By Caprice Hokstad
I don’t think I’ve been asked to do a guest post here before. Just as well. Most of the time, I wouldn’t know what to say. Writing nonfiction generally sends me into a panic, not to mention, it gives me fits meeting minimum word counts. Kristen discussed the subject with me ahead of time, and she also assured me I didn’t have to meet a word minimum, so here I am.
I’m just here to confirm what you’ve all heard before: book covers are important. I signed up for a fiction marketing course because I was dissatisfied with my book sales. The truth is, I STILL am dissatisfied. Yes, I did multiply my sales by a factor of seven, but when you consider that the end result is just seven sales, it’s not quite as spectacular as if that factor of seven had been applied to something a bit more reasonable, like, say, 100 to 700.
In the month of June, I sold one copy of my self-published book, “Telepaths and Traitors”. I also had a KDP Select giveaway that month that lasted three days and during those three days, I had 187 free downloads. Pathetic, right? I agree.
I mentioned this to the marketing guru, not to fix it, necessarily, but to provide an example of how much I suck at selling fiction. I was hoping to learn how to devise a plot that would be more popular. I was planning to start all over. (Again.) However, this guru seemed to think the problem was the cover and possibly the title.
I thought the cover was fine. Okay, maybe not stupendous, but I didn’t think I could do any better on the budget I had, especially considering the book was basically proving itself a flop. I didn’t want to sink a lot more money into a loser. But before I would feel justified in asking for a refund for the marketing course, I figured I should at least give his advice a sporting chance.
So I wracked my brains (pun intended) for literally days, trying to come up with other titles and covers to go with those titles. The guru said characters on covers did remarkably well. My main character is a geek. It is not easy to find geek-types in stock photos that don’t look intentionally goofy. I found one and coupled it with a title that fit the story in order to make a new cover. I didn’t think it was that great, but since my tastes don’t sell books very well, I ignored my own opinion.
The only other title-cover combination I could come up with was to play on the fact I used a B-29 bomber in the plot. The best B-29 photo I found was actually public domain and I thought “Sabotage at 30,000 Feet” and the old photo were at least better than geek plus “Improbable Hero” (note: “Unlikely Hero” sounds better, but that title has been done to death and I didn’t want to deal with competition). Try as I might, I really could not come up with anything else.
Since none of the new choices grabbed me at all, and perhaps to prove I was “right” to begin with, I put all three covers up on a poll and asked people to choose which book thumbnail would make them interested enough to click and read a synopsis.
The first (original) cover was overwhelmingly chosen over the two new ones. However, in one of my writer’s groups, it was brought to my attention that while the old title was catchy and good, and the concept of a brain to represent telepathy was sound, the particular brain I had chosen was too generic. “It looks like something for a dull Powerpoint talk,” was one of the comments I got.
Kristen actually found the image I ended up buying. “See how it’s more dynamic?” I agreed it was indeed a better image and I changed the cover. Since I kept the same title, all I really had to do was color-match a little, and it was done. I had to redo the interior too, because the photo copyright changed, so I basically did a brand new edition.
After I uploaded it, I raised the price in anticipation of the two days of free promo I would do for this “new” book. The marketing guru said people are more apt to grab a freebie when they see the regular price is high than when they aren’t saving as much. Because these two free days in July were less than 60 days from when I held that pitiful free promo in June, several of the blogs and Kindle freebie promotion places would not advertise for me this time. So not only was the free promo shorter by a full 24 hours, I had fewer places announcing it.
In those two freebie days after the cover was changed, I had 1049 downloads. When the free days were over, I sold one or two books at the inflated price I never intended to leave, and a total of seven books between July 26th and now (August 6th). In all fairness, it hasn’t been a full month to compare to the “before” month when I only sold one book, but all seven sales occurred within a week of the promo, so I doubt I will sell more than one or two more.
Another plus I should mention: this is the first book in a 5-book series, so all my other books got a small boost from the new cover too. Across the series, and if you count “borrows” as sales (which I do because they are paid almost as much as royalties), then I sold three times as many books after the cover change as before (15 total versus 5). Are these numbers going to impress anyone? Doubtful. While I definitely feel changing the cover was the right thing to do, I still wish I could do better than selling fifteen total copies across a five-book series.
I might also mention that I tried changing the cover on my fantasy novelette (very short story), “Fettered Soul”, which is a prequel to my Splashdown-published trilogy, last month as well. It did not have nearly the effect. I got only 157 downloads in 3 days and I only made one extra sale on that book, and no help to the novels.
So yes, covers are important, but they aren’t everything.
Caprice Hokstad writes science fiction as K.J. Blaine. Her fantasy series, The Ascendancy Trilogy, is published by Splashdown Books. Visit her website: http://latoph.com/.