GUEST POST: HOW YOUR BOOK COVER DESIGN CAN MAKE OR BREAK SALES

Bec-Headshot-02a_201406_600x900I’d like to thank Rebecca Laffar-Smith for contributing this guest post. Rebecca is a West Australian science fiction and fantasy novelist. In 2010 she gave up a successful 12-year freelance career to focus on her three loves: family, community and fiction. Now, she coordinates Write Along The Highway and the OzNoWriMo Young Writers Program, supporting local writers and bringing industry events and awareness into the local community. The Flight of Torque is her debut novel, released June 2014.

HOW YOUR BOOK COVER DESIGN CAN MAKE OR BREAK SALES

by Rebecca Laffar-Smith

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But we do, don’t we?

The quote above has become a well-worn adage and while the advice is sage it’s simply not in keeping with normal human behaviour. Humans do make surface judgements. When going for a job interview the way you dress matters; people make judgement calls about the intelligence quota of a blonde woman and the fiery temper of a red-head; those piercings and tattoos you thought were a great idea in your early twenties cause quite a few stares; over-long grass on a front lawn keeps people from finding the oasis in the back yard; and readers do judge a book by its cover.

Today, with billions of books in the marketplace, it’s more important then ever to have surface marketing that catches the eye of potential readers. The right cover sets the tone and voice of a story, it conveys genre, theme, and setting. As much as they might try to deny it, most readers will decide to look more closely at a book based on first impressions. If the cover catches their eye, they’ll read the blurb, but if it doesn’t they slide on by to the next forward facing book on the bookshop shelf.

On side-stacked bookshelves such as the mid-listers in bookstores and 99% of the books in libraries, first impressions come from titles, author names, and spines. These cover elements require careful consideration when preparing a book for publication. These days, the cover design for the spine is almost as important as the face.

Thankfully, most traditional publishers, particularly the big five, have marketing experts well versed in making these hard decisions. It’s usually safe to trust their judgement, but with self-publishing becoming increasingly popular, authors more than ever are in charge of these kinds of decisions. It’s important to approach cover design professionally, invest in a talented cover designer, and think with a business head rather than an artist’s heart. Something I learned in a very expensive and difficult way when I published The Flight of Torque in June 2014.

When I was working on early drafts, I came across a beautiful illustration by Selina Fenech that inspired me. It epitomised my main characters and beautifully portrayed a special something that I became enthralled with. Unfortunately,  the artist wasn’t taking on new commissions at the time so I held off designing a cover while I continued working on the book.

Selina still wasn’t available when I was finishing up middling drafts, so I commissioned another artist whose work I admired. I showed her the image and gave  descriptions based from heart-judgements rather than marketing ones.

FlightOfTorque_Cover_Laffar-SmithJamie Dougherty created a beautiful cover and I absolutely loved it, it was everything I asked for. But when the book was finished and I hit ‘publish’ some of the early feedback from readers and potential readers shocked me.

One comment that most hit home at this crucial time in the book’s new life came from my best friend. I’ve known him almost 15 years and he’s been a staunch support and steadfast cheerleader through my whole writing career. He’s followed the journey of this book and knows how challenging I found the writing of it. And the truth is, even while writing it I had him in mind and wanted to write a book I thought he’d enjoy reading. So when he admitted this, I had very good reason to pause and assess exactly the mistake I’d made:

“I want to read your book, but … I can’t get past the cover. It is … um …. yeah. Well, romance novels are not my thing. I have picked it up many times and … then I have to put it down. I want to be supportive, but …. I just can’t.”

It blew my mind! I wasn’t angry, I was horrified, because I don’t write romance books. I’m a science fiction and fantasy novelist. While there is a degree of romance in the story, it’s purely subplot and not even crucial to the story. But he was right! The cover design I’d commissioned gave the book a very definite romance feel which set the wrong tone for the book. While I know paranormal romance readers will enjoy the book, by having a cover that targeted them I was potentially eliminating my true audience, urban fantasy and paranormal suspense readers.

