Book Promotion: Do This, Not That – March 2017

by | Mar 8, 2017

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….)


tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Julie Schoerke

    I was just having this conversation less than a week ago with an author. It’s so frustrating because when they don’t believe us (those in the publishing world) and go with friends and family advice, they end up always behind the eight-ball later. Great post!

  2. David Todd

    My problem with covers is I seem to be completely oblivious to what makes a cover good or bad. When Joel does his monthly cover contest post, I scroll down slowly and make my own judgment before I see his comments. I’m 90% opposite of him. Typeface doesn’t affect me. Color coordination doesn’t affect me. Proper use of space doesn’t affect me.

    When I’m browsing for books on line, sometimes I will take note that a cover is bad, but I figure it’s a poor, self-published author who can’t afford better, and I’m more likely to buy their book as a result.

    Hence, if I don’t care about covers in others’ books, I can’t really care about it in mine. I just don’t know how to overcome this.

  3. Joan Stewart

    Amy, this is long overdue, especially your advice about book covers. I’ve spoken with far too many authors who say frightening things like: “I let my cousin Patty design my cover because she loves to tinker with Photoshop.”

    I’ve already started compiling my own list of publicity-related mistakes authors make because they rely on advice from the wrong people: other authors. I’m a contributor here so you’ll see my list in the next month or two. Stay tuned…

    • Ethan Roadnight

      Joan Stewart,
      I believe you should take advice from other authors. I’m not saying follow whatever they say but take some hints from them such as maybe the typogrophy or their choice of design. It can really open up new ideas and lead to amazing discoveries within others. It is great to listen to your role model or a fellow author to spark that inspiration in you to really do well.


    • Joel Friedlander

      Amy and Joan, I totally agree. Although, as Ethan says below, you can get some great tips from other authors, the advice of a professional book buyer or reviewer or, even better, a book distributor, can be critical. It surprises me that authors put so much work and effort into their books, then all too often publish them with covers that will only have a negative impact on their sales.

    • Amy Collins

      I cannot WAIT to see that list!!!!!!

  4. Ethan Roadnight

    Giving us neccesary advice as always Joel. Keep going with this, this is really helping self publishers. All of your points are backed up proffesionaly and summed up to perfection. Thanks Joel.

    • Amy Collins

      Thanks Ethan! We just love writing these!



  1. Book Promotion: Do This, Not That – March... - […] Who should self-published authors turn to for guidance and feedback when it comes to giving away free books and…

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