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Posts Tagged cover design
Take a long look at this cover for Nail Your Novel, original flavour. In the next few days, it’s going to have a snazzy new outfit.
Proverbs notwithstanding, covers are perhaps our most potent marketing tool, so I thought I’d talk to various authors who’ve changed theirs with good results. My panel are literary authors Jessica Bell, Melissa Foster and Linda Gillard, chick-lit author Talli Roland, and travel writer and novelist Catherine Ryan Howard
Why did you change the cover of String Bridge?
I changed it twice. The first time was because my publisher closed and I had to put the book back on the market myself. The second, because it didn’t seem to attract attention, so I decided to go for a more commercial look.
How long had you had the old cover? Both for six months each.
Did it boost sales or interest?
The latest new cover did. The difference was phenomenal. The first free KDP promo I did with the second cover resulted in 2000 downloads. The second, with the latest cover, resulted in over 20,000 downloads. The latest cover is obviously more attractive to the mass consumer.
Were there any other results? Yes. More reviews!
Any tips for the changeover? Look at the covers of what’s hot on Amazon in the same genre as your book, and try to replicate the feel.
Why did you change? To rebrand my books. Chasing Amanda sold very well with the previous darker, more mysterious cover, but it occurred to me that while Chasing Amanda is also a novel that tugs at the heart of most parents—-and perhaps it was time to try a cleaner, fresher look, giving readers a visual understanding of that side of the story. It will be interesting to see if the audience changes with the imagery change.
How long had you had the previous cover? My first book (published in 2009) had the original cover for almost three years. My second had the original cover for about a year before it was changed.
Did the change boost sales or interest? It’s always hard to tell what has caused a bump in sales when you do more than one thing at once. When I recovered my books to self-publish, I also put more promotions into play to promote them. Given that, I’d say the combination helped.
Any other results? I believe branding is important and so are professional covers. Traditionally published authors rebrand every few years to breathe new life into old titles.
Any tips for the changeover? I’ve changed all my covers and there is little to no impact on sales during the change. The paperback will go off sale for those few days while it’s being approved. The Kindle book doesn’t miss a single day; it’s live while you change.
Any time a cover is upgraded, try a promotion that was done in the past, then compare the results.
Why did you change the cover of Untying The Knot?
I was about to bring out the paperback so decided to reassess. I wanted to make it reminiscent of House Of Silence, which is my big seller. I’ve always assumed it must be the cover that sells that book, so we went for a dramatic sky and interesting building.
Untying The Knot has had brilliant reviews, but doesn’t sell as well as some of my others. It had a Marmite cover – people loved it or hated it – but most of the feedback was negative, especially from people who’d read the book. They didn’t think it represented the tone or content. Untying The Knot looks at the destructive effects of post-traumatic stress disorder on a marriage, but there are elements of rom-com mixed in with the drama. It was difficult to come up with an image to suggest all that. My original cover was a surreal image of a bride fleeing with a suitcase across a rural landscape but readers thought it suggested chick lit. I realised you need to make sure the cover of a mixed-genre book doesn’t give out a mixed message. That confuses readers and doesn’t work in that crucial thumbnail in ebook stores.
How long had you had the previous cover? A long time. Since August 2011
Effect on sales etc It’s too early to tell, but the feedback on Facebook suggests people think the new cover is more suitable and more appealing.
Why did you change the cover of Backpacked?
Backpacked was my second travel memoir, and as the first (Mousetrapped) had been so successful, I wanted to keep the brand I’d inadvertently created: scrapbook image on the bottom, nice blue sky picture on the top, white band with title etc through the middle. I have a deep-rooted and somewhat worrying need for things to match, so doing it that way satisfied that requirement as well.
But Backpacked didn’t sell as well as I’d hoped, and when I started examining the cover – really examining it – it struck me that this design did nothing for this book (although it had worked for the first). It actually looked dowdy and dull. So I decided to entirely revamp the cover, focusing more on the content of this book instead of how much it did or didn’t match the previous one.
How long had you had the old cover? Almost a year. (I had to look that up and I was actually very surprised it took me that long to change it!)
