If you’re an indie author who’s been having trouble selling copies of the work that’s closest to your heart, you’ll probably have spent hours trying to figure out how to haul your book from the gloomy Quagmire of Failure, onto the cheery Shores of Success.
One of the most important questions you’ll no doubt have asked yourself along the way is: Is my book cover cutting the mustard?
And if you’re asking this right now, you’re not alone.
Last year, I launched my first mystery in the Campervan Bushman series, Killer Climate. Yep, I’d heard all the advice about getting a decent book cover and all that jazz. And I really believed I’d made a good job of putting together a nice, light-hearted cover that would reflect the mood of my main character, Scott Chevalier, who’s a kind of young Crocodile Dundee with a campervan & surfboard.
But I look back now and can see I made a complete hash of it!
Sound familiar? So, what opened my eyes? Well, after making some ‘serious’ decisions about my life as a writer and jumping on board Mark Dawson’s Facebook Advertising for Authors course towards the end of last year, I happened to speak with a few other authors in the group who were also writing cosy mysteries – and it hit me between the eyes…
My cover wasn’t GENRE-SPECIFIC!
Sure, I’d put a nice picture on the front of my book. I mean look at it… Inviting blue sea. A couple of surfers. All in keeping with my Scott Chevalier character. But, let’s face it, it doesn’t really grab you by the collar and slap you in the face, does it? And, for the mystery genre – and, more specifically, the cosy/cozy mystery sub-genre – I had to admit that it just wasn’t going to hit the right notes.
By the way, did I mention yet that the cover was basically crap?
Either way, something had to be done!
Devouring back episodes of the Science Fiction Fantasy Podcast (I know, I don’t write in that genre, but they have some great tips & advice!) I seem to remember host Joe Lallo mention one time that when he changed one of his covers, sales went up noticeably. If memory serves, they tripled (hope I got that right).
So, hey, if I redid my Killer Climate cover, maybe I could triple my sales, too, I thought. Hmm… I imagined updating my covers and feeling the heady rush when next checking my Amazon sales report: up from 5 purchases to a dizzy 15!
Wow! I could totally do this!
But what to do?
This is where a period of frenzied activity kicked in, checking out other cosy mystery writers’ book covers and looking up design tips (eg Derek Murphy – not my genre specifically, but he has a wealth of knowledge)… All with the aim of working out just how on earth I was going to wrest my cover from the doomed Pit of Crapdom.
The first thing I noticed in my research was just how wide the range of styles was for cosy mystery covers and how much they differed by country. Many of the American ones were fun and chick-litty with a cartoon style. British ones often had a nice picture on (eg a coastal setting) – the same kind of approach I’d taken (well, sorta).
So what was I to do when looking for covers to model?
I thought back to what some of the authors had said to me in my Facebook course group – what I needed was ‘vector art’. But what was that? Given that I’m a lover of Photoshop, I was surprised I’d never heard the term, and discovered that it was the kind of cartoon-style art used in a lot of chick lit – the style I’d seen on the mostly-American covers in my research travels.
Now, my book isn’t chick lit, but it was pretty clear that vector artwork would much better reflect my character and appeal more to the genre I wanted to sell to.
The over-riding idea here that I was learning, of course, is that your cover should be a signal to the kind of reader you want so they can immediately recognise that the book might be for them.
Sounds pretty obvious, right?
Unfortunately, we authors are sometimes just a bit too close to our projects and get a bit blinkered.
Oh well. Learn and move on, eh?
In any case, all this culminated with me resigning myself to the possibility that I would (for once!) need to let go of a few of my precious ideas about doing a cover myself (which has been my bent up till now), put my hand in my pocket, and pay someone to make up a vector art cover for me. After all, I knew nothing about vector art and it seemed a bit beyond me at the time.
So over the Christmas holidays, while Santa was recovering from his present deliveries, I made a few enquiries into cover designers, did a bit more research into vector art, and made some mockups of the sort of covers I’d like for my series.
It was time well spent, because after all that work, I realised I might be better off ploughing the money I would’ve spent hiring a designer into upgrading my skills instead.
Now, I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone. If you haven’t got a graphics design bone in your body, I’d advise hiring someone who’s competent in that area. But after doing my mockups, it dawned on me that I was half way to designing my own covers. I already had a lot of the right skills and loved working in Photoshop.
In addition, one of my biggest concerns was getting the right artwork for my character. I’d spotted some vector art that I liked, but wasn’t sure whether I could work with it. In the end, I decided to give the design job a go myself. I signed up to do CreativeLive‘s Adobe Illustrator course and enlisted the help of a tutor to ‘mentor’ me through the process and fill in the gaps in my knowledge as I went.
Basically, this was going to be an experiment.
And if all else failed, I could always put my tail between my legs and fall back on the services of the cover designer I’d been in touch with.
To cut a long story short, just over a month later, I’d learned the skills I needed (and some I ended up not needing) and had put together new covers plus the relevant artwork for my website… I’m very pleased with the results and the fact that I managed to get all this done in time to use my promotion days on Amazon’s KDP Select.
So, wanna see the finished product? I’m only going to show you the cover for book one, mind…
OK, then… You talked me into it… Here’s the cover for the free series prequel, too…
Well, I hope you like them! Although, while I’m buffing my nails over my prized accomplishments, the hard part isn’t over quite yet…
Whilst it may be true that having a good cover (or, at the very least, not a bad one!) can help you get noticed, it can’t guarantee success. There are too many other variables at play to pin it all on cover design.
However, getting your cover right is one important first step, and I’m keen to see how my experiment turns out. The question uppermost on my mind right now, of course, is: will all this hard graft triple my sales?
Wow! I can’t wait! Just imagine… 15 sales!
For better or worse, the new covers are going live as we speak.
In the meantime, feel free to let me know what you think of the covers or share any of your own successes or failures below in the comments box below which others might find useful.
I’ll keep you posted on how the experiment’s going… Bye for now!
aka the ‘Pyjama Writer’