book promotion, book sales, Uncategorized

Got You Covered

Never mind any old adages you have hanging around about how not to judge a book, it’s pretty much universally acknowledged that book covers matter. In fact, a book’s cover may be the single most important factor that you, as the book’s producer, have some control over. There are certainly bigger reasons for why buyers buy—author name recognition, word of mouth, personal recommendations—but all of those exist outside your scope of influence. You gabbing about your book on Facebook probably will not create a significant word-of-mouth buzz, and until you actually are famous, your name isn’t going to sell anything.

So covers matter. Granted. But how much? A poll at Book Smugglers of 616 respondents gave an overwhelmingly positive response to the question: Do covers matter at all to you? That is, do covers play a decisive role in your decision to purchase a book? Seventy-nine percent said YES. Twenty-one percent said NO.

On the other hand, when asked whether an eye-catching cover for a book you’ve heard nothing about was enough to make you buy it, only 6% said yes. And only 3% categorized the role of a cover in a purchase decision as “dominant.” And, conversely, about 83% of readers said they will go ahead and purchase a book they are interested in reading even if the cover is “truly hideous”(this figure drops when paying for a trade paperback or a hardcover, naturally.)

Polls like this don’t tend to produce definitive marketing numbers, but they do give us a general lay of the land. A good cover helps your chances of selling a book. In most cases the difference isn’t trivial, but neither is it normally a make-or-break factor.

At its most basic level, a cover is an invitation. Open me up. Check me out. Take me home. It’s meant to intrigue the prospective reader into checking out the blurb, maybe reading a page or two (though it is surprising how few people include “reading a sample” among their decision making tools.) What works for one reader might not work for another, so most cover designers aim for somewhere in the middle, which is to say they tend to be pretty conventional. There are plenty of professional book designers out there with their own list of dos and don’ts.  Avoid clashing colors and elaborate fonts. Keep it simple and eye-catching. Make it easily readable, even as a thumbnail. Beyond question, the one piece of advise they all agree upon? Don’t do it yourself. Hire a professional.

The webpage on book cover design at iUniverse provides this handy list:

Your Cover Should:
1.  Fall within the norms for your genre but visually stand out among other books.
2.  Appeal to readers and convince them to take a closer look at your book with a strong visual presence.
3.  Reflect the content of your book and expose readers to your writing style.
4.  Convince a potential reader to invest in a literary journey with your story.

Yeah, no problem.

Your cover should fall within the norms for your genre… Fair enough. Your book cover probably ought to give readers some idea of what to expect inside. If you’ve got elves in the story, maybe you ought to put one on the cover. But the use of genre tropes can lead to a tired sameness. Generic genre covers proliferate, and while these might be a comfort to the diehard genre reader, they hardly entice anyone else, and certainly don’t make your book stand out in a crowded field.

And so the second part of the quote: …but visually stand out among other books. Great advice—only a little weak on the how part of it. Any decent cover artist is already trying to do exactly that. That’s pretty much the first line of the job description. But there’s no secret formula for success. As John Lennon said when asked why the Beatles excited people so much, “If we knew we’d form another group and be managers.”

When I think about the whole question of how a book cover sets the expectations of the potential buyer, I wonder if I didn’t make a mistake. Here. Have a look at the covers for my two books:   spark   and  ag_flightofthewren_hires

Both were created in house by Lycaon Press (now defunct), specifically by Victoria Miller. Victoria does extremely nice work, and she is very easy to work with. I highly recommend her services. Her covers are polished and professional, easily comparable to books published by major publishers.

But I’m always just a little nagged by the suspicion that they are, ultimately, not the right covers for these books. My audience for both books was assumed to be young adult. Lycaon (a YA publisher) certain saw them that way. So did I. With young protagonists and the fantasy elements, it seemed obvious that my ‘target audience’ was younger readers.

But I don’t think that has turned out to be true. I think the largest part of my readership actually comes from adults who like YA stories. And if so, are my covers a hindrance? Are they too kiddish? Do they, perhaps, turn off some readers who like to consider YA as serious literature rather than simply a fun read? I have no problem with either characterization, but I have a feeling most of my own particular group of readers probably fall in the former camp. And if so, might a more restrained—more mature, perhaps?—approach to cover art be more appealing?

I don’t know. I’d welcome any feedback, either specific or general.

As far as the bigger question goes, sure, a nice professional cover is always a plus. But unless you’re talking a faced-out cover on a bookstore shelf, there’s no guarantee anyone is going to see it unless they go looking for it. I don’t think many people browse online waiting for book covers to catch their eye. Most people still shop based on word of mouth or personal recommendations or by looking for the latest book by an author they already know. If they ever do get to your page, then it’s absolutely better to have an appealing, well-wrought cover. But getting them to that page in the first place?

That remains the challenge, folks.

Comments? Questions? Criticisms? You know what to do.

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book promotion, book reviews

How Genre Dysphoria is Ruining my Writing Career

I hate the dropdown list.

If you’ve ever tried to enlist your book at a book-marketing website or even just self-publish it on Amazon, you’ve seen the dropdown list:

Please select a genre for your book:

  • Fantasy
  • Romance
  • Science Fiction
  • Mystery
  • Horror
  • Thriller
  • Paranormal
  • Literary
  • Young Adult

Of course, many of the lists are more diverse, giving you everything from Urban Fantasy to Paranormal Romance, but you know what? That doesn’t make any difference, because no matter how specific the genre, it still doesn’t fit my books. In fact, making the choices more specific only makes the problem worse. The smaller the pigeon-hole, the worse the fit.

***

There are two golden rules of selling stuff:

1. know what you are selling

and

2. know who you are selling to.

They are the twin maxims of marketing. Write something people want, and then go out and find them. Know thy audience! Then target them. I’ve given almost no thought to who my books are for. It’s not that I’m not interested. I want people to like my books, of course, but I have no control over that.  I haven’t gone to a single bookstore, online or otherwise, trying to find other books that are similar to mine so I can tap into a ready-made audience.

I’m supposed to do that. I’m supposed to go and find that audience.

It’s one of the many things I’ve done wrong. I don’t target my audience. I don’t write high-concept. My books don’t sit comfortably in any particular genre. I can’t even identify an appropriate age group. I classified Spark as Young Adult, but in all the comments by reviewers at Amazon, what was the single most common observation?

The book isn’t really YA:

“…definitely different from your typical young adult novel.”

“I’m not sure it can be classified as Young Adult.”

“I am trying to think of the best genre to which this book belongs.”

“what separates this book from other YA or science fiction-type of books is the attention to detail and language.”

“…not typical of YA books in general.”

“…may be a little misclassified as a YA novel.”

Here’s the thing, though: while everybody mentioned it, nobody called it a bad thing. In some cases, not fitting in was a bonus. Being different can be a good thing.

So while a marketing consultant might leap on my genre dysphoria as the fatal flaw that is preventing the book from catapulting to a wider audience, I don’t think most readers really care all that much. And sure, there are plenty of people out there who only read cozy mysteries or high fantasy or YA dystopian, but those people probably aren’t going to be in my audience anyway. We’ll never be more than just friends.

And if I’m going to be totally honest about it, I like genre bending. I enjoy books that are hard to classify, that defy convention, that live in the spaces between categories. I like reading them. I like writing them. So maybe it isn’t a problem at all.

Except for those damned dropdown lists.

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