Thankfully, as a self-published author I could fix the mistake. Of course, it’s an error one of the big publishing houses never would have made (I would hope), and it’s a costly error to make. By the time I realised the error I’d already paid $1500 in production, marking, and printing. I’d paid for the original design, I’d paid for a 100-book print run, I’d paid for posters and postcards and bookmarks all promoting the book with the original cover. Not to mention the time I invested in preparing the book for publication and uploading files to distributor websites. I knew I would have to invest all of that again to get my book right.

So, here I was, with 100 paperback copies burning holes in their boxes and the knowledge that I needed to commission a new artist to design a new cover that better suited the true genre, tone, and setting of the book. I completely ceased my marketing efforts as I set about finding the right design.

To the rescue came http://selfpublishingpodcast.com/ and their support and promotion of a fantastic e-lance website, http://99designs.refr.cc/LX7GLS6. I signed up and within hours a dozen different designers had mocked together some truly beautiful cover designs. I knew I was on the right track and had a wonderful time over the next week or so working with 26 different cover artists who presented a total of 130 designs. Then I was able to send my top picks to my readers to get their feedback.

Eventually, a cover was chosen and it is stunning, beautiful, and perfectly portrays the book in a way that I hope compels readers to look more closely. And that’s just it, isn’t it? Finding the right cover for your book isn’t as simple as throwing elements onto the page and hoping it works to captivate potential readers. There is an art to it that is something a professional designer has a better sense of than an author does. No matter my 12 years experience as a Web designer and my intimate familiarity with Photoshop, there was no way I could have created a cover as stunning as the one Rio Bagoes Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00004]Nugroho put together for me.

Yes, cover design is an aspect of self-publishing where you really should invest some cash, but ultimately, the right cover will pay you back in reaching the right audience and drawing in a larger crowd of readers. In the end, it’s reader feedback that makes the investment worth every penny.

“It is a gripping supernatural mystery thriller. One should never judge a book by its cover. This is not a Mills & Boon Twilight novel. It is a terrific paranormal suspense edge of your seat read.” ~ Mark Parker-Roy

ABOUT THE BOOK: When investigative reporter, Tori, chases the story of an underground smuggling network, she stumbles into something significantly more sinister. Instead of the illegal trade of exotic reptiles, she finds a temple of devout snake worshipers. Taken by the cultists, Tori is subjected to a savage ritual and irrevocably transformed. Now something dark and primal slithers within. Lucas, charged with Tori’s protection, struggles against an overwhelming sense of helplessness. He should be stronger, faster, and more powerful than any human, but in the past twenty years all of his charges have been murdered. Their deaths and his failures linger in his nightmares. They writhe in his mind like the chilling sense of brooding hunger that floods Tori’s thoughts. Filled with violent rage and dark jealousy, the cult’s High Priestess rears up between Tori and the truth. The only thing protecting Tori from the long, cold embrace of death is the darkness within and the tingling warmth and light of her guardian angel.

Flight of Torque is available from http://www.amazon.com.au/Flight-Torque-Blood-Nagaran-Book-ebook/dp/B00LASCQ58

Meet the Author: Margaret Lynette Sharp

MARGARET’S TOP WRITING TIP: Be prepared for a long road, and enjoy the journey.

2013_1212imagefacebook0056A little over four years ago, Margaret Lynette Sharp made a big decision: She started to write again. Margaret had written many short stories and articles during her twenties and early thirties, but had given up writing. She credits her husband Ron, who is well-known in the world of music as the designer and builder of the Grand Organ in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House, with encouraging her to write and says his encouragement and enjoyment of her work has been a major influence. Many of Margaret’s books are collections of short stories or novellas that have been favourably reviewed by respected reviewers such as Shelleyrae Cusbert, Brenda Telford, Sally From Oz and Cloggie Down Under. In September her short story The One That Got Away was highly commended at the Hurstville Discovery Festival of Arts and will be published in an anthology by the Discovery Writers Group. Margaret has finished the first draft of her twelfth title, a short romantic novel, and hopes to publish it within a few months. She lives in suburban Sydney, with her husband, their little Maltese rescue dog Chicki, and a pair of budgerigars named Albert and Victoria.

