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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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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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.
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