Friday, June 13, 2014

Say It Isn't So......Covers Really Do Make a Difference


We are always admonished never to judge a book by its cover, but in truth our judgment of packaging is a prejudice we apply liberally every day. Industries of every shape, size, color, kind, and creed play upon this judgmental tendency in an effort to draw our attention away from the competition and towards their product. I am not immune to the tactics, even as I apply my logic to the shopping list in hand. I find myself invariably drawn to the flavored water bottle with the refreshing cluster of juicy fruit painted upon the label when compared to the flat, unappealing label that bores me to death with words of promise for quenching my thirst. The prettily painted bottle might taste like moistened gym socks, but chances are I will reach for the packaging that appeals to me the most. Book covers are no different.

No one ever likes to admit their folly, so for me to acknowledge, in writing, the mistakes of my cover art for my first novel is tantamount to my standing naked before the world and giving each gathering gawker twenty minutes to draw their own personal crowd to watch me squirm. The funny thing about mistakes, however, is they offer us the opportunity to learn valuable lessons, and lessons are meant to be shared with others. What you choose to do with the information is entirely up to you.

When I first began writing The Case of Jack the Nipper, I had a vivid image in my head of what the characters looked like. They were as real to me as the world around me. I knew the sound of their voices, the jaunty manner of their walk, the nuances that made them who they were. It was like watching a movie of old friends. I did my best to capture those images in a painting of the two main characters; the result of which you see to the left. I was so excited by my efforts, I used a portion of it on my business cards, on bookmarks, and even on the first book cover of the first release.

I should have known there was a problem when I started handing out my business cards and people would say, "Oh you write children's books." Their smiles always weakened as they said this as though to utter it carried with it some sort of dread disease.

"No," would be my polite reply. "My books are meant for an older audience." I would proceed to explain what my book was about. I had my schpeel which often would liven them up a bit, but the damage was already done. People had already passed judgment on my book based on the cover. The colors of my painting were bright and cheerful, but the overall painting did not convey what the book was about. Using it as the cover of my book was a mistake. As a result, it lost me sales; sales that might have moved me farther along the path that I so desperately long to follow. It took me a year to swallow my pride and realize my error.

I found an award winning artist in Greece who designed and created the cover art for the first book. On the one year anniversary of the initial release, I re-released The Case of Jack the Nipper. What a difference the cover made. It grabbed people's attention rather than putting them off. In a single glance, the average passerby could tell there was a mystery involved, and the cat on the cover with the surprised expression intrigued people enough to make them read the back and find out what the book was about.

When my second novel The Case of the Wayward Fae was released, I took no chances. I had learned my lesson the first time and I hired a cover artist with a fantastic reputation and tons of experience to design my cover. Upon release of the book, I was thrilled at the results, and it helped boost sales of the first book as well.

Am I rich as a result of all of this? No. Am I a New York Times Best Seller? No, not yet. But I am a whole lot wiser now than I was when I started out, and I do have people spending their hard-earned money buying my books. It says something about the decisions I have made with my first two novels......that perhaps I got something right.

To draw a reader in, you have to provide three things:
1. A cover that intrigues (that is the appeal that pulls them across the room and sets you apart from all the other books around yours)
2. A great 'pitch' on the back of the cover or inside flap that gives the would-be buyer a sixty-second WOW that pushes him or her past the point of trepidation and over to the realm of wanting to spend their hard earned money on your work.
3. A great story that keeps them searching for your name for other titles when they are done with the one they just bought (assuming you have other titles for them to purchase).

If you can't get past number one, however, you certainly will never make it to number 3.

I am learning to lay down my pride in most things when it comes to this business of writing and publishing. There isn't a whole lot of room for it, outside of taking pride in writing a great story. But I recognize there will always be people out there who are better than I am. There will always be better writers, better artists, better editors, better marketers, better spellers, and people with better hair, and I am okay with that. At least I have enough sense now to leave certain things to the professionals.

If you are going to do a cover for your work, make sure it is a mantel that is worthy of the effort you have put into the rest of the book. Whatever you do, don't half-ass it. You spent forever perfecting the inside. Take some time perfecting the outside. It is after all the first thing people will see of your work. The price of neglecting such an important detail can cost you more than you will ever know, so make it count. Your future reading public awaits you.


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If you enjoyed this post, don't forget to connect with H.L. Stephens on Google+, Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter. Also check out H.L. Stephen's mystery series The Chronicles of Mister Marmee. Book 1 - The Case of Jack the Nipper and book 2 - The Case of the Wayward Fae are available in print and eBook format. Book 3 - The Case of the Monkey's Misfortune will be ready for release in the Fall of 2014.