Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Evolution of a book cover: The Hall of the Wood

Everyone knows that a quality book cover is important. It's all too easy to tell the professional from the non-professional. While a "good" book cover isn't necessarily indicative of the quality within, it's at least a good starting point.

When I was first getting ready to self-publish my own novels, I explored the different options. Those options were:

  1. Don't use a cover
  2. Make my own
  3. Commission a professional

Ultimately, I decided to create my own cover. I think it's safe to say sales of The Hall of the Wood were not stellar. In some months, they were non-existent (more on sales in a near future post). Then, late last year, I decided to look into the possibility of option #3. I made inquiries with some artists who had their work showcased on deviantart.com, and quickly came to the conclusion that having a professionally done cover is not cheap. That's not to say prices were unreasonable, but the return on investment given my sales up to that point just wasn't there. I'd about given up when I came across a wonderfully perfect illustration by Simon Schmidt. A quick inquiry and some price discussion later and Simon had himself some money out of the blue and I had the illustration I should have used from the start.

This, then, is the new cover for The Hall of the Wood:

HOTW cover 1.0.7 - reduced

What you are looking at in the background is, of course, the Hall. It's uncanny how well this illustration fits the novel. It's got all the elements: forest, patroller's keep, a certain dreariness as if a gloom has settled on the woods. There's even a hint of age with the vine-covered pillar in the forefront.

The new cover went live on Amazon and other retailers at the beginning of December. About the same time, due to some price reductions I made at other retailers, Amazon dropped the price down to $0.00. The unfortunate thing is I can't tell at this point if it was the book cover or the price that caused sales (downloads, really) to soar. At its peak, The Hall of the Wood was getting 150 downloads per day (rough figure; I'm going to post exact numbers in a near future post).

It will be interesting to see how the book sells moving forward. It's no longer free, but it's gotten plenty of recommendations and a couple of reviews. Most important, perhaps, it's showing up on other novels' "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" lists.

I'll leave you with a look at the previous covers cooked up by yours truly. They're not much to look at, and perhaps a reminder why people like me should leave the artwork to the professionals.

hotw 200x300-old hotw-200x300 HOTW cover

Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 3: Book Covers

This is the next post in a multi-part series about self-publishing your eBook. Posts include:

1. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 1: Introduction 
2. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 2: E-book Formatting
3. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 3: Book Covers (this post)
4. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 4: Amazon.com 
5. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 5: Smashwords
6. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 6: Scribd
7. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 7: Lulu
8. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 8: Selling Strategy

Book covers are important, especially in the online world where a potential reader cannot pick up, examine, or thumb through the pages. While studies have shown that a book on a three-for-two table has about one and a half seconds to catch a reader’s eye, I have to wonder if when browsing a list of books on Amazon if a reader doesn't scroll past or click on 'next' in less time than even that. Even when a book is picked up, a reader may only spend "eight seconds looking at the front cover and 15 seconds looking at the back cover" (source: The Wall Street Journal). But, by that time, the book cover has served its purpose: it's caught the reader's eye, and he or she has picked it up.

In summary, that's why a book cover is so important. I'll take that further and say that's why a professional (and accurate) book cover is important.

JA Konrath, who's published a number of books and e-books, identifies five important aspects of book covers:

  1. Branding
  2. Genre
  3. Professional
  4. Reduceable
  5. Eye-catching

In fact, he saw sales increase dramatically when he went from his own home-grown covers to ones designed by a pro.

As a potential self-publisher, I see myself as having three options with regard to book covers:

  1. Don't use one
  2. Create my own
  3. Hire a professional illustrator

Let's discuss each.

1. Don't Use One

IMO, this isn't really an option, but let's at least talk about why not. We all know the old adage don't judge a book by its cover. But what about a book that doesn't have one? Do we judge it at all?

I don't.

Perhaps I'm superficial, but first and foremost I nearly always judge a book by its cover—the quality, the initial impact of the illustration, the colors. They're all important. Even more, the cover should reflect the content of the book, at least in part.

In terms of selling online in, say, the Kindle store, here is what potential readers will see if there is no image associated with your e-book:

imageNow, that makes does not make me want to click-through and read the book's summary.

2. Create my own

It's cheap, it's easy, but not going to win any awards. I have no illustrating or drawing talent whatsoever. But I've found an easy way to create a cover is to start with a photo. It can be your own or someone else's, but make sure if the latter that you have rights to use it.

A few places to find 'resusable media' not requiring licensing or royalties includes Wikimedia Commons, stock.xchng, and morgueFile. Always double-check the licensing on each image just to be sure.

Once you've got a basic image or photo, you'll need to fix it up a bit with the title of your book and your name at the bare minimum. I've learned it's best to keep it simple, though, especially considering that the image will be shrunk down for display on a product page. Make the font as big as possible so that when it is scaled down the words are still visible.

You don't need to buy something expensive like Adobe Photoshop, either. Check out Paint.NET. It's free and does just about everything I've ever needed.

3. Hire a professional illustrator

Seventy-five percent of 300 booksellers surveyed (half from independent bookstores and half from chains) identified the look and design of the book cover as the most important component.

If you think that, too, you might want to look into hiring a professional. JA Konrath saw immediate results when he went from covers he designed himself to ones a professional cooked up for him.

There are a lot of designers and illustrators out there. I'll leave it up to you to search for them least it look like I'm trying to endorse one or another, which I could only do if I had personal experience with that person.

Conclusion

I was a little hesitant about writing this post, mostly because I feel it's a topic that really shouldn't require much convincing. However, here it is. Hopefully I presented my case that a professional book cover is a necessity. Next, we'll move on to the first of the online eRetailers I want to cover, Amazon.com.

Further Browsing


Further Reading

Jane Lindskold on Book Covers

Information about Jane Lindskold is becoming a regular fixture around here. Over on Tor.com, Lindskold has been writing a series of articles on book covers—how they're chosen, who does the deciding, etc. I found the articles interesting reads, so thought I'd share.

There's three four articles so far in all. Here they are:

  1. Look at What They’ve Wrapped Around My Baby!
  2. When Right is Completely Wrong
  3. Series Doesn’t Equal Set
  4. Second Look: Good Idea?