For more information about Margaret and her books, visit her blog. https://margaretlynettesharp.wordpress.com/

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I like to engage with people: to make them think, to entertain them. I’ve written many, many short stories. Most reviewers have commented that they have enjoyed them. I relish the feeling of accomplishment at the end of writing each book.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? That’s something I don’t think about a great deal. I would probably spend more time playing the piano, painting in watercolours, or gardening.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Being self-published has brought with it many advantages that flow from having control over my own writing and its distribution. The biggest obstacle has been the effort and discipline required to produce work of consistent quality, likely to meet with the approval of reviewers. Other challenges have included the design and selection of covers, formatting and various technical issues.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Writing fulfills my urge to create. I’m not tied to any particular schedule, so in that respect it is convenient. And it’s a great feeling to know that one’s work has been read and enjoyed.

—the worst? Marketing is difficult, particularly for those authors who are not well-known. Maintaining visibility can be time-consuming, and it’s easy to become impatient when results are slow to appear.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I don’t think I’d change anything.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Had I been more aware of the level of competition in the marketplace, I might have been discouraged and never started. So it was probably for the best that I didn’t know.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Many people have encouraged me to keep writing, no matter what.  I think that is the best advice.

BOOK BYTE

Love Desire and Betrayal without template redLove, Desire and Betrayal

Four young women: Michaela, Sally, Amelia and Lauren. All Australian. All destined to find that the course of real love is not smooth sailing. Four separate tales touching on a universal goal. Will career ambitions jeopardise their futures?

Michaela, A gifted student of music, is offered a long-hoped-for scholarship to study in London. Can the budding love between herself and Thomas be sustained over the miles?

Sally, a senior high-school student, finds that love is tested when her fiance begins his medical studies. Will their love survive?

Amelia, whose career ambitions have become a dominant force in her life, finds that married life with Steven is fraught with difficulties.

Lauren, young and vulnerable, finds her life undergoes a steep learning curve as she realises there is life after a broken romance.

“This is a series of compelling, highly readable novellas of Sydney author Margaret Lynette Sharp, whose skill as a short story writer has been recognised by respected writing critics. This series of longer works is no less engaging.”

Love, Desire and Betrayal is available from: http://www.amazon.com/Desire-Betrayal-Margaret-Lynette-Sharp-ebook/dp/B00L8KOKZM

Meet the Author: Pauline Montagna

PAULA’S TOP WRITING TIP: Don’t write novels. The novel is a dying art form and the market is flooded. Look to the future. Write for the next generation in the formats they’ll be, in the jargon of the day, ‘accessing’ and ‘consuming’. My money would be on computer games.

Pauline Montagna was born into an Italian family in Melbourne, Australia. After completing a Bachelor of Arts at La Trobe University, Pauline joined the Department of Social Security where it was decided that someone with a major in French would be perfect for the Finance section. Fortunately for them, as the daughter of shopkeepers, Pauline had a good head for figures.

While indulging her artistic interests by becoming involved in Melbourne’s burgeoning amateur theatre scene, Pauline pursued her developing accounting skills through a wide variety of workplaces culminating in the Australian film industry which eventually took her to Perth. There she decided to return to university and qualify as a teacher, graduating from Edith Cowan and Murdoch universities with Graduate Diplomas in Language Studies and Education.

After returning to Melbourne, Pauline continued teaching English as a Second Language while she completed a Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing.