Did changing the cover boost sales or interest? Absolutely. And it was immediate. Now, Backpacked is probably my best-reviewed book, and I think that’s because it’s reaching the right readers. By changing the cover I caught their attention, and identified the book as something they’d like to read. It’s been out now since 2011 but continues to sell a steady amount each month.
I would say, though, that a cover change does not automatically generate new interest or boost sales. I had a shortlived self-published novel whose cover I changed and although sales were boosted initially, it didn’t make any difference in the long run. A new cover will only work if it’s the cover the book should have had all along. Change alone doesn’t contribute much.
Any tips? Very important: unless it’s a new edition (i.e. you’ve changed the content considerably), do not create a new book. I know that technically, if you change the cover, you should create a new edition but the headache is not worth it. I went through a month-long migraine when I brought out a new edition of Mousetrapped in 2011, and boy did I learn my lesson!
It is so much easier to go to CreateSpace, Amazon KDP etc. and upload a new cover file than it is to make a whole new book with both editions available at the same time, which is very confusing. You might also affect your rankings and reviews. Simply swap the cover files and keep everything else the same.
Why did you change the cover of The Hating Game?
My publisher and I noticed my book was linked on Amazon with others of a different genre (mainly crime), so we suspected the cover wasn’t reaching the right audience. My novel was firmly chick lit, yet wasn’t being sold with other chick lit.
How long had you had the previous cover? We actually had two other covers before the current one. The first we’d had well before the launch of the book, and the second was live for a few weeks.
Result? When we finally hit on the right cover, the novel rocketed into the top 100 on Amazon within a week or so.
Any tips for the changeover? Explain the reasons, to avoid confusion. Although we only changed the ebook cover; by the time the book was in print, we’d found a cover that worked. Make sure the new cover addresses the genre you’re targeting, too.
Paranormal thriller author MARY MADDOX has an interesting tale of how she changed the cover of her novel Talion because she’d originally used a photo she loved – but readers told her (some rather rudely) that it was too abstract.
Do readers get confused?
One of the questions I was most interested in was whether readers become confused. The general consensus was no. The Kindle store warns you if you try to buy a book you’ve already downloaded. And although you can buy paperbacks more than once, no one reported a dreaded disgruntled review for that reason. Jessica Bell says publication dates are clearly labelled, so readers can tell it’s the same book. And Catherine Ryan Howard points out that readers are already used to covers changing in traditional publishing. ‘A book will have one design for the hardback and another for the paperback, and bestseller authors with extensive backlists get cover redesigns regularly. If the title, sub-title and blurb stay the same, how could anyone make such a mistake?’
Cover designer Jane Dixon-Smith has two useful tips to add. ‘If you’re designing a cover for a sequel, make sure it matches in terms of quality and style Second, it’s important to change a cover if it’s an improvement to your image and the assurance of your quality and brand.’
You’ll have to wait a day or two while the new cover of Nail Your Novel worms its way through the works at CreateSpace et al. But don’t go too far because I’ll be back with an unveiling post AND a very special competition…
In the meantime, let’s talk about changing covers. Have you changed any of yours? Are you thinking about it? Are you happy with your covers, and why? Do you have any other questions you’d like to discuss?
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They talk about an exciting two-way process where they discuss images and typographical treatments. But you can’t direct a designer unless you know what your cover should say. And that’s my problem with Life Form Three, which I’ve decided I’ll publish later this year. Perhaps it’s yours too, especially if you have a novel you’re told is too original and doesn’t fit a genre. This is how I’ve solved it.
I decided to do market research. And it’s turned out to be incredibly helpful.
What I did
I picked an emblematic scene from the book and roughed out a cover to illustrate it. I sent it to friends, who I figured might like the book but in different ways. I included a few hyper-critical writers too, because I knew they would give me the truth.
I also found I got more honest critical comment when I asked friends to show the cover to their spouses and report back. If the spouse didn’t have to worry about hurting my feelings, they were far more brutal.
I didn’t ask: ‘do you like this cover’. A ‘yes’ or ‘no’ doesn’t tell you anything. Instead my questions were: What is this book about? What does it say to you? (They’ll tell you anyway whether they like it.)
