The importance of book covers

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.

Original cover

Original cover

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 poll choices

The poll choices

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.

New cover

New cover

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 the authorCaprice 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/.


17 comments on “The importance of book covers

  1. I love the new cover. I need to learn this cover design thing. Could be peer pressure. Everybody’s doing it nowadays. 😉

  2. Heh. Thanks, Robynn. I think I do a passable job most of the time. Problem is, I never know when it’s “not working” and I should try something else because my taste is rather skewed. This was a good move and even I can see it’s definitely better.

  3. I love the new cover. I’m one of your June downloads, but I didn’t know you were KJ Blaine–glad I know it now.

    • I am not hiding the fact it is my pen name, but I’m also not trying to broadcast it or make a big deal out of it either. Now, if I had a name like J.K. Rowling, you can bet I would not bother with pen names, but my allegorical fantasy series hasn’t been popular enough to matter. I might be fair at book covers, but I absolutely stink at “branding”.

      Hope you like the book, Sonja. BTW, Book 4 will be free Aug. 15-19.

  4. I think you do a great job with your books covers and with “Bound to Happen.” I’ve realized I do better with concepts more than implementation. I remember when I was researching book covers for “Higher Honor” — I sat in a bookstore literally for eight hours. I pulled every book that caught my attention and I made notes about what I liked about them. I really liked faces and something that would give me a sense of setting. Jackie Seger, a photog friend, offered to do the cover so I pretty much told her I wanted faces and setting. North Georgia College let me borrow some of their cadets for models and she did a great job of putting everything together. I still think it’s an amazing cover and I hope I can hire her to do a cover for whatever my next book will be.

  5. In my imagination, I don’t look at covers at all, but decide by titles and blurbs. I’m sure that isn’t true. The images probably affect me more than I think. I’m currently having my cover redone. I haven’t seen the final product, yet, so I have no sales figures. But the process has made me more aware of cover images. I don’t normally use a tablet device, but many people do. My husband bought me one, and I immediately began scrolling the Kindle books on it. Bright, shiny, iconic images are the only ones that are really very eye-catching on a tablet (imo). This is also an issue on Amazon, but the tablet device heigtens the necessity for different cover designs than we knew of in the past. I think your original, as well as the redone original fit a tablet ideal. Anyway, I’m completely jealous of indie authors who are artistic and understand these things. 😉

    • I don’t think I am artistic in the graphic arts sense. And yes, I DO design covers with the thumbnail size in mind because 99.9999% of my sales are Kindle ebooks. The cover either needs to grab you with a simple image or it at least needs to intrigue enough that the reader will click on it to see it bigger and/or read the book description. Designing for thumbnail (sometimes seen on devices at sizes even smaller than a postage stamp!) also means I have a large title and byline and I don’t get too fancy with fonts. Some people have said they thought I was egotistical to make my (pen) name that huge. Actually, it’s just the fact I am 50 years old and I want to be able to read the text without 3x reading glasses!

      Thanks for leaving a comment, Jill!

  6. Wow, the second picture was definitely better than the first. I can tell why your sales went up. 😀 Though, one thing you didn’t mention is that typography goes a long way too. (Most of what turns me off about both versions is the font, actually. It reminds me of a comic book or a self published non-fiction. Rather…funky and unprofessional, you know.) Good typography is huge when it comes to design.

    • No, actually, I didn’t know. No one has ever said anything about the font. What font would you recommend?

      • There are a lot of options, you know. 🙂 It depends on the book and what it’s like and so on (which I don’t know). (But I browsed fontsquirrel (www.fontsquirrel.com) for a bit, and maybe Dayposterblack, or Yukarimobile, or Fortysecondstreet, or Commando, or Code, would be along the right lines? I don’t know. I’m not very good at typography things myself. :D) But the fluorescent green color mixed with that 3D effect is probably a lot of what gives me the wrong impression, as well, not just the base font.

        • The book is science fiction (future) so Dayposterblack, and Fortysecondstreet would both not work, as they are rather nostalgic. Yurimobile is hard to read, IMO. I like Commando and Code. I will try those and see if they’re any better, although I’m not sure I am even seeing what is wrong with Impact and Hemi. Thanks for your input. I appreciate your time.

          • Hemi is perfect for SF. The 3D effect is a little extraneous, but I don’t see it as a big problem in this case.

          • I probably would not change the Hemi font (byline) as I used that across the board on all five books. I tried the title in Hemi and it didn’t fit as well, and I didn’t find it as readable as Impact, which I thought was close enough it wouldn’t “clash”. As far as the 3D effect, I did that more for the paperback than anything else, because it’s in 300 dpi and larger than anyone would ever see on ebook or Amazon page. What I would really like is what Big Pubs do, and have the lettering physically raised (embossed) on the cover. But that’s not available to me, so this was the next best thing. However, it’s rather moot since none of my paperbacks really sells at all. If the 3D effect was a problem in postage stamp size (100 x 66 pixels) then that would be a lot more concern. Honestly, Juliet is the first person to ever mention not liking the font/lettering, so I am probably not going to change it unless I hear that from more people.

            Whether for good or ill, I am just not convinced my “main” problem is in the cover. Marketing budget has got to be a part of the puzzle, and I still think I am missing something when it comes to choosing plots.

            Anyway, thanks for all the suggestions.

          • OK. 🙂

          • Yeah, Impact is a good choice, and I agree fiddling any more with the cover is probably not a good use of your time.

          • Well, when I tried to download Code from Fontsquirrel, it sent me to the developer’s site and it appears to use it commercially, I would have to pay a license fee of 22 bucks, and I am just not willing to do that for two freaking words. LOL! But I did try Commando and I left it flat instead of 3D, because Juliet mentioned not liking it and because it takes time to do the 3D render and this was just a test. I don’t see a way to put an image in a comment, so I had to put it somewhere else and link: http://kjblaine.us/test.jpg Commando (on the right) is more science-fictiony than Impact. I will concede that point. Definitely. However, I don’t particularly like the way the R and A look so similar, especially when the letters come next to each other as they do in TRAITORS. I also think the Commando clashes slightly with Hemi. That is NOT the italic or “oblique” version, btw. That is the base font. Italics lean even more.

            To use Commando, I would have to redo the byline of five books, which as any interior decorator knows, is like changing the carpet color, then you have to get new drapes and new couch and…. And while I like Commando, I don’t like it enough to go make changes (possibly multiple ones) on five covers… UNLESS more people (or some well-known professional superstar cover designer) convinces me it would be worth the time and hassle. Maybe I am lazy. Or maybe I am just fed up with bailing out my sinking dinghy with a teacup, when the hole is probably the size of a basketball. Maybe I just need a new boat.

            Thanks for your suggestions.

  7. I actually liked Impact better. I’m pretty new to sci-fi, but I thought Impact looked more military, which appealed to that part of my personality (and the books to do have a military element). Anyway, that’s just me.

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