Been Meaning to Address This

WHOLE TOPIC OF COVERS from the perspective of an indie writer, but keep hesitating because… well… A) I’m not 100% sure of my ground, for starters, and 2) the topic seems rather large and therefor daunting.I do have relevant experience — 30 years of it as a world-class pro — but keep wondering just what it is they know that I don’t. (They being the designers in the New York Houses.)

But it’s an important topic, I think, so I’m gonna take a stab or two at it.

As I see it there are three things you can do to ensure sales, and repeat sales.

First and foremost is to write quality content. No matter what else you take away from my musings, know this: your best — and ultimately only effective — method of promotion and advertising is word-of-mouth. This has been demonstrated so dispositively as to be beyond dispute. The reason you get word-of-mouth is that you have so impressed readers that they can be moved to say something to other people about this book they just read.

Third is to price your book appropriately. Lowball pricing is a signal, too. Books that people have never heard of by authors they’ve never heard of that are being given away free — with the possible special context of an explicitly promotional giveaway — send a signal that potential readers will react to by asking, “What’s wrong with it?” They may not say that — or even think it — out loud, but it will cross their minds, if only as a momentary flash of thought. Books that are priced inappropriately low betray a lack of confidence in the quality of the work, as though the publisher (that’s you,
bunky: as an indie author, you are also the publisher) doesn’t really believe the work is up to snuff and people won’t buy it unless it’s cheap. In fact, I suspect, the opposite is true: if it’s not priced right, how can it be worth anything?

Now, yes, fans of authors, or readers of classics, will spend hours on the Gutenberg Project site, downloading free eBooks to their Kindles, like so many monkeys on crack. (Trust me; I’ve done it.) But that’s like found money. If they had the money, they’d buy those books in paper in a flash. But they don’t, so they go for the free stuff. But they already know that product, and just want to own it for themselves. YOU, dear reader/writer, are in an entirely other position. YOU they don’t know, and the only things the have to judge you on are word of mouth from other readers, the confidence you display in pricing the thing right, and the quality of the cover art you display online.

Which is the second item in my list. More important than price, but less-so than word-of-mouth in the cosmic scheme of things.

Book covers are part of the larger topic of book design. Some points to consider, albeit not all relevant in the eBook world, appear Monday at AuthoPublisher. Not all of them are entirely relevant. It seems eBook readers, such as Kindle, take overmuch influence over style from the Web, which — after all — was set up by engineers and programmers, not designers, and shows it. You don’t have a lot of choice in typestyle, as far as I can tell, in the .mobi format. You do in .pdf, but there are problems with that. You can’t dictate line lengths without ruining text flow when your reader changes the font size, so you have to live with the reader’s defaults. But there are choices you can make — those relating to more-generic text issues, such as using “smart” quotes and proper dashes, and the like. (I think the Chicago Manual is full of it on ellipses, by the way, and I’ll own that.)

All that will only be seen by your reader once the eBook is already sold. That reflects on your attitude toward quality and professionalism in the presentation of your work, and that will affect — however subtly — future sales to the same readers. But only that.

But the cover, now… That is your billboard, your advertisement in the prime position that Amazon and Smashwords and the rest give you when you sell through them. And, pace Dean Wesley Smith, if you produce your cover in MS PowerPoint with stock imagery, it’s going to look it. And, for all the endless platitudinizing about how you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can. And people do. If covers didn’t affect sales, trust me: books would be sold with plain covers. In stock wallpaper patterns, maybe, but no custom graphics or embossed titles or holographic foil substrates. That stuff’s expensive, and it’s not there for decoration, it’s there to get the browsing reader’s attention on the shelf. And it serves the same function on an Amazon search page, or the item listing.

And, having gotten this far, and not touched the actual specifics of the topic, I realize I must continue another time, and so can only admonish you, Gentle Reader to Watch This Space — More To Come.

(Hat tip: Passive Guy.

Cross-posted at Musings of an Indie Writer

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