Sunday, December 18, 2011

Why Your Cover Sucks, AND it's killing your sales

Harsh, I know, but the truth often stings us in our most sensitive bits.

You know, right in our babies, our books, our belief that we have the BEST cover art EVER.

And, it's all a lie.

Now, you have to realize this has ZERO to do with your cover artist. That's right, zero. This problem has to do with YOU (and by you I mean me too) not being able to give your cover artist something to work with.

For instance, my book, Sundered, originally had a very cool cover. This one, right here.

It took TALENT to produce this cover, something I do not have. What I also didn't have was an understanding of what I would NEED to have on the cover in order for it to sell to my MARKET.

This book cover is great, but it really doesn't sell to my market, which is ZOMBIES and monsters. Much as there is a romance in the book, that is just a bonus.

It took some advice from Carolyn McCray, bestselling Kindle author and her Optimization Workshop to set me straight.

What I learned blew my mind. NO, really it did. As proud as I was of Sundered's cover, it wasn't helping me sell my book. It was scaring away potential readers because the book cover said one thing (erotic romance apparently ;) while the blurb said Zombies, Monsters and high action. A contradiction that scared readers off.

So I took Carolyn's advice and had a second cover done. Again, a talented artist, but THIS time, I knew what I was looking for. Zombie, monsters, freaky looking.  I knew my market better, understood what my readers were looking for and I gave it to them.

Now, what did the cover change do for me? It increased sales by 800%. Yes, you read that right.  Because now, what I show my potential readers and what the blurb says MATCHES.

All because I finally had someone tell me the truth. My cover art sucked because I didn't recognize my market and wasn't able to then give the ideas to my artist and it was KILLING my sales.

So, now that you see the two covers together, both by VERY talented artists, what do you think? Which one would you buy?


Lynn Hallbrooks said...

If I were to buy Zombie books (which I don't. I'm not really into romance books either so that should make this a relatively unbiased opinion) I would would like the second one better.

D said...

Second one is better by far. The first one looks like just another contemporary romance.

Great post by the way, I think good cover art is essential to sales, as well as removing that last air of home-made stigma the indie & selfpub industry has.

Shannon said...

Lynn- Thanks for the un-biased opinion, those are the best!

Dasia- Thanks so much for the comment, I agree, cover art is so essential and so many people skimp on it, or as in my case, don't know what they are doing. :)

Char said...

Wow, Shannon. Those are 2 very different covers. But you are so right that the cover art can make a big difference. If I don't know an author's works, that is my first impression of what's inside. Both covers are great. The first screams romance to me but the 2nd seems perfect for your book. Congrats on the 800% increase - that is fantastic!

Shannon said...

Char- Both cover artists are SO skilled in their areas, I just had to figure it out. :) I didn't think the first one wasn't a good fit until it was pointed out to me. :) And thanks, hoping the sales continue, as every author does.

Carmen DeSousa said...

Shannon, you hit the nail dead on the head. No matter what we say...we *DO* judge a book by its cover.

If I wanted to read zombies...I'd buy the one with the zombie cover, which is very good by the way. If I wanted a romance, I'd buy the one with the man and woman.

The other thing I'd point out is the zombie picture is's original, it's not too creepy. The romance one is a good picture, but it doesn't scream buy me...although your blurb did.

Hope that helps.

Unknown said...

WOW. What a huge difference. I thought the first cover was for a romance novel, so as I read further I was totally surprised. :-) I love the second cover. Makes me ask a ton of questions.

Just goes to show people really do judge books by their covers!

Anonymous said...

Wow, the second cover is MUCH closer to your subject matter. I'm a graphic designer and illustrator, and I really do judge ebooks by their covers a lot of the time.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

I think the point is driven home by the fact I didn't realise your book had zombies in it, until now. I actually thought Sundered WAS a romance and I never bothered to look into it any further because I don't read romance.

I'm curious, though, why you didn't put zombies (or something zombie-ish) on the cover of the book the first time around.

Shannon said...

Carmen- Thanks, I agree, we ALWAYS judge a book by its cover, even if we are trying not to.

Krystal- It's crazy in a way to think they are for the same book. I LOVE both artists, I just had NO idea what I was doing the first time around. LOL. Learning slowly!

Alexis- Thanks for stopping by, and I totally agree, #2 is way closer to the subject matter, but again, my bad for not knowing what would work best. :)

Ciara- The first cover, if you look close, you can see the "zombies" in the window. But, the story, as much as it's about monsters and surviving, is also about a husband and wife; what they have to do to survive and to be fair, that was my personal focus on the cover. It took the workshop to open my eyes that as much as I liked it, as well done as it was, it didn't work for this particular book. Live and learn. :)

jennie said...

Yeppers, if I was browsing books and saw the first cover, I wouldn't have read that it was about zombies. I don't read many romance books and the cover says the typical romance story.
Second cover, I'd notice for sure and read that it's a zombie book. Don't read those books either but would read the cover and pass the title on to my friends that do love zombies.
Good article

Webbiegrrl Writer said...

If I were browsing and saw the first cover, I wouldn't actually think erotic romance. I'd think campy category romance--but definitely This is a romance novel.

If I then went ahead and read the blur and it proclaimed zombies and monsters, I'd wonder, where's the frakkin romance? This book is *bleep* and no, I wouldn't be sold.

Then again, like several of your prior commenters I never read zombie books and don't particularly enjoy campy category romances either so the first cover would never have gotten me to read the blurb anyway.

On the second cover, I'm sorry, it has NO ZOMBIE message in it. I'm a lifelong reader (and writer) of the SF/F genre and the #1 message your cover #2 now proclaims is ROBOTS, but not zombies. To see or "hear" zombies from that artwork would take some serious desire to hallucinate. There's a metallic look to one side of the face and a Terminator-style cyborg eye. That's a "robots gone wild" story.

If I then went ahead and read the blur and it proclaimed zombies and monsters, I'd wonder, where's the frakkin robot play in? This book is *bleep* and no, I wouldn't be sold.

Same response. I'm sorry. Your article says you want truth. I'm giving you truth.

Now one more truth, the second cover is AWESOME looking, really GRABS attention. If you have any cyborg or robot-gone-wild subtext going on in your story, I'd keep that cover and highlight that subtext in the blurb. If not, well, you gotta get some zombies onto that cover. They're a very popular subgenre of both the SF/F and Horror genres. I'll still never be interested, but you could hit two markets with a zombie story. I'd advise you to get some zombies on there despite that cyborg being "wicked-pissa-kewel" as we say in Boston.

Larry Correia's MONSTER HUNTERS, INTERNATIONAL series has some great covers. I think he's published out of Baen Books. He's a fan of Baen Books. look for his stuff and see what he did on his covers, or find some incredibly popular zombie series (not one-ups) and see what those books did. Good luck!

And good article despite your covers still having an identity crisis (LOL)

Holly said...

I read zombies but not romance, so my eyes would just skim over the first cover. The second one is much better.

Maria said...

That second cover is better for a lot of reasons. The first looks a tad photoshopped to me.

I hired someone for both Under Witch Moon and Under Witch Aura--Under Witch Aura has the best cover yet!!!

And you're right. I couldn't do that on my own. It's only been out a week though, so we'll see whether it helps sales.

Good luck with your books!

Edward Owen said...

I agree a little with Webbiegrrl, there is a bit of Terminator in the look... a little more 'Zombieishness' (no, you can't use that in Scrabble) would work better, (rotting flesh is sort of the standard) but definitely better than the first cover. Congrats on the increased sales. Yes, covers make the book, at least to drive reader interest. Good Blog.

Debbie Bennett said...

Both covers are great - but first says romance, second says sf/horror to me (zombies at a push - he doesn't look like a zombie but I'd be intrigued enough to read the blurb).

I had the same experience as you - I was told (by a writer/agent/editor) that my first cover sucked! Fortunately he introduced me to his designer & advised me throughout.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I agree that the first cover doesn't say Zombies and monsters at all. It's a book I'd grab and be disappointed cos I'd be expecting sweet romance with some good passionate love scenes. The new one definitely conveys the message.


Shannon said...

Thanks everyone for all the comments!!

Jim said...

I'd buy the first one.

Jules Andre said...

I saw the first cover before I really finished reading the post. I was floored that it was a cover for a zombie novel. In fact, I had to read that part of the post twice just to make sure my eyes still worked.

You definitely found a better match with the second cover.

I did a post on my own blog about indie covers and the Kindle top 100. It's interesting what a cover can reveal about a book without us realizing!

Unknown said...

Hey Shannon, the second cover is fantastic! Yes, the first one did remind me of a cheesy romance novel, maybe erotica, but not necessarily. Kudos to you on learning the art of covers! Of course, this is really an open ended post, but I think my cover hit dead center . . . but that's because I chose an artist that does YA covers and gave her something awesome to work with. I only hope she can do the same for the second and third book covers. :) Have a good one, thanks for the food for thought!

Anonymous said...

Get post. I keep hearing that covers don't matter. I love that you have confirmed what I've seen in my own sales, and that is covers do matter. For some of us indie authors the covers are the hardest part to get done. Your second cover is awesome for a zombie book.

RW Bennett said...

Wonderful post. This, dear authors, is an excellent example of showing, not telling.

Shannon said...

Phew, I had no idea this post would generate so much interest! Thank you for all the comments, and if you look to your right on the top of the screen, you'll see that we've continued to tweek the 2nd cover, adjusting the eye and heightening the "monster/zombie" look. :)

Jinxie G said...

I absolutely agree. The cover is extremely important, as I showed you in the post I wrote for the book review site.

And I definitely love the second cover more!

Unknown said...

I completely agree Shannon. As much as our babies are literary works that we've honed to perfection, to the rest of the world it's still a very visual marketing approach that is needed. I had a 'brilliant' concept for my cover art, as a graphics person there were so many subtle things I wanted to incorporate into the cover. Fortunately my publisher saw through me and gave me something that blew me away and constantly receives praise. We may know what we want but it's not always what we need. Great transformation and great post.

Shannon said...

Jinxie and PW- Thanks so much, glad I could share it with everyone, just hoping it stops a few from making the same mistakes I did. :)

Stephen Tiano said...

The thing many self-publishing authors don't understand is that the book cover-book interior relationship is a lot like a promise made-promise kept relationship. It's not just that the best-looking cover is the most desirable.

Ideally, the cover should make a promise about what the reader will find inside. I mean both in terms of what the book is about, the story or subject matter, and stylistically, as well. The typography of the cover should connect with the typography inside and should suggest something of the story, either because the time or country of origin of the cover type is connected or contrasts with what the book is about.