We welcome back Kate Allure for the second part of her post on creating an eye-catching book cover. If you missed her first post, you can read it here.
I know firsthand that book covers can make or break your sales, having just gone through a rebranding of my debut book Playing Doctor. So the question—“What makes a good cover?”—is something I’ve thought a lot about lately. I’ll share what I’ve learned from the experts about the do’s and don’ts of creating a good cover. (Check out the rest of Part 1: Best Practices for Indie Authors with lots of links to good resources here…)
Part 2: Branding and the Traditional Publisher
For a perspective on branding and working with a traditional publisher, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dawn Adams, Sourcebooks Casablanca Art Director and also my Sourcebooks editor Mary Altman. Sourcebooks is a respected, mid-sized independent publisher of print and e-books that continues to grow in the current difficult publishing climate. Dawn provides a behind the scenes look at how book covers come together and what authors can do to help ensure their covers are the best they can be, and Mary addresses the thinking that goes behind branding and positioning a book within a category.
Step 1: Understand the Book and the Market
In the romance category at Sourcebooks, the launch process is started eleven months in advance, usually before the novel is finished. Authors are requested to provide a variety of detailed background information (plot summary, full synopsis, character and setting descriptions, notable scenes, cover ideas/mood) to help the staff begin to think about placement. Even the indie author will benefit from taking the time to do this work before beginning to create a book cover. At the same time, the Sourcebook editor assigned to a book will conduct deep research on the title, cover style, and competition, looking at sales numbers, what the subgenre generally looks like, and what’s trending. All this research is used to help set the position and tone of the book for everyone from the marketing staff to the cover artist.
Step 2: Artist Selection
Dawn’s job really starts at this point. “When I get all that information, I look through it and think about tone. Then I think a lot about the category. What is selling? What are the new things out? How should this really look so that it sits well within the category? We want the feeling that you belong but are also different so the book stands out for the reader.”
Covers are designed in-house or sent out, depending on the subgenre, and working with the book’s editor, Dawn begins to form a direction for the look of the book. “I focus more on the emotional aspect of the cover. How do I convey what I want the readers to feel and relate to. I want the cover to evoke an emotional response that will strike familiarity with the reader. Make them grab it and want to read the story.”
At this point, an art director is now ready to select a cover artist. With ten years of experience at Sourcebooks, Dawn has developed a stable of artists and photographers and has a sense of their strengths in different styles. “I guide them a lot, but also the people I work with I trust in their creative abilities.” She send them lots of visuals and sample covers, direction for mood and setting, and specific guidance on focus, for instance whether the “cover needs to be all about the hero. Or, if it’s all about the couple, here’s what’s important to them.” Then she lets the artist have free reign. Dawn has found that the best covers happen when she follows this process and doesn’t micromanage the artist.
Here are her top three considerations in establishing a brand—good advice for the indie author as well:
1) Visual Consistency
Particularly important for a book series, but also for creating an author’s brand. There should be consistency with how the title and name is set. While the image will change and maybe even the mood, the size, location, and type font of the title and author’s name should remain the same from one book to the next.
2) Fit Within the Sub-genre
Each brand should fit well within the category, so that readers in a subgenre will recognize the book as the type they like. The challenge is to fit but also stand out as unique.
3) Image Continuity
For a series, choose that first photo carefully. Dawn says, “We think about how we can carry photos through for future books in the series.” Looking at the initial Playing Doctor cover (see legs), Dawn noted that it was easy to see how the idea of the legs could be rearranged with different implements (gavel, wrench) to create a recognizable theme. The image doesn’t need to be the same, but the feel must be recognizable. Choose unwisely, and it might be difficult to find suitable images for the rest of the series.
Dawn’s advice to authors working with publishers:
1) Be Clear and Focused
In writing your marketing prose, be clear and specific, with good descriptors. Keep it simple and focus on the most important aspects of the work. Dawn mentioned one author that gave so much varied information while not being clear about the book’s main feel that the initial book cover was way off the mark.
2) Trust Your Publisher
Dawn urges, “Trust that they are going to do the best thing for the book. I love being able to talk to authors. They know their work, know the emotions, but at the same time it’s like they are too close to the project. They can get too wrapped up it the minute details. Can’t see the bigger picture. We’re trying to appeal to a bigger audience. The author is going to the publisher for the resources we can provide, so you have to trust that we are going to do the best of the book, that we have the best interest for it. We all want it to succeed.”
Rethink and Rebrand
I’m thrilled to announce that Sourcebooks has rebranded my Meeting Men series. While both the Sourcebooks team and I loved
the old look of Playing Doctor (clean, fresh, and bright), it didn’t pop, resulting in sales that were lower than expected, especially in light of the strong editorial reviews. Says my Sourcebooks editor, Mary Altman, “Sales are the number one thing that catches my eye. I keep a very close watch on how books—especially debut books—perform. I want every single book to have as strong a launch as possible, and Sourcebooks puts a great deal of energy into making sure we found the perfect positioning, cover, and copy. The theory is that every book has an audience. The trick is making sure you communicate in a way that lets that audience know this is the book for them.”
