By Jen Blood
As a publishing consultant with Adian Enterprises, I offer what I call a Post-Publishing Consult for authors whose books are on the market but aren’t selling quite as well as they’d hoped. One of the first things I look at in the Consult? You guessed it: The book cover. Why? It’s simple, really: The book cover is the first thing readers see. It is the thing they rely on before reviews, before excerpts, before awards or author endorsements… That cover is what reels them in or sends them running. That cover is critical.
A few months ago, I decided to take my own advice, and took a long, hard look at my own novels. I write a mystery series revolving around a reporter named Erin Solomon, who’s investigating an alleged cult suicide she witnessed as a child. The novels are moody and fast-paced, with intricate mysteries and an underlying (sometimes overlying) romance brewing between Erin and her two co-stars in the books, FBI agent Jack Juarez and fellow reporter Daniel Diggins. My work has been compared to Dennis Lehane, Kathy Reichs, John Connelly, and Iris Johansen… When I looked at my covers, however, I realized that they were telling a very different story about what these novels are about, and who they will appeal to. After a whole lot of soul-searching and a LOT of pestering loyal readers for their points of view, I decided drastic measures were called for if I wanted my novels to compete in the market in which I believe they are best suited. Four novels into the series, I hired a new designer to redesign all four covers. We’re only one novel in at this point, but I’m already thrilled with the results they’ve come up with and the fine work they have done.
If you’re wondering if maybe your covers aren’t doing the best job they could for you, here are a few questions to ask in determining whether or not a cover reboot is in your best interest.
- Who is your target audience? Get specific here. I did a whole lot of research before I ultimately found that my target audience consists primarily of professional men and women (with a stronger female following) ages thirty and above with some type of secondary education. My readers are predominantly mystery fans who like (or at least tolerate) some romance with their mystery, rather than some mystery with their romance. What about you? What age groups do your books most appeal to? Do you have more male readers than female, or vice versa? What about income level, education, professional status? The more you know about your readers, the more accurately you can determine what kind of cover will appeal.
- What is your target audience buying? Go to Amazon and shop by book genre. Check out current bestsellers. What do the covers look like? Covers in contemporary romance look a whole lot different from mystery noir; literary fiction and science fiction covers are worlds apart. How does your current cover compare with all those bestsellers? Do you see similarities between your design and other top sellers in your category?
- What do your current readers say? Take a handful of loyal readers who represent the target audience you’re going for, and ask them: What do you think of my book cover? The responses I got were eye opening, to say the least. Several readers even said that when they recommended my books, they told their friends to pay no attention to the cover because, “… the book is so much better than that.” How’s that for honesty?! If you’re consistently hearing from others that your cover isn’t representative of the caliber or style of your novel, pay attention. That kind of feedback is invaluable!
- What do the experts say? Joel Friedlander, who runs the stellar website The BookDesigner , offers a monthly book cover contest, in which independent authors submit their covers for his consideration and comments. Two winners are chosen each month, one in fiction and one in nonfiction, but Joel provides helpful feedback on a significant percentage of the entries. You can submit your cover for consideration in the contest by following this link. Or, you can hire an expert. If you want feedback on your cover alone, the crew at 1106 Design will provide a complete, detailed analysis of what works and what doesn’t about your current book cover, for $110. If you’re looking for a professional perspective that includes an evaluation of your cover, book blurb, marketing techniques to date, and novel content, we offer a full Post-Publishing Evaluation at Adian Enterprises for $250. Whatever option you choose, I highly recommend seeking some type of feedback from a professional in the business.
At the end of the day, you’ll have to decide for yourself whether or not a new book cover is the right move for you. But, if sales are lagging or you’re just looking to infuse some new life into a novel that has been on the market for a couple of years, taking the leap with a new cover designer might be just the thing to get your career moving in the right direction. Bestselling author Russell Blake has a stellar article on just that topic, and provides some great tips for determining what the focus of your next book cover should be. He also takes a more laidback, philosophical approach to the cover design process. In essence: This isn’t brain surgery. No one will die (not even your career!) if you need to change your cover… And, as hard as it is to believe, the world won’t even end if you don’t get it absolutely perfect the second time around. The point is to keep trying. Keep learning. And don’t be afraid to make a change in the ongoing quest for the writing career of your dreams!
Born and raised in rural Maine, Jen Blood brings a love of complex characters and serpentine plots to her fiction. Her bestselling Erin Solomon mysteries combine this love with rich settings, evocative writing, cults, conspiracies, epic romance, and a breakneck pace.
In her “day job” as owner of Adian Editing, Jen uses her own experience as a veteran freelance editor working with traditional publishing houses and independently published novelists alike, to provide authors with expert proofreading and editing services. Additionally, with the aid of her experience as a bestselling author and a graduate degree in Creative Writing/Popular Fiction, Jen provides detailed evaluations of published novels in every genre, keying into problem areas impacting sales for independent and traditionally published authors. Using these evaluations, she assists fledgling and veteran authors in writing, revising, and marketing their work. Visit the Adian website for services, rates, and a schedule of Jen’s upcoming classes, seminars, and workshops.