I’m actually really excited about this #AskMeAnything, because it’s a great topic AND I have a series of AMAs coming to the blog in the next few weeks where I will have guests either helping me discuss a topic, or sharing their own insight on them! This is awesome because not only does it strengthen the pool of information on here, but it also reminds me to turn things into AMAs when I get asked about it. ^_^ Today’s topic comes from my new cover designer BFF Laura Hidalgo of Beyond DEF, and we co-wrote this topic together. I hope you lovelies enjoy it!
Curious what the #AskMeAnything is? Check out the official AMA page on my site over here.
Q: When it comes to book covers, does the first impression really matter most?
This is a topic that spurs a lot of conversation, especially among indie authors who are handling a book from inception to marketing launch. Some authors feel that a strong story (and positive reviews from loyal fans) will carry the weight in “getting the word out” about a book. Others are so new to publishing their own books that just having a cover with their name on it can leave them starstruck and thrilled with a cover, and I can admit I was definitely that person in my early times as an author.
But, let’s be honest, authors are word people.
We love language, we love the story, we love the characters, and our knowledge of graphics tends to be… lacking. That’s why when it comes to having this conversation, and making the right choices, I wanted to write this post with my new cover design bestie Laura, so just know that her fingerprints are all over this conversation alongside me.
Don’t judge a book by its cover!
Or, actually, do, because you’re going to anyway. The saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ is often a mantra for many, but in the book industry the first impression does matter the most. Many people are drawn to attractiveness; whether it’s the beauty of a person, clothes in a magazine, or the decor in the HGTV Dream House – we are naturally inclined to appreciate the appeal they have on our senses. The same can be said for book covers and how readers respond to them.
This fact is even more important to the self-published author who is trying to stand out from the masses. Imagine – there are easily THIRTY THOUSAND books released in the Romance genre on Amazon on a monthly basis.
So how do you stand out?
This is exactly the question authors ask themselves all the time, especially when they’re first getting started. Unfortunately, we don’t always know how to stand out. Some people are naturally able to figure it out, or have experience in other ways to know the right look / feel / design elements to make a book pop for readers, but I didn’t. I had vague ideas, and absolutely none of the skill to make it happen. That doesn’t mean I didn’t find some success. I was able to build a reader base through word of mouth, through fans from my Literotica days, and by forming solid relationships with readers and other authors on social media.
But I wasn’t rolling in the money, and although I couldn’t have articulated (even with my love of words) exactly what my covers were missing, I knew they were missing something. I looked at the covers from top sellers in Dark Romance and I would just sigh and stare at them and wonder who made them, how much they cost, etc., etc., etc…
I had already said 2018 would be my year, and that meant I was going to invest in my books like I never had before. When it came time for me to release ‘Destruction’ I knew I’d spent enough time dreaming and asking questions, and I made the decision to put my foot down and throw everything into making that release stand out. And that’s when I was introduced to Laura Hidalgo (by my lovely friend Marissa Honeycutt). I had already been impressed by her skill in the covers I’d seen her make, and I was excited to see what she could do for me, but I had no idea just HOW amazing it would be to work with her.
What’s the difference working with a professional cover designer?
There are plenty of premade cover sites, cheap options on sites like Fiverr, and anyone can download Adobe Photoshop for $10/mo (or any other image editing software) and try their hand at it, but this is one of those areas where you truly get what you pay for. Designing covers is art, and if you’re not working with an artist that ALSO has their pulse on the book community, at the end of the day you will still sell books – but you may not sell them to the level you’re dreaming about.
Laura talked with me about the feel of the book, what I imagined, and then spent hours combing through stock photos with me. Then, because she already knew what she was capable of DOING with the stock photos, she got me to look at photos that I would have brushed aside before because they didn’t look right to me. And because she has the skill and the experience, she could see all the possibilities in different stock photos and describe them to me so I could imagine them too. That is how we worked together on ‘Destruction’, and the results speak for themselves.