Following Sourcebooks decision to rebrand, they went back to looking at how best to position my book within the subgenre of erotic romance. Dawn says the first thing that is always addressed is the cover. “We packaged it wrong. Didn’t put it in the right place for the author to get it out there into the readers’ hands.” The initial hope was to create a sweet brand that readers felt comfortable holding in public, that they didn’t need to hide on their e-reader, but analysis now suggests that it was too different for the category. Looking at what is selling, they went for a trending darker, grittier look. The new brand is markedly more sexy and powerful, and I’m grateful to my expert team at Sourcebooks for their creative rethinking of the Meeting Men series.
By way of showing you the level of depth of thinking that goes into the design, I asked why the titles read down and not up (the draft versions were the opposite). Dawn reported that after considering it both ways, they did it top down because: 1) many stores shelves (or bays as the industry calls them) having railings and the beginning of the title would be lost if read bottom up, 2) top down is done on the spine, and 3) aesthetically, by reading down you see first the image, then arrive at the tag-line and finally the author name. This powerful eye-leading artistry was exactly what AJ of Smashwords noted upon seeing my new book cover for the first time.
Mary added that reviews can sometimes trigger a reposition as well, even if sales are “fairly successful,” a level that for Sourcebooks is the low end of their expectations. For one project, her research into why it wasn’t selling better revealed that the overwhelming opinion from reviewers was “that the book was a surprise. They had gone in thinking they were getting one kind of book and were delighted when they realized they were getting ‘so much more.’ In this case, it wasn’t Sourcebooks being off-base—we’d nailed the cover and copy for this subgenre. However, these reviews seemed to be strongly indicating that if we made some adjustments, we could actually position the book in a larger corner of the market…which would mean more sales for the author. I did the research, we had the long discussions, and we ultimately decided to make the adjustment.”
So a take-away from this is that one should look at every aspect of the book cover with a critical eye and, while indie authors might not have access to all the internal sales or Nielsen BookScan data, even analyzing your reviews might shed light on how to tweak your book cover and metadata to reach a broader audience.
It’s too soon to know whether the new Meeting Men covers will have a strong impact, but the good news is that Playing Doctor sales are remaining stable. Mary explained, “Romance cycles so quickly that the window of opportunity can be fairly narrow. There can often be a quick and steep decline [after the initial launch], and we’re not seeing that yet.” She notes that the real test will come with the release of Lawyer Up in August, then side by side sales data can be analyzed to see how the rebranding affected sales.
The Last Word on Book Covers
What I’ve learned is that there is a tremendous amount of different factors to consider in creating a book cover and brand. And as AJ said, “If you put all that blood, sweat and tears into your beloved project, you want to give it the best possible chance to find its readers.” Here are a couple last thoughts:
“Title, image, author.”
Smashwords’ AJ Mayall on important considerations for cover design.
“Keep it simple and clear.”
Sourcebooks’ Dawn Adams on conveying book information to your publisher.
“Communicate in a way that lets that audience know this is the book for them.”
Sourcebooks’ Mary Altman on positioning.
“Try to keep an open mind.”
Kate on working with all the different professionals that help make your book possible.
I truly believe everyone really does want your book to be a success. And, good luck! ~ Kate
Again, if you missed Part 1: Best Practices for Indie Authors you can find it here…)
Let’s flip it around and look at it from a reader’s perspective—cause I know we’re all avid readers too! What are you pet peeves when it comes to book covers?
LAWYER UP is the second book in Kate’s Meeting Men series of erotic short-story anthologies that feature real women meeting handsome, professional men while going about their everyday lives. This book offers three different lawyers in three naughty stories—all quick, steamy reads that give new meaning to the term “lawyer up.”
PLAYING DOCTOR Kate’s anthology about the fun you can have with doctors behind closed doors receives raves: “Debut author Allure launches her Meeting Men series of erotic romance collections with this sizzling and sensual medical-themed trio of stories. Readers will cheer on these strong women as they take the initiative, seeking (and finding) both sexual satisfaction and emotional fulfillment,” notes Publishers Weekly. “This trio of hot and steamy tales is escapism of the richest, most decadent variety. Kate Allure deals in pure fantasy, a spirited diversion from the mundane and a chance to explore some of the most titillating ‘what ifs’ readers can imagine,” says RT Book Reviews. And, Library Journal adds, “Fun, flirty characters abound, and there’s plenty of kinky action.”
Bio: Kate is the author of the Meeting Men and Club Exotica series from Sourcebooks. Kate has also launched KateAllure.com, a new type of interactive author website which she hopes will become a fun meeting place for all things erotic romance. She has been a storyteller her entire life, writing plays, short stories, and dance librettos throughout her childhood and later for semi-professional theater and dance companies. Her non-fiction writing included working for American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet. Beyond writing, Kate’s passions include traveling and exploring all things sensual with her loving husband.
What’s next: Author Catherine Castle joins us on Monday, May 4th.
- Part 1: Ten Steps to a Great Book Cover – What I’ve learned from the experts at Sourcebooks and Smashwords by