Thursday, November 8, 2012

Cues from the Coach: Q & A

This month’s question addresses appearance rather than content.

How important is a book cover?

After all, what’s on the outside doesn’t affect what’s on the inside. Cover artists can be expensive, and a great story is still great regardless of packaging.

True, but . . . by extension, a potential reader’s expectation for a book’s content is very often created by the cover—this is especially true if the author is unknown or the reader has not heard of the book. From a reader’s perspective, the actual quality of the cover sets the tone for the anticipated quality of the story. As the saying goes, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” The cover makes that first impression.

Recently, I read that more than 2 million books were published (or re-published) in 2011. Another source stated that number to be in excess of 3 million. Talk about mind-boggling! Now couple that information with claims that the number of readers is dwindling each year. The challenge of marketing your book (or mine) becomes an almost unfathomable undertaking.

Whether a book sits on a shelf or table in a brick-and-mortar store or on a page in Amazon,, or your website, its cover is your emissary, your visual sales rep that “shouts” the virtues of your story, the frontrunner in your publicity strategy. In other words, its vital role in the sale of your book should never be underestimated.

Visit The 10 Awful Truths About Book Publishing to do a reality check on the current state of book sales and the publishing industry. Be sure to note the “cures” listed at bottom of the page. Then bear this in mind: Writers are creative thinkers. Marketing books requires creative thinking. Now don your thinking cap. Can you do this yourself? Some writers can. In fact, they do it very well. However, if you don’t have the wherewithal to market your books, learn how to do it—or hire someone who can. Then give that person an awesome product to peddle.

We’re back to book covers and first impressions. One book in a sea of 3 million? That’s somewhat intimidating. An outstanding book cover that stops the reader’s eye and makes him or her want to know more? The odds are getting better. Coupling a killer cover with an incredible story and great creative marketing—that’s a big head start on the road to becoming a best-selling author.

How do you feel about your book covers? Have you struggled with this aspect of becoming a successful published writer? Please share your experiences with us.
Writer/editor Linda Lane works with a team of editors/mentors whose goal it is to help writers write more effectively. Her new website, Linda’s Book Nook, should be operational by the end of the year. Not only will it offer books for sale, it will also feature serialized stories, short flash fiction contests (350 words or less), and a blog to address writers’ questions and issues. Writers will be invited to share experiences and to participate in this new author community.

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  1. Linda, you make a wonderful point that we must do anything possible to make our book noticeable—and not to anyone, but to our target readers. To do so your cover design must fit your genre.

    I know my publisher will pay close attention to cover detail with my new novel, THE ART OF FALLING.

    We've already discussed that the book's commercial success depends on reader perception of it as a women's book set in the dance world—if readers perceive it as a "dance book," it will be sidelined.

    These fine distinctions are so important! Needless to say, I'm eager to see what the cover designers come up with for mine!

  2. 3 million published and readership dwindling ... excuse me while I turn up the gas.

  3. You're so right, Kathryn. If nobody notices our book, nobody will read it. As Dani's post emphasized yesterday, cover art and beyond are essential to sales. Our cover must be a stand-out in that gargantuan crowd of published books, or it may languish forever in the overpopulated world of the unsold.

  4. I just contacted three authors who are changing their book covers and I'll upload another post about this later - before and after shots included. It's true that a book cover can kill a potential sale because we are so visual by nature. Another important thing to consider is that books in a series need to have strongly branded covers that link the series together. You can't bop all over the place with images because readers are very visual. Not scary, you weenies! Totally exciting! ;)

  5. Weenies? Do you hear me laughing, Dani? Someday, I'll get the gumption to create (or have created) a new cover for my first novel. Then I'll reissue it...maybe. :-)

  6. One of the great joys and challenges of cover design is developing a cover that (a) stands out and grabs the potential reader's attention while at the same time (b) fairly representing or telegraphing the contents, and (c) not straying too far from genre conventions and buyer expectations. Tricky. And fun.

    I agree completely with your point about visually branding a series. I did adhere to a consistent design aesthetic for my first three covers, but it was a tad subtle. When the fourth novel comes out, the covers are all being redone to convey more directly the common thread.

  7. I am very fickle when it comes to covers and will pick a book totally on looks. I really like the cover for the e-book, The Widow's Son, which I enjoyed reading as well.

    The Last Romanov, by Dora Levy Mossanen has a gorgeous cover, but I could only get a few chapters in before I decided to stop reading it.

    The ms that I'm working on right now is called Elevator Girl. Today I discovered there's an erotic ebook out (check out the cover! Hoo-wee..steamy!) with the same title. That's not my genre, so I'm wondering if I should consider a title change. Your thoughts?


  8. Larry, I agree with all three points you make on choosing a cover. While I like to think outside the box (excuse cliché), flying in the face of convention to the point of losing potential readers makes no sense. Thank you for sharing these points

    Dani's comment about visually branding the covers in a series, on the other hand, makes total sense. You agree. I agree. And I'm sure our followers see the wisdom in this.

  9. Kim, your question addresses a valid point -- potential problems caused by the same or very similar titles. In a bookstore, your title will be categorized according to genre. However, I've not found this to be true on Amazon. Realistically, a LOT of readers shop on Amazon -- for both hard copy and e-books. How would you feel if somebody knew the title of your book, made a quick trip to Amazon, and mistakenly downloaded the erotic book? Would this impact that reader's view of you as an author? Have you given any thought to changing your title? Great as it is, you might want to consider the long-term effect its confusion with the other book could have on your writing career.

  10. Linda,

    Thank you for your comments. I definitely wouldn't want readers to confuse my book w/ erotic literature. Also the use of the red shoes on the cover is very different from my use of red shoes in my writing business. :)


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.