Do they already know anything about Life Form Three? No – and that’s the point. They are interpreters telling me what I’ve just said in a language I don’t yet speak. I thanked them for their feedback and explained that I wasn’t going to tell them whether their responses were on the right track or not in case I needed to use them again.
I repeated the experiment with another rough cover in a very different style, and gathered another bunch of useful responses. I added more guinea pigs who hadn’t seen the previous version.
What did it cost?
Nothing, except time researching images (which was considerable – so start well in advance). The pictures for the first cover were roughs from photo libraries, which they’ll let you download free to make dummy designs. The second cover was a detail from a painting I knew I could license. I can’t show you either of them here because I don’t have the reproduction rights. (Also, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea – my jurors have been sworn to secrecy!)
Did it work?
Totally. I was very surprised by some of the responses – and that showed how much I needed their feedback. And this brings me to another point. Don’t do a test if the results won’t influence what you do next. With both trial covers, I thought I was onto a good concept. When I tested them, I discovered flaws I couldn’t have thought of.
But after these two exercises, I have clarity. Even though neither cover was right, I know what the real thing should say and I can brief a designer. (And my guinea pigs are still in suspense…)
What kind of brief do you need to provide? A designer won’t have time to read your book. Send a synopsis that captures not just the events but gives a flavour of the storytelling style. Also list the target audience including age group, imagery and themes that might be of special significance or scenes that could carry the spirit of the whole work. Also explain why you chose the title, as the art should enhance it or create intriguing tension. And let the designer know if you want to leave room for blurb quotes and loglines.
Do it early
I’m not going to publish Life Form Three until at least autumn, but I need the cover in advance because that will set the tone for everything else. The blurb and any publicity materials will be created to make sense of it. So it’s essential that the book’s outside is faithful to the inside.
Footnote: how the other half lives
Funnily enough, as I’ve been moving mountains for the right cover, a traditionally published friend is having a very different experience. I know indies are probably past the stage where we have to stress that our production processes are up to professional standards, but this left me reeling.
Out of the blue my author friend was sent a cover by the art director. He hadn’t been consulted about it. It would be worth getting his input too, as he’s been a bestselling children’s author for more than a decade and knows what covers have sold well to his readership. He tells me that when he signed the contract he emailed the art director and offered to send briefing notes, but was curtly told: ‘We don’t need your notes. We know what we’re doing’.
So did they? No. The cover they designed was catastrophically inappropriate. They didn’t ask about the the age group, so they made it look too juvenile. While the book’s competitors have slick images that look like computer games, this cover featured big typography (ie it was cheaper than proper art) and thumbnail graphics. Even the font gave the wrong messages – it suggested the setting was the wild west, whereas the book is set in ancient Persia. Now the author is locked in a dispiriting argument with the publisher about a cover he knows will be a disaster.
You know what? I’m glad I have control of my cover.
How have you decided what to put on the cover of your novel? How have you made sure it sends the right signals? Have you changed a cover so that it could find its true audience?
(I haven’t finished with covers yet. I may need jurors for Life Form Three Version 3. If you’d like to be one of the secret clan, email me or sign up to my newsletter)
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I had an email the other day from a writer who wanted to hire me to critique his novel, and said he’d already had it proof-read and copy edited at considerable expense. He wasn’t pleased when I pointed out that his money had probably been wasted.
Most professional critiques will raise enough points for a major rewrite, so you need to be prepared for that. Paying to get your manuscript copy-edited and proofed before this is not terribly sensible.
But if you’ve never been through the publishing process before, how do you know when to hire what help?
Here’s a critical path.
1. Write, revise etc. Send to beta-readers. Do you need to have the manuscript proof-read for them? No. Just try to make it as clear of errors as you can. There may be a lot of changes to come. When they give you feedback, revise as necessary.
