more readers.

3.   Authors Change…Their Minds

You’ve probably learned a lot since your first book cover was commissioned. The world is a very different place than it was a few months or years ago. What worked then maybe just doesn’t work now.

Perhaps It Is Timing

Analyzing the market, target readership expectations, and overall shelf life can provide compelling clues as to when it would be worth the plunge into new art. For example:

1. Sales have fallen off the charts

Whatever your high point was on sales, if they’ve taken a nosedive even with pumped up ad spends and good click-through rates, along with other marketing efforts, the first thing to tinker with is the cover art. Often that one change can bring readers back.

2. Plans Have Changed

If you started out thinking you were writing a stand-alone, but then it turned into a trilogy…which kept going…your series and brand might need a refresh to bring cohesion. Readers love to know that books in a series belong together and the easiest way to show them that is with the cover art. So if the brand is looking scattered or dated, a refresh can breathe new life and bring new readers to your backlist.

3. The Brand Feels Dated

When I first launched my House of Xannon series, I studied the market and current trends and positioned the book within the New Adult category. Back then it was a new niche, barely defined, and had little expectations. Trying to bridge the gap between Young Adult and plain old Adult wasn’t easy for the art world.

Back then, it was fairly common in New Adult Fantasy to see magical symbols as the main focus, and no actual people. A lot of big names were taking this approach, so I did too.

But here we are years later and now that cover feels out of date, stiff, I hate the font, and it doesn’t attract the reader I’m seeking. It was time for a change, so recently I took the plunge and re-branded all five of the Xannon covers to update them to the current genre expectations. The new look attracted more readers and made my ad spends more effective.

If you are traditionally published, getting the cover art changed might not be something you can control. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask about it, and point out the reasons why you think a change would help market the book better. If you’re an indie author, then the decision is all yours. One of the things I love most about being indie is the ability to pivot. Indie authors can be nimble and flexible when something isn’t working.

While it costs money and time to re-do a cover, in the end, it might result in new readers and more sales...and how could that not be worth the effort?

Do you have book covers you need or want to update? What are some covers you've seen that you love? Melinda is open for questions down in the comments!

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About Melinda

Melinda VanLone writes urban fantasy, freelances as a graphic designer, and dabbles in photography. She currently lives in Florida with her husband and furbabies.

When she's not playing with her imaginary friends, you can find Melinda playing World of Warcraft, wandering aimlessly through the streets taking photos, or hovered over coffee in Starbucks.

Her elementary fantasy series, House of Xannon, begins with Stronger Than Magic. For more information on covers, visit BookCoverCorner.com.

22 comments on “Book Covers 101: Updating Your Cover”

  1. I updated covers for two of my series to make it clearer they were romantic suspense. The biggest lesson I had to learn was that covers are a marketing tool, and my personal preferences aren't necessarily the right ones for the genre.

    1. That's the toughest lesson for all of us to learn! It's not about what we want anymore, it's about what the customer wants! Well done on making the transition with yours! 🙂

  2. I just went through this. With the third book in my series coming out at the end of the month, I figured it was time to update the first two books to match the new style and formatting. I also re-edited and reformatted the interiors to bring them up to date as well. I felt having a consistent look across all three books was important when it comes to letting potential readers know at a glance that the books are related.

    1. I agree, it's vital and lucrative to let readers know that books in a series are indeed related. I know I get excited when I can see there's five or ten juicy books in a new series for me to read. 😀

  3. Covers are a big mystery wonderland to me. I'm much more attracted or repelled by the back cover blurb, but I've started looking at covers differently since you began this series. 🙂

    1. 😀 I'm glad I've been able to provide some enlightenment. *grin* All of this is not to say the blurb isn't important...it's vital! It's just usually the second thing the reader notices, rather than the first. People in general notice images before words. Especially these days.

  4. Those covers are so important.

    I remember going to a talk on book covers at a writer's marketing group in Phoenix that discussed this topic. A great cover can make a huge difference and is often the first step in deciding whether or not a potential reader will consider purchase.

    By the way, your new cover art is awesome!

    1. I agree...if you've been able to get rights back from a publisher, the covers definitely need to change. Not only to refresh them, but to separate them from the previous edition. It's a whole new product!

  5. I do like your new cover. I was never happy with the cover of my book. I had issues with the designer and I feel like I settled even though I had several people tell me they liked it. I'm going to change it but I can't decide if I should do that now or wait until I'm close to finishing my second book (which is a ways off). Thanks for your article!

    1. If it were me I'd do them together so they were cohesive unit. I'd live with what you have for now, and just know you'll be rebranding it when book 2 is done. I didn't rebrand my covers until I'd launched book 5. A new cover, no matter the reason, is a great thing to celebrate with readers anytime.

      1. All's good. Great article Melinda. I shared the heck out of it. A possible suggestion might be an article on maintaining multiple author profiles and how to handle social media? Just a suggestion. I write SF/F under one profile and Romance under another. I have 2+FB profiles and 2 Twitter, and 2 websites. I know its not recommended but I really wanted to separate those two genres of my work. Plus there are tools to combine posting on twitter with FB and vicey versa.

        1. It's an excellent suggestion, though I don't feel I'm the right one to cover the topic. I only have the one name at the moment, though I've tinkered with the idea of starting a pen name so I can branch out in a different genre. I'd be fascinated to hear how some are handling such a life, because it seems pretty overwhelming to me!

          Thanks so much for sharing the article! 🙂

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