So, remember when I said that I had more to say about the value of a good cover? Well, just a few short hours later, I came across a post by USA Today bestselling author, R.J. Blain that pretty much summed up exactly what I wanted to say.
In fact, she and I both echoed the sentiment that your cover is arguably your most important marketing tool. So instead of writing something up myself, I asked permission to use her words, which she granted. SO I suppose this is my first guest post of sorts! Thanks to R.J. Blain for summing up perfectly exactly what I wanted to say.
Author to Author: The Value of Cover Art & Editing
2020 has been one hell of a year. There’s been a lot bad going on, but I wanted to focus on something really, really good. See this cover?
This was designed by Rebecca Frank. She did a badass job of it. It was a custom everything. Even the cat is custom. (It is literally her cat. She modeled her cat. I bought licensing rights to my designer’s cat for this series. In other news, her cat hates being a model. It’s kinda hilarious.)
This cover reminded me just why cover art is so damned important and why authors really, really can’t afford to skimp on their cover art.
I opted to market this book to a new-to-me audience. People who had never seen my stuff before. This book had no reviews, so cover art, description, and writing had to sing. The cover art had to do the heavy lifting.
That’s all the reader had to go on before clicking my ads: the cover art.
That’s it. That’s all.
This cover sold books. How well did this cover sell books?
It has sold over 8,000 copies of this book since August, to a mostly new-to-me audience.
This was for a $5.99 new release.
Just cover art, description, and the writing itself.
Time and time again, I see authors complain, bitch, and moan about the price of covers. That the good designers a: charge a lot of money and b: have a long booking cycle and c: have fairly restrictive terms. Mostly, they’re bitching and moaning about the cost.
Please stop that. Seriously. Please stop trying to figure out if a designer deserves to be paid a fair rate. They do. Just like authors deserve to be paid a fair rate for their books.
It takes a lot of work, effort, and talent to build a good cover. The authors who get by on DIY covers?
Imagine if they had a truly good, professional cover on their books. They’d probably be… doing a lot better.
Your cover is a marketing tool.
It is, arguably, your most important marketing tool.
I have, over the years, used various designers to create the covers for my books. Some have been good. Some have been not so good. Time and time again, I have seen one important correlation: my best designers give me the best book releases.
Time and time again, even my most hardcore, loyal fans, are swayed by the cover. If they don’t like a cover, they will hesitate about buying the book.
Our readers are NOT to be taken for granted. They all have one commonality: money is a finite resource for them.
They buy books based on many criteria, and the professionalism of the book is a HUGE factor in whether or not a reader will purchase the book. Some readers will buy a book based solely on the cover, because they want that art in their digital library. (I have done this. I will do this again. I sometimes sob when a beautiful cover is replaced with a less beautiful cover, especially if I bought the book solely by the cover.)
(And to my readers, I’m SO sorry if this has hit you… if it has, and you politely tell me which piece of cover art it was you really liked, I can send you an email with the image. Most of the covers are still licensed, but if I no longer have the license for Various Reasons, I’ll let you know.)
Covers are marketing decisions, and when a cover isn’t selling a book, I change it.
I recently changed the covers on several series. I lovedthe old covers, but it wasn’t selling the books, and the branding was not uniform.
The instant I changed the covers, sales rates immediately tripled. I wasn’t advertising the books at that point. They were finding the books organically, and I saw an immediate increase of sales. I had changed nothing else. Just the cover.
For those in the back: Covers! Sell! Books! Covers can sell a LOT of books. I have done several releases (earning $15k+ in its release week) where the only thing selling the books were my covers, the description, and the writing sample. There were no reviews yet. (Though the days of launching without reviews are mostly over for me. I’m blessed with some amazing fans who do their best to pop their reviews up on release day, just because they know how important those reviews are. I notice, and you’re REALLY appreciated!!)
But seriously, and this applies to your editors, too.
Your staff, being your designers and your editors, deserve to be able to put food on the table just as much as you do. Unlike your books, which you can grow and develop over time, boosting through advertisements and so on, your staff is paid exactly once for their skills and hard work.
But without them, you cannot sell books.
Take care of your editors, take care of your designers, take care of your personal assistants. Without their support, you can’t do your job. People aren’t going to buy a book with a crappy cover unless they happen to have money to blow, are super bored, or know you personally.
Sorry. That’s the way it is.
To succeed, you need a professional product. Your book must shine.
Your cover art is a reader’s first glimpse at a book, and that glimpse REALLY MATTERS.
Then the description is what determines if, after they saw the cover and decided to keep having a look at it, if the book is worth checking out later. Then, and often only then, will they start reading the book to see if you bothered to hire an editor or if you can write your way out of a cardboard box.
Your! Cover! Matters!
Your cover designers matter, too. Just like you, they want a successful career. They want to feed their families. They want to be able to go on vacations. They want a lot of things.
Just like you.
Just like you.
Stop underrating their work, and while you’re at it, stop underrating your own work, too.
Yes, it’s hard starting from nothing. Once upon a time, I started from nothing, too. I started pinching every fucking penny I could so I could hire an illustrator to do the art for my first fantasy novel. That novel was entitled the Eye of God, and it cost me a lot more than I had to spend on it. That cover was worth every penny. I no longer use it because the cover, frankly, was better than the book. That book is now in the Requiem for the Rift King first box set, which uses Storm Surge’s original cover.
By that same illustrator. (Chris Howard. He did a stunning job on the painting work for those covers, and I still adore them!)
He deserved to be paid well for his time, his effort, and the hours it took him to learn how to paint.
I’ve earned far more than what I spent on that cover, and that cover, frankly, is probably the only reason that book sold any copies at all. Part of me is shamed by that, but the reality of the situation is this: I did not start my career as a great author. Or even a good one. I started, just like everyone else, at the beginning.
And my cover designers and editors are the people who made it so I have a career.
They deserve to be paid and paid well for their art and dedication and hard work.
Their skills are also what should dictate their pay rates.
Just because one designer undercuts the market with their skills means absolutely nothing in the grand scheme. Just because someone opts to be cheap about their work does not mean a skilled designer does not deserve their pay check.
I’ve been in this industry for five years now, which isn’t long in the grand scheme of things. But I have noticed one thing:
Every last one of my designers has severely undercut their worth, because time and time again, people say their craft is not worth the price tag.
8,000 copies of Booked for Murder, the vast MAJORITY of them sold before the book had a single review, tells a different story.
Value your designers.
They are a huge part of why your book sells in the first place.
Value. Your. Designers.
And your editors. (Because those writing samples and reader satisfaction is pretty damned important.)
And while we’re here, your personal assistants, too. They work hard for their money. Well, the good ones do.
Click here for R.J. Blain’s Website
Click here for Rebecca Frank’s Website