2. When the book is the best you can make it, hire a professional editor.
3. When you get the report back, allow plenty of time for an in-depth rewrite. You may not need this, of course, but too many first-time writers tell me they’ve allowed just two weeks to whack through points raised in my notes. But what if I said a couple of characters needed to be spliced together, a sub-plot needed to be strengthened, your novel’s middle had a sludgy bit where nothing happened, the relationship between a pair of characters needed more complexity, your dialogue needed more spice? Any one of those points would probably take you more than a few weeks to sort but these are typical problem areas. Even seasoned novelists might find a critique throws up a fundamental problem – and so they know to allow plenty of time for this phase.
Why couldn’t these problems be spotted by beta readers? Obviously it depends who your beta readers are, but they tend not to have the book doctor’s eye. They’ll react like laypeople and fans of the genre. They’re extremely good for highlighting places they’re confused, losing interest, don’t believe what’s happening and characters they like and don’t like. But not for the real diagnosis and surgery.
4 Once you’ve rewritten – and preferably run the new version past some more readers, you’re ready for copy-editing.
What’s copy-editing? It’s checking the niggly details. Does Fenella always have blue eyes? Have you got a consistent style for spellings and hyphenation? Are the facts straight, as far as facts are relevant? Does the timeline work? Do any characters accidentally disappear? Are passages repeated from the inevitable cutting and pasting that went on in all the editing phases? As you can see, there will be a lot more changes from this stage. So sort all these questions out and only then…
5 …. proof-read or hire someone to do this. Proof-reading is for the final text, when you are ready to publish.
Another big mistake authors make is to get their cover designed too early. Yes, it’s so exciting to have a cover; believe me, I know. It means you’re Really Going To Publish It. But your cover must reflect the emotional promise of the book.
With some genres that will be easy because the story elements won’t change, but if your thematic emphasis might, you might not be fit to discuss covers until you’ve done your post-critique rewrite.
Don’t get your cover designed until you’ve made a final decision about the title. The title is part of the visual design, and a designer will position pictures, textures and so on so that they fit with the shape and size of the words. The images might have been chosen to go with the words too. If you change the title, chaos beckons (and probably more expense).
Once you’ve made the decision to self-publish and do it properly, it’s easy to panic about things being rough. But don’t rush to complete too quickly. Use my schedule to make sure you’re not putting the cart before the horse.
Do you have any advice to add? What mistakes do you see writers making when they hire professional help? Have you had to learn the hard way yourself?
You can find tips for researching, outlining and what makes a robust story in my book, Nail Your Novel – Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence. Available on Kindle and in print. You also might like my multimedia course with Joanna Penn – more than 4 hours of audio and slides with an 86-page transcription – find it here.
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Last week I posted on Terri Giuliano Long’s site The Art and Craft of Writing Creatively and in the comments got into discussions about where indie publishing is heading. One of the commenters was Daniel Marvello, who afterwards sent me this email …
You said, ‘2012 will be the year we organise ourselves with quality control’. I love that! And I’d love to know what was in the back of your mind when you wrote it. What do you see changing in 2012?
(As you see from Daniel’s picture, he’s fond of the crystal ball.)
What was in the back of my mind? No big plan, unfortunately. I can see this is what we need, but I haven’t a grand solution. But there’s no better place to talk about it than on my blog with you guys.
For those of you who’ve sat down late, 2011 was the year when many high-profile fiction writers with respected followings went indie, and gave good reasons for doing so. Before then, if you self-published fiction you risked nuking your credibility. But it’s also led to a rash of people uploading to Kindle or CreateSpace or Smashwords but not taking care about quality. Result? It’s raining slush and nonsense. Readers who’ve bought unreadable books are muttering ‘vanity press’ all over again.
Where does quality control come from in traditional publishing? From skilled professionals. Authors don’t do it on their own. Here’s Daniel again:
Most authors ignore advice to get an editor now. What might change that? What will prompt authors to let another set of eyes look at their manuscripts before they click “save and publish”? Can something be done to make such resources more appealing or easy to acquire and use?
The way I see it, there are two issues to address with quality control:
- production – putting out a book with no grammar howlers, formatting glitches, funny typesetting or misprunts
- whether the content is good enough.
One problem is very much easier to solve than the other, but let’s eat this elephant one bite at a time.
Why do indie books fall down on production quality? Several reasons.