Pauline has now retired from teaching to concentrate on The Stuff of Dreams, a four volume fictional account of the life of William Shakespeare and the experiences and relationships that made him the writer he became. The first volume, Not Wisely but Too Well, traces his early life until 1593. She has previously published two other books, The Slave, an historical romance set in fourteenth century Italy, and Suburban Terrors a short story collection.

Information about her books and where to buy them can be found at her website http://paulinemontagna.net.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I think I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I guess I would say it’s what I do, what I am. If I had my way I would write all day and read all night. As a child I was always telling myself stories and writing them down is just an adult version of that. I remember my first effort was a four-page play when I was eight years old. It was about a princess in a tower waiting to be rescued by a prince. How original!

More recently, though, my writing has been inspired by a need to know more. I have always loved history. I love reading about history. I love doing the research, and I love writing about it. As I dig deeper into my subject, I discover stories which I just have to tell or bust. I can’t be sure where this love comes from, but it may be because I was born in Australia, a country with very little history, while my roots are in Italy, a country with perhaps too much history.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I don’t really know. There are times when I wonder how much longer I can do this, on both the psychological level and the financial. I’m doing some teaching at the moment to keep body and soul together. If needs be I could also get work as a bookkeeper. But I don’t know what would become of me if I ever gave up on being a writer.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Strictly speaking, as a self-publisher, I haven’t been ‘published” as the mainstream would define it. Now I probably never will be. As far as the publishing industry is concerned, self-published books are by definition books that aren’t good enough to find a publisher and so they will not look at them. I daresay this prejudice will extend to the author. We self-publishers dream about being discovered by the mainstream, but there’s lots of competition out there, and unless you’re a breakout like Fifty Shades of Grey, the mainstream will never find you.

The irony is that while agents tell you that your book couldn’t find a publisher because it wasn’t good enough, in the same breath they will tell you they are having a great deal of trouble placing their clients’ books as the industry is in such dire straits. They are discovering what we self-publishers have known all along. The mainstream industry doesn’t have the capacity to publish all the publishable books out there. The rest of us have to either live a life of frustration as we try desperately to be accepted by the mainstream, or go it alone and live with knowing we’ve locked ourselves out.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? And the worst? I do love the research. My best summer ever was the one I spent in the State Library of Victoria doing the preliminary research for my Shakespeare series. You can almost hear the neurons firing as you go from one book to the other, making leaps here and connections there. There’s nothing better.

But recently I’ve discovered how much I love actually writing, though I made this discovery because I’ve done so little of it recently. Most of my time, energy and headspace has been taken up by marketing. For a self-published writer, marketing is difficult, much more difficult than writing. It’s where the drudgery and uncertainty comes in and can become all-consuming. Unfortunately it’s vital, unless you want to write in a vacuum.

I’m basically a shy person so I dread the very thought of going out there to sell myself. Instead I’ve turned to the internet. There’s lots of advice about online marketing out there, but in reality, no one knows what will and won’t work for your book. You have to try it all and hope that something pushes the right buttons. Over the last few months I’ve been trying to implement a detailed online marketing plan I developed while I was overseas earlier this year. It takes a great deal of time out of my day, and saps the writing energy out of me. I’m working towards finding some kind of balance.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? What’s the best advice you were ever given? As I mentioned earlier, there’s lots of advice out there. Most of it is about believing in your dreams and never giving up. Such advice assumes that your dream will come true as long as you work hard enough and that if your dream doesn’t come true it’s because you’ve given up. But sometimes there’s a brick wall out there and the only time banging your head against a brick wall feels good is when you stop. There’s only so much rejection a soul can take.

The only advice I wish I had been given is probably the only advice I wouldn’t have listened to. Quality has little to do with success. Marketing is everything. Don’t go out into a brutal and crowded marketplace unless you’re a salesperson first and a writer second. If you aren’t then don’t bother trying to become a published author. Be content as a closet writer, writing for your own pleasure alone. If you’re lucky you may find your niche, but don’t count on it.

{For a snapshot of Not Wisely, But Too Well go to Author Bookshelf.}