One of the first things new authors learn is how important their book cover is in attracting readers. It’s got to look professional. It’s got to stand out, but still communicate the genre norms in a recognizable fashion. It’s got to look good in thumbnail.
What people don’t always tell new authors is that there’s a learning curve in discovering what works and what doesn’t. Be open to feedback from others about your covers, and don’t be afraid to rebrand. I did. Twice.
Here’s the first cover for A Demon Bound. It was early 2012, and the world wasn’t filled with all these amazing freelance cover artists like it is now. My Photoshop skills were nil, and my goals were modest. I wanted to publish my book so friends and family could read it. Deep in my heart I hoped it would take off, but I was a realist. I didn’t have high hopes.
What I did have was a boyfriend who did photography professionally, knew Photoshop, and offered to do my book cover. I was a babe in the woods, but I still had enough sense to scroll through the Amazon bestseller lists in my genre and show him what I thought would work.
He hated those covers. Here’s where I made mistake #1 I didn’t trust myself. And mistake #2 I took cover advice from someone who didn’t read, let alone enjoy, the genre I was writing.
I let The Boyfriend take the reins and watched while he did a photoshoot, then created a book cover that had a whole lot more to do with noir/thriller than urban fantasy. There was no fantasy element. It was monochromatic. The book sold 5-10 copies a month after my family and friends bought theirs. Books 2 and 3 had similar covers. Reviews loved the book, but in 2012, when indie authors were flying high, I couldn’t get off the ground.
First Rebrand: These are so much better with fantasy elements! Sales picked up immediately. But there’s still a problem. Do you see it? Can you tell?
This artist creates gorgeous artwork and covers, and her strength is in making them look ethereal and magical. Guess what this series isn’t? Ethereal and magical. It’s about a foul-mouthed imp anti-hero with tons of violence and laugh-out-loud quirky humor. The model also is very young, and in spite of the artist’s efforts, she’s far too young to represent my main character. Now, in all fairness, this artist has done some great edgy work, but that isn’t her default, and I wasn’t able to communicate exactly what I wanted, because at the time I didn’t know myself what would work best.
Once again, mistake #1, I didn’t trust myself. I knew when I got the proofs that this model looked too young. I knew that some of the series covers seemed far too young-adult, and not edgy enough, but I figured this wasn’t my area of expertise and just went with what the artist put together. They were gorgeous. The books were selling well, but I knew they could do better. And the nail in the coffin was when I entered a website contest, and the feedback came in. The judges said that I should remove my erotica titles from the website, because they were out of place with all my YOUNG ADULT books.
My covers made it look like I was writing sweet, magical, young adult fantasy. Which meant the readers who wanted edgy f-bomb heroines weren’t picking up my book at first glance. Which meant that I probably had a lot of confused young adult readers buying my book.
Second Rebrand: NOW we’re smoking! Clearly adult, edgy model. These are urban fantasy covers. And the uptick in sales shows that I’m finally hitting the mark. So don’t be afraid to rebrand with new covers. And if you ever ask for a cover critique, put on your big girl panties, and try not to let it sting if people tell you they’re horrible. Don’t have the money to spend $400 or $600 on covers? Save. Get the best cover you can for now, and save. Trust me, the right cover will earn that back lickity-split.