Saturday, April 6, 2013

Maggie Harryman – Why Book Covers Are Important

Why Book Covers Are So Important

by Maggie Harryman

I think the self-publishing phenomenon has forever rendered the old adage, “you can’t judge a book by its cover” as complete and utter blather. In fact, now that I think about it, at least as it pertains to actual books, it always has been a bit silly. After all, we don’t expect to see a memoir by General Petraeus with a cover designed to showcase a heaving-bosomed damsel in distress (although in light of current events, maybe…) or for that matter, a romance novel with a cover that looks more like a textbook.

Once Here Among Us was in the copyediting phase, I thought a lot about its cover (not quite as much as what was between the covers, but certainly more than how to market the book once it was finished).  I’d never designed a cover before but still, having lived with the book and the characters for over four years, I knew my perfect cover had to somehow capture the very essence of the book for curious potential readers. I also knew finding that image or illustration to do that heavy lifting wouldn’t be easy. After all, the book’s cover is the reader’s first impression.  Remember what your mother always told you?  There are no second first impressions.

It’s easy to say now that I knew what I wanted, but it’s probably more accurate to say I knew what I didn’t want. I didn’t want a cover that was confusing—one that gave the reader an expectation that disappointed.  More than once I’ve been halfway through a book, put it down and then, noticing the cover, wondered how in the world someone put the story I was reading together with the image chosen.

For Here Among Us, I got lucky. I got exactly the cover I wanted.

I bought a painting for the cover off one of the big online art websites.  An added bonus, the painter, Carol Chretien, donated the proceeds from each original painting to her local Dalmatian rescue center. I’d already enlisted a gifted graphic designer who was working hard on my website and she did an excellent job of choosing colors that would compliment the painting of a local pub (much of the book is set in an Irish bar/restaurant).  Most importantly she created a cover that was still eye-catching when shrunk down to the Amazon thumb-nail size.  In fact, I had no idea just how successful the cover was until the first time I had a KDP Select giveaway.

I’d read that a successful giveaway was between 1,000 and 4,000 e-books downloaded.  On my first KDP Select giveaway, scheduled for Black Friday, I assumed I’d be lucky to get somewhere in the middle of that range.  Not only had I neglected to advertise ahead of time (not laziness—pure ignorance!) but the giveaway was scheduled for the busiest shopping day of the year.

As the giveaway wore on, I was shocked when I passed the one thousand mark, and flabbergasted when my numbers passed four thousand downloaded.  I kept going back, hitting the refresh button, and it seemed like every time another hundred had flown off the virtual shelf.  Half way through the second day, I passed the 10,000 mark and then the 18,000 mark by the end of the 48 hour period!  At one point and for about three hours, my book was #1 in Contemporary Fiction and simultaneously #1 in Family/Relationship (I have the screensaver shot to prove it).

I’d love to say that I had such a successful giveaway because of my extraordinary ability to weave a compelling tale with unforgettable characters and a riveting plot.  I’d love to, but I’d be lying.  Really…I think it was the cover.  It engaged, enticed, and piqued curiosity. The colors—red and green—popped just before the Christmas holidays (not at all intentional) and the large white letters in the title stood in stark relief against those colors. The layout, the various typefaces and a well-placed quote from a reader on the cover, all lent weight and the sense that this was a professional effort—and by extension, that the story inside would be just as good.  Sales after that first giveaway did not disappoint.

Why are book covers so important?

Because book covers sell books.  And unless you’re writing in some strange literary vacuum (which sounds pretty awful), reaching an audience is important.

Because you really can judge a book by its cover.

Buy Now @ Amazon

Genre – Literary Fiction

Rating – R (Strong language, adult themes)

More details about the author & the book

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