In this “Do This, Not That” post, I’ll be discussing who self-published authors should turn to for guidance and feedback.
What They Did: Depended upon authors about marketing plans
Today, I was on the phone with an author who was confused about whether or not to give away free books as part of her marketing plan. She had read in one discussion group that free books were KEY to a successful review and marketing campaign. A few days later, she read an author’s blog advising to NEVER give books away because if you need to value your books or no one else will. Both bits of advice are technically correct but NEITHER bits of advice are actually correct. The truth is, review copies and sales sample copies are a necessary item for every publisher. Reviewers and book buyers expect and require copies of books to get their job done. It is our job as publishers to supply those copies. BUT, giving away books to readers in the hopes that they will like your book is NOT a good use of free books. The secret is to know WHEN free books are a good idea and HOW to use them.
What They Should Have Done Instead
Depended upon experts and decision makers for guidance.
Take guidance from the decision makers and reviewers. Authors have a wealth of knowledge, but their experiences are limited to their one book or program. The book buyers, book reviewers, and experts that see thousands of books each month have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t. There are experts out there that spend all of their time on the front lines of the book industry. There are book buyers and reviewers that make decisions that launch books into the stratosphere who have a much better idea of what works and what doesn’t than authors who are working to GET launched. (The editors and book buyers will tell you that every successful book printed and shared free copies of those books.) Learning which situation is which takes a long time and the long view that comes from seeing thousands of bestselling books over many many years.
What They Did: Asked Their Friends for their Opinions on Their Covers
I am seeing a lot of authors on social media sharing their covers and asking for feedback. I understand the instinct and motives behind this. Facebook gives you access to a HUGE amount of feedback. The problem is, the feedback comes from those with very limited experience in book covers. I am also seeing emails from a lot of authors telling me that they asked their friends and family what they thought about their cover. There are multiple problems with authors asking their friends for an opinion on their covers.
First, there has never been an author in the history of time whose friends and family were completely honest. It is not their fault… it is how we are wired. Even if we THINK we are being totally straightforward, we are conditioned to not hurt those we love. We will shade and shape our words and opinions to minimize any discomfort to those we love. NO amount of desire or motivation is enough to balance that wiring to protect those we love.
Second, our friends and family know JACK ALL about what covers sell and appeal to a book’s key demographic. They only know what appeals to them. They are incapable of forming an authentic opinion that will maximize the appeal of a book because they do not have the exposure or experience necessary to form an opinion on what sells.
What They Should Have Done Instead
Look to traditional publishers, bookstore employees, book buyers or acquisition development librarians.
Just like asking experts and decision makers for guidance on a marketing plan, the folks on the front lines of the book industry are the best people to go to when looking for feedback on cover design. Random House, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, and Sourcebooks all spent a TON of time and money researching covers and cover concepts. USE THEIR RESEARCH! The best way to come up with a cover concept is to find the bestselling covers in your genre and emulate them. I don’t mean steal… I mean emulate. Pay attention to how titles, fonts, and color are being used.
Once you have come up with a concept and have a designed first try at a cover, the best thing to do with it is to take it to a book buyer or librarian and ask if the cover appeals to them.
- Ask them how the cover compares to other covers in your genre.
- Ask them if the cover would encourage them to buy it or discourage them from buying it.
If you get negative feedback, it is time to go back to your designer and start fresh (either with a new cover or a new designer.) You will be tempted to ask them what to do to fix or improve the cover. Don’t. Book buyers know EXACTLY how to spot a good cover. Librarians know what covers are appealing to readers and what covers are not. But buyers and librarians don’t have ANY idea how to design or fix a cover that does not work. (Quick hint: Neither do your author friends or loved ones.)
That is the theme of this month’s DTNT. Friends are wonderful, but their opinion about your covers are not needed. Fellow authors are supportive and wonderful, but when making major decisions, look to experts to help you guide your decisions. The nice thing about experts in the publishing industry is that they quite often offer a TON of advice on their sites. (Like this one….)