1 – Indie authors may not know what’s done to a book in traditional publishing. They might have heard about the artistic side of editing – the developmental work to strengthen the story and literary quality. But they frequently don’t know about all the other trades who wade in once the words are right – copy editing, proof reading, text design, cover design, ebook formatting. Take any debut author who blogs and at some stage they’ll pen a gobsmacked post about how much checking and polishing goes on.
What might change this? We tell people, as often as possible, how much work goes into a published book. You don’t always need separate experts, but these jobs all need to be done. They’re not an optional extra.
2 These services cost money. Personally if I was new to publishing and someone told me I needed to pay for all that my reaction would be ‘pull the other one’ – especially as publishing on Kindle and Smashwords is free. But even when you do decide you’re going to invest, how do you find a reputable pro? Authors have always been easy targets for scammers. Not only that, there are hordes of people setting themselves up as editors when they haven’t the experience.
What might change this? Writers need to find out where the professionals go. A good start might be author groups – for instance, at Authors Electric we’re setting up a list of people we’ve used and would happily use again.
3 Some people simply refuse to be told. If I go into the reasons we’ll be here all day, but there are a lot of those. (You, my friends, are not, or you wouldn’t be reading this blog.)
What might change this? Confiscating their laptops, probably
Now that last remark may seem facetious and unnecessary, but it underlines a point. As indie authors we have to do everything we can to rise above the trigger-happy Kindlers, because they make it hard for the rest of us to be taken seriously.
Not just presentation
So we can lick production quality. That, as I said above, is the easy part. What about the content, the artistic merit? In traditional publishing, the lame books are rejected and the good ones go through a developmental stage. (Yes terrific books are rejected too, but the author is usually made well aware that they were good.) This brings me to another interesting question that Daniel raised.
If people won’t use editors, can we realistically replace them with critique groups and beta readers?
ie, is it possible to get all this input free?
Sorry, guys, I don’t think it is. In the real world that doesn’t come free. Agents and publishers do it as part of their job. Critical feedback of that type takes experience and judgement.
Critique groups and beta readers will give very valuable input, and should definitely be used as well. But they aren’t a substitute for professional critical help – they cannot give your book close, considered attention. I’m not advertising myself here, but when I critique a manuscript the work takes two concentrated weeks at least, with plenty of time taken to consider what the writer wants to do and how I’ll teach them what they need. (In fact, if you imagine your normal rate of pay for two weeks’ work, an editor’s fees start to look cheap. And it’s also why you can’t expect anyone to do it ‘on the side’.)
And another thing
There’s another issue we need to address with quality control. It’s letting good work rise on merit.
If you can have buyers’ markets and sellers’ markets, indie publishing is a marketers’ market. If you’re good at marketing, your book rises higher. But a lot of cool, exciting and original books aren’t getting the exposure they deserve.
Indies are starting to tackle this in author collectives – groups to curate the good authors. And proper, critical review sites where indie books are expected to be as good as anything traditionally published. Authors are already taking this into their own hands – Tahlia Newland with Awesome Indies, Authors Electric with Indie ebook Review, Multi-Story, Underground Book Reviews, The Kindle Book Review.
But each group or review site is only as good as its critical scruples.
Does this look familiar? It’s a system of gatekeepers. But hopefully, ones motivated by editorial integrity.
Here’s what we really need to do. Ultimately we need to reach readers way beyond our own little blogosphere of indie publishing. We need to win the respect of the major book reviewers, because right now we’re preaching to the choir, and this is not sustainable.
It seems a natural moment to mention that my novel is up for the Summer Reads awards at Underground Book Reviews. The winner is decided on a vote, so if you’d like to tip the balance in my direction I’d be very grateful.
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I’m guesting today at Bubblecow, the site for writers started by novelist Caroline Smailes. Bubblecow’s site is a treasure trove of advice and information for writers of all stamps – both traditionally published and self-published, and they provide editorial services across the board to both individual authors and mainstream publishers.
They asked me to write a post on covers. The outfit your book wears when it meets its public is make or break. It’s one of the main ways readers will judge your book. Find out what you can do to give it the best chance you can.
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