The Two Things Your Book Cover Design Must Do

It’s been a while since I’ve added anything to my occasional series on how to get started marketing your book, so I though it was about time I moved onto the next topic in my infographic – cover design.

(By way of reminder, here’s the infographic again.)

start marketing your book - a self published authors guide

You might be interested to know that I’ve been having a debate with a fellow indie author friend (who I’ve interviewed on this blog), and he disagrees with me about not marketing your first book. His advice is that if by marketing your first book, you’ll learn how to do it and be better when the time comes to market your second or third.

My take on this is that if you lose money marketing your first book, it could put you off the whole thing altogether. But then, he’s sold more books than me – which just goes to show that there’s more than one way to skin this book marketing cat.

So, my advice to you is to bear in mind that I’m offering this advice as someone who’s also quite new to this journey (I put my first book up for pre-order two years ago this week, and only published my second a year ago, although I have been very busy since then, with four more published). So I’m hoping that the tips I share in this blog will help fellow noobs (sorry) to learn from my mistakes and not repeat them!

Anyway, to get to the point. Book covers.

Most surveys that ask people why they buy books find that about 10% of purchasing decisions are based on the cover, with twice that based on the synopsis.

But I’ve read plenty of case studies showing that revamping your book cover can double sales, with nothing else changing.

I believe that unless your cover looks professional and is on-genre, people won’t click that ‘Look Inside’ button or pick the book up in a store in the first place.

The cover is a promise. It tells the (potential) reader what to expect from what’s inside. And there are two main elements to this:

  • If it communicates the genre effectively, it will encourage the right sort of readers to buy.
  • If it looks as if care has been taken over it, the reader will assume care has been taken over the writing too.

Let’s take a look at each of those.

Your Book Cover Design Must Be On Genre

You might be wondering why the ‘right sort’ of readers are important. Isn’t that a bit snobbish?

No. Absolutely not. Quite the opposite, in fact.

If your book has a cover that makes people think it’s a fantasy novel when in fact it’s sci-fi, you’ll find fantasy readers picking it up and buying it.

They’ll start reading the book, expecting all the things they’re familiar with from all the fantasy novels they’ve read…

…and then they’ll find themselves reading a sci-fi novel.

That experience will jar. They probably won’t finish the book (only about 50% of people finish books they buy, and the figure is much lower for free books).

If they leave a review, it won’t be a positive one.

They won’t buy your next book.

And, even worse, if enough people do it, and those people are on Amazon, the algorithm will figure this is a book sci-fi readers will enjoy, and start recommending it to them. Which will fritz your also-boughts.

But imagine your cover is on-genre. It tells people loud and clear that this is a fantasy novel. It’s got an illustrated cover with a touch of the magical about it (I’m not a fantasy author, so don’t expect me to get any more specific).

The people who pick it up will be fantasy readers. They’ll read a bit of it, like what they see, and buy it. When they read it, they’ll get an experience which is familiar and enjoyable to them, and be more likely to finish the book – and to leave it a positive review.

If your book does its job really well, they’ll buy the next one in your series, or another standalone book by you.

Yippee! You have a fan.

Now to the next point…

Your Book Cover Design Must be Professional

Your book is fighting for attention. There are millions of books out there, more than anyone could ever hope to read, even if they only read in one subgenre.

And if your cover looks scrappy, it’ll give the impression that your writing is scrappy too. It doesn’t matter how good your opening chapter is – I believe that if the cover is bad, people won’t get as far as reading the opening chapter.

Yes, I know that’s not what they say when they’re asked in surveys. But people lie. It makes you sound more intelligent if you say you buy a book because of the contents, than because it had a great cover. And maybe the cover made you look inside, and what you read was what tipped you over into buying the book. In your memory, it will be the excerpt that made you buy – not the cover.

This doesn’t mean your cover has to be beautiful. It’s packaging: an image designed to convey professionalism and tell people what’s inside. In some genres, a beautiful cover is a bonus. But in others, it isn’t necessary.

Here’s an example. When I launched my first book, I did so with a professionally designed cover which was described by one reader as beautiful, and which was on-genre for the book I thought it was:

It looked great. But it had a problem.

To cut a long story short, I was marketing it under the wrong genre. I thought it was post-apocalyptic, but the zombie-loving post-apocalyptic reading crowd disagreed with me. Essentially, it was a domestic thriller.

So I retitled it, moved it to the psychological thrillers category, and got a new cover.

That version isn’t as beautiful. It doesn’t have the lovely detailing on the text that the earlier version has. The image is simpler, and hasn’t been manipulated as much.

But it does two things: it tells you this is a thriller (all those dark colors with the contrasting brightly colored title in the right kind of font). And it stands out as a thumbnail on Amazon’s product pages.

It now sells much better than it did. Three times as well. Admittedly it has a lot more reviews now, but when I first switched the cover that was the only thing that changed (apart from the title), and it doubled sales.

So your cover doesn’t have to be beautiful. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. But it does have to communicate two things to readers:

  1. This is a professionally produced book.
  2. This is a [insert genre here] book. You’ll love it if you enjoy other books that look like this.

If you’re about to publish your first book, or you’re wondering why your beautifully written books aren’t selling, you might want to review your cover. Ask some impartial friends (preferably who read in your genre) what the cover says to them. If they don’t correctly identify what kind of book it is, you may need a change.

Some good places to learn more about cover design are:

Hopefully these will help you create or find the best design for your book. Happy designing!

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