Of Covers and Sales
I was just talking to a friend about the Indie Sales Slump which to an extent is still going on (let’s say it’s recovering very slowly.)
Mine has taken a very weird shape, because the novels and longer short stories I put up recently are selling. Not spectacularly but selling. It’s the older stuff that’s not moving at all. Well, that and the collections, but those have truly bad blurbs, because I wasn’t feeling up to writing them by the time I’d done everything else to the books (I know, I know, I need to go in and fix them).
Then I realized the Shakespeare books are selling way better since I changed their covers.
So, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the covers. Part of this is a training of the eye. I’m simply better, now, at looking at what’s there, rather than what I think should be there. I’m also better at balancing the text and the picture.
However, there are things I can tell you about how to make covers that I always knew intuitively, but which I did not apply on the page until very recently (like the last two months.) And frankly I’m going to, because here’s the thing: if you’d started in indie publishing two years ago, you could do what you very well pleased (more or less) to the cover and be okay. This is because we were all so new that we were trying to figure out how to do covers (and mostly failing) and as long as you had a picture and a title on it and the aspect wasn’t 2 inches by fifty five, so that you had to page off the computer to get all the cover, yay, you go.
BUT now everyone else has upped their game (except the traditional houses, but that’s fine) so you have to also, or you stick out like a sore thumb.
So here are some hard and fast rules:
1 – the aspect of your cover should be 2500 pixels by 1563.
2- Fonts… There are cheap fonts out there. Okay, reasonable. Just don’t do your font in Times New Roman or Ariel or something like that. Those are fine for inside the book, but they look odd on the cover.
3- You don’t want to stretch the fonts, so if you’re writing a title of more than a syllable, you want a condensed font. Tall enough to be seen in thumbnail, but not sprawling. (Or you can change all your titles to Zut and Paff.)
4- Go to Amazon and look at what is being put on the covers of the PRINT bestsellers in your genre or subgenre. It will almost for sure surprise you. This is because a lot of us are locked into the design of our youth. The idea we have of what should be on the cover, and what should actually be on the cover are actually completely different. For instance, when considering the release of Death of A Musketeer, I thought I’d have to have a representational cover, and spent weeks trying to do one. And then I went and looked. Most of the historical mysteries these days have either something iconic or a dislocated figure on the cover, that suggests the time frame. That’s it. No “scene of the book” covers. (Or at least there weren’t a month ago.) This of course made my life much easier, because I can cut figures of musketeers out of classical paintings. (Yes, it’s okay, the painters died centuries ago.) This is how the cover of Death of a Musketeer ended up with a dead Musketeer from The End Of The Game Of Cards by Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier. (Btw, I had to bring out the Wacom to clean up the “around the figure” bits. I’m still not happy with it, as I have a simple texture for the background, and what I’d like to have is an evocative texture, but it sort of does. It’s no worse than what is being put out by the houses.)
5- And this brings us to the next one. Forget what IS in your book. Consider instead how to sell the book. No, seriously. Take the cover to Darkship Thieves. There is no scene in the entire book in which Athena walks out naked amid the powertrees, because vacuum. Space.
If you try to do it as a “Scene from the book” what would you do? Perhaps when she tries to strangle Kit? How about one of her patented ballet moves, in a broomer suit?
But neither of them will be as effective as the cover. They will look either cartoonish or just like mil sf, which the book isn’t.
Okay, the cover might over promise slightly, in that people willing to view it that way might decide that really, really, really, this is an erotic romance. But this would take an effort of imagination, because the pose is dignified. What the cover advertises is a coming of age novel. Also, by its evoking of Heinlein’s To Sail Beyond The Sunset, it will capture Heinlein readers, which is good because most of them will like this book.
Here’s the thing – if you have read Death of A Musketeer, you’ll know why the figure in the cover is subtly wrong. OTOH what does it cue? It cues “historical, mystery, about musketeers.” And it is (should be at least) visually interesting, which makes people wish to see more. And then when they see more… you have a chance to grab them.
The important things the book should be cueing are genre and “feel.” I don’t really care if your characters first do it in a stable, if you have a horse and a girl on the cover, you’re giving off a completely different type of “romance.”
Various little things to consider: SF and fantasy covers are rarely pictures. If you search the photo sites with “photo” off or select FOR illustration, you’ll get drawings, and those are usually better. If all you have is a photo, make it look like a picture.
Romance covers are usually pictures.
If you take a whole old painting (as if I’d taken all of Meissonier’s above) you end up with a feeling of a “scholarly” book, which I wanted to avoid.
Is my understanding of covers perfect? Oh, heck no. But the recent covers seem to be selling better, which must mean something.
Which is why I’m going to redo my old short stories, and then I’ll let you know the result of THAT experiment.
Update: Welcome Instapundit readers.
For the record, as I said above, I wasn’t satisfied with the background of DOAM cover and — thanks to ‘Nother Mike’s idea — have now given the background a more… uh… complete texture.