While I also put more advertising focus / money on ‘Destruction’ in ways I hadn’t in the past, I really didn’t do that much different. I just had a really fucking amazing cover, and a brand that told people I was a dark romance author. Yet, the day that the cover reveal happened for this book, social media exploded with tons of people saying the same thing over and over and over.
“OMG that cover is gorgeous!”
People were sharing the book on social media just to show their friends the cover. It meant that people who may have otherwise scrolled past my book actually stopped and looked. Even with a catchy tagline, hot title, or lots of readers talking about how good it is, there are just so many books coming out all the time that a book needs something else to rise up out of the sea of covers and new releases.
This cover, and Laura Hidalgo’s talent, did that for me. To describe myself as shocked, blown away, amazed, and any other synonym you can think of would still be an understatement to how I felt as I watched the book climb the ranks on Amazon and then stay there.
I don’t like to discuss finances in public. Part of me thinks it’s just catty, and the other part just says that it doesn’t really matter, but I will say that my sales in December were incredible. Numbers aside, I think what matters the most is the question that Laura asked me…
Was it worth the investment?
My answer was a resounding YES! Fuck yes, abso-fucking-lutely yes. And the word “investment” here is really fucking important, because working with strong designers costs money. Probably more money than a new author is comfortable spending, but I’ve been wondering lately what a cover like ^that one^ could have done for me two years ago. What solid branding and a cohesive feel to my books could have done for the time it took me to get to where I am now, which is leaps and bounds from where I was this time last year. It’s why I turned around and begged Laura to do the ‘Imperfect Monster’ cover, and the results are speaking for themselves there as well.
There are very very few overnight successes, most of us are on the long-term grind at this gig. The people who hit it big with their first book are literally the one in a million (possibly even a worse ratio than that), and there are lots of extremely good books that just never get the attention they deserve. And, let’s face it, what we want / need / crave as authors is to have attention on our books. We spend weeks or months writing them, and a reader can make a decision with a passing glance on if they want to give you a try or not.
If the cover doesn’t draw their eye, they may never click to read your blurb.
If they don’t read your blurb, they’re probably not going to pick up your book either.
And if they don’t read that book, then how likely are they to read a future book if you don’t change anything?
Being an author is hard, lovelies. If you are an author, you’re probably nodding at the screen, or did a little snort laugh when you read that sentence, because this isn’t new information. Many of us do this in addition to a day job, in addition to our families, in addition to LIFE IN GENERAL, and that means that we’re already pouring everything we have left into these stories. Then we publish through a publisher, or on our own, and we stalk the book to look for reviews / reader reaction / ranks / shares on social media / etc. and just hope that we get any kind of return on OUR investment into that book.
So, why not do everything you can to get readers to click on it?
First impressions matter.
Before the reader gets close enough to learn anything about the book, the cover has probably already told them a lot about it, and as word people we may not be putting out the right vibes to draw in the right readers. You know who knows how to capture the right look and feel for a cover to make it connect to readers in the correct genre? Cover designers. You know who is more likely to make an emotion fueled decision? The author.
Working with a cover designer is a collaboration. It’s a partnership to walk a line somewhere between the book’s real characters / story, and the elements that make the book feel like it belongs in that genre and make it marketable.
What’s the bottom line here?
There are no guarantees when it comes to selling books. Sometimes books with average covers hit it big, and sometimes gorgeous covers still get missed. Bleh stories get big bucks, while incredible stories get ignored. But, we also know that when it comes to the controllable aspects of this insane job that we all signed up for – it’s always best to take care of what we can.
So, be ready to have your book judged by its cover. Find a great designer and make it the best damn cover you can. Make it fit the market, make it align with the bestsellers that are similar to your book, and get those new readers who don’t know your name to click on it. Draw them in with the visuals so you can wow them with your words.
And remember, for most of us, this is a journey not a sudden jackpot. Every incremental increase in readers / sales is a win, and it builds and builds.
Until next time,
PS – Share your favorite cover designers in the comments here or on social media! Share the wealth, inspire each other with gorgeous covers, and remember that I’m cheering you on, lovelies (and Laura would love to work with you and help you get there).