by Nick Thacker (@nickthacker)
I first met Nick through his excellent LiveHacked.com blog, where he writes about writing as well as the many tasks the modern writer takes on as a digital entrepreneur. Nick also practices what he preaches, and his background in internet marketing sets him apart. Today he addresses the importance of your book cover and how indie authors can get it right.
Why You Should Judge a Book By Its Cover…
…Because everyone else does.
We’ve all heard the proverb “don’t judge a book by its cover,” meaning that we shouldn’t let first appearances become our judgement.
The saying, of course, applies to much more than just books, but as this is a blog that focuses only on books, I’m taking issue with the literal meaning of the old adage.
It’s the truth; it’s just the way it is.
Imagine browsing the countless rows and columns of books available for sale on Amazon’s website — no doubt you’ve done this recently. You can picture a few key attributes of the books listed there: title, price, availability information, shipping options.
Above all, though, you’ll notice the cover.
Whether it’s a “Big 6”-published super-seller or an obscure text used for an advanced science class, Amazon — and any other online bookstore — displays book covers prominently.
Whether you choose to believe it or not, the opinion you have of the last book purchase you made was a result of observing these attributes — to a certain extent. Even if you bought your nephew’s latest self-published fantasy novel solely for posterity and brownie points, you at least noticed what the cover looked like.
And most people will let that opinion — subconscious or not — creep into their overall judgement of the book.
The cover of your book matters. It can lead to more sales (or fewer), it can allow you to price it higher by conveying a message of quality, and it can lend credibility to you as an expert on your topic. By investing in a great cover design, you’re alleviating yourself from many possible “buyer dilemmas,” examined below (Please note: these are possible dilemmas, and they’re just illustrations. I’m sure none of you would ever think this about a real book!):
- “This book seems pretty low-budget. I’d like to spend my money on something that took more effort.”
- “This book seems unprofessional. I wonder if the author’s as ‘expert’ as he says he is.”
- “This book doesn’t look like what I’d expect a [thriller|mystery|literary|etc.] book to look like.”
Believe it or not, your potential readers might be thinking these things about your book.
Instead, remove these three options from your customer’s mind — allow them only one possible judgement: “I don’t like the cover design, but that’s just me.”
Let the subjectivity of a “great” design be the only possible caveat for your readers.
Nonfiction and Fiction Covers
Take a look at your favorite professionally-produced books, and notice their covers. What do you see?
Most likely, they “fit” within the genre:
- Nonfiction advice or self-help books often display a picture of the author-as-expert, surrounded by a blocky title font.
- Literary novels often feature a whimsical, decorated, or cursive-stylized title font, with soft shades of color and possibly a contemplative picture or imagery.
- Romance novel covers usually have a man or woman (or both), no doubt locked in a close embrace, passionate gaze, or another “love” position…
- Thrillers or action/adventure covers display the author’s name and title in big, bold lettering, superimposed on a graphical representation of a main story element.
Of course there are exceptions — for every novel you’ll find that fits the above criteria, I’m sure you can find one that doesn’t. The point is, there are certain inherent “expectations” readers have when browsing for a book to satiate their reading preferences, and it all starts with the cover.
If you know that, generally, most books in your genre feature a mysterious or creepy silhouette and a scared young protagonist, why would you purposefully design something that doesn’t fit within that archetype?
You’re not playing copycat here, you’re just trying to remove any obstacles to getting the sale as you can. We all know it’s hard enough to convince people to buy your book as opposed to a competing one.
The point of all this “cover talk”
This argument isn’t meant to convince you that the only thing that matters is your cover — far from it. A great cover design is just one out of many variables that go into a great book launch and continued sales.
It just so happens that a book’s cover is one of the first (and possibly only) things a potential reader might review before making a decision. By investing in a great design, you’re helping them stick around your sales page a bit longer.
So the question remains: should you attempt to design a cover yourself, or should you shell out a bit of money for top-notch, professionally-designed cover?
While I can’t definitively answer that for each and every one of you, I can say with much certainty, “it’s probably best to pay for one.” Here’s why:
- It’s going to help to have an objective set of eyes on your book. Just because you think a certain element from your story needs to manifest itself on the cover, your reader might not.
- A professional is just that — a professional. That means you’re entitled — within reason — to hold them accountable for designing a fantastic cover that fits your expectations. It’s easy to get out of hand and become a client from hell, but it’s just as easy to get back the cover of your dreams, with no hassle.
- Professionals have “been there” before. They’ve worked with other authors, and they know intuitively what will be attractive for your genre’s audience. You might know what works in a story arc for that genre, but they know what font and color will work.
- It saves a lot of time. Maybe you’re a world-class designer, but how much is your time worth? Could you be planning the launch, rewriting a section, or doing one more self-edit instead of designing the cover?
- It saves money. Believe it or not, one of the least expensive elements of professional book design (compared to editing, layout/formatting, proofreading, etc.) can be cover design. I’ve seen great covers that cost less than $200, and while you can spend way more than that, there’s usually no reason to go broke getting it done.
It seems to me that most of the time a self-published author chooses to “go it alone” and design their own cover is not that they’re truly interested in the DIY nature of self-publishing, but that they’re interested in getting their book out as fast as possible.
There’s nothing bad about that — many self-published authors (myself included) chose that route over the “traditional” publishing route because of the speed of getting their book out into the world. But instead of becoming more efficient, they sacrifice quality.
Getting a great cover designed can take some time — sending proofs and changes back and forth, processing payments, waiting for a response — but this time “waiting around” could also be spent honing your book into the best possible version of itself.
What do you think?
Have you had experience designing your own covers, or paid someone else to do it? Why did you choose the option you did, and what was the result?
Leave a comment and jump into the discussion!
Nick Thacker is a self-declared “life hacker” and writer. He loves to blog, read, and create awesome things, and has written a thriller as well as several ebooks for authors. If you want free novel-writing tips, check out his free 20-week novel-writing course. You can find out more at his blog and resource site www.LiveHacked.com.