Monday, October 22, 2012


How do you get new readers to not only discover you, but also plunk down their hard-earned money to read your stories?

You want to give them something provocative to keep them interested for longer than three seconds (according to marketing research) so they’ll consider buying the book.

I'm a very visual person. One of my pet peeves, as any who have known me the past five years will attest, is shoddy cover art. I feel strongly about it and have written articles about the importance of professional and competitive looking cover artespecially self published authors. You want your cover to catch the eye and induce the reader to pick up your book.  If one goes through all the time it takes to write a good story, have it properly edited both for story content and grammar/typos, WHY would they slap a crappy(and obvious) photoshop picture on the front and call it a cover? 
Earlier this month, Kat Sheridan shared an interview with L.B. Beckett, author of Guild of Spies. The cover art was imaginative and eye catching. It's beautiful. It doesn't scream *amateur* or self-published. Judi Fennell, Formatting 4 U, designed the cover and I asked her to share the process of such a project and the importance of cover art from a marketing standpoint. 

One of the biggest start-to-finish projects I've worked on recently was L.B. Beckett’s Guild of Spies. This story is an epic steampunk-speculative fiction-action/adventure-thriller with some romance. As you can see, it doesn't fall into any specific genre, so when it came to doing the cover, we were dealing with a wide-open frontier.

But this also allowed us to combine the genres. L.B. Beckett wanted to have an Asian influence, as that is prevalent in the story. Looking at the back cover copy, reading through some of the chapters, and my own knowledge of online marketing (finalist spots in 3 American Idol-like competitions based on vote-getting) and branding, I started looking around for a steampunk feel.

A lot of cover generation is hours of sifting through images. Now, I can do that for a client, but my time is money, or a client can do that for themselves (with direction from me toward a few websites I like to use) and save themselves some cash outlay, though giving up that much time isn't always what people want to do when they could be writing. Up to the client.

To add to the scope of this project, because the book is so long (184,000 words), the author wanted to offer the book as either a full-length novel at one price, or two shorter novels at a lower price. Oh, and we were doing a print book as well. That’s four different cover steps.

We had to look at it from both a branding viewpoint and a marketing one because we didn't want reader to feel that there were three different stories in this series. It’s one story, just delivered in different reading options. Therefore, we wanted continuity across the books, but with a noticeable difference.

I found three different backgrounds all in the same color scheme and feel, so that was one hurdle overcome. I utilized the title and author name graphics across all of the books, and took that Asian element—the phoenix—and kept it, but moved it around. We could also add the Book 1 and 2 titles in a consistent place so readers would be able to identify which book they’d already read.

We had a tag line, too, something that summed up the story:

In a country of secrets, even a spy has her limits…

I tried putting that on the cover, but with all the gears and gadgets and words, it was too much. This was a tough decision from a marketing standpoint because you want to give readers that hook. You want to give them something provocative to keep them interested for longer than three seconds so they’ll consider buying the book. At least, that’s the though process for traditional publishing. But we’re in a new business model and what’s worked in the past doesn't necessarily work now.

Branding was a bigger focus for this story. Keeping those books identifiable for the readers. So we put the tagline on the back. Now, on the digital versions you won’t see it. That is, you won’t see it on the cover. You will, however, see it in the interior. So we've got our hook and it’s included in the online description.

When it came to marketing, we made sure to include “Book 1 of 2” for the half books. We looked at price point—what would encourage a reader to buy a bigger book at a bigger price when they could “sample” the first part of the story for a lesser one? We also included excerpts to the other half of the story at the end and a link to find out where to buy that other half. So now, if a reader finishes Book 1, The Open Hand of Tem, he/she can read what happens in Book 2, The Hand of Tem Closes, and then have a link to buy the book. One stop shopping made simple.

As you can see, there’s a lot involved in getting a book to the readership. But you know what? It’s the same thing for a print book traditionally published. Discoverability has always been a hot button—how do you get new readers to not only discover you, but also plunk down their hard-earned money to read your stories? And how do you keep them coming back?

$2.99 is the price point at which authors will earn 70% royalties. A lot of authors are using that price point to start out to see what happens with sales; I’m going to ask you to consider price point carefully. If everyone is putting something up for $2.99, where’s the differentiation in the marketplace?

More and more I’m finding my clients raising their prices as a symbol of quality. I've experimented with pricing and I can honestly say that my sales have increased with the price point. 

Perception is nine/tenths of reality.


~Sia McKye~ said...

Judi, you make some great points here! Man, I'm so not a techie person. I couldn't imagine doing the beautiful work you do. And all that in between your own writing and working.

You are amazing!

Judi Fennell said...

Sia, I was so inspired with this project. Actually, I've been inspired with all the projects I've done. As an author, I "get" how great it is to open an email and go "ooooh!" when I see the cover for a new book. As authors, we're so focused on the storyline, but as business people we need to be focused on marketability. Your readers can see other examples of my cover art at

Kat Sheridan said...

I love everything about this book (obviously!) but those drop dead gorgeous covers were just the icing on the cake! I LOVE them madly! They perfectly reflect the disctinctly Asian setting of the book along with the vaguely Victorian/airships/trains thing that's going on inside. With the right cover the reader doesn't have to guess what's inside, they are attracted before they even read the first word! Great marketin tips, Judi, and good job!

Jo said...

As a reader, what really tees me off is all these covers which have been appearing with someone in a cloak blowing in the wind.

Another thing which ticks me off is reading a book and finding the heroine is blond when the picture on the cover shows dark hair, or the cover is totally unrelated to the story. I think its important that a cover artist read a book right through to do it justice.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I think the final cover turned out great!

Anonymous said...

Judi, intriguing cover art. Definitely would help me want to take a second look. Thanks for taking us inside the process on how it got done.

Carol Kilgore said...

Great covers. I pay attention to covers, too. And I know how brain-numbing it is to search through photos for just the right image. It's even worse when you spend hours and can't find it. But then you flip to the next one, and it takes your breath away.

J. B. Chicoine said...

I love hearing the thought process behind cover design. Your examples and explanations provide some great insights! I love messing around with cover art and find it such a challenge to balance all the different elements. Beautiful execution of the principles, Judi!

colbymarshall said...

The cover is beautiful!

Great marketing advice, Judi. It's interesting, your point about sales increasing with price point, because when I got to that point in the article, I thought to myself about how I'm actually less likely to buy a cheaper book. Perhaps it is true that I view the price as a stamp of quality. It's intriguing to know others have similar buying habits.

Elise Fallson said...

Wow, the cover turned out fantastic, love it. And I agree 100% that the art cover has to be eye catching and well thought out in today's market. Great post. (:

Anonymous said...

Chiming in here -- one of the biggest concerns I had about self-publishing was the cover. I did not want to do it if I couldn't find a cover that was both professional and represented the story. Judi came through on both of those accounts. I love the cover she designed and it perfectly fits the book. Working with her was a delight!

L.B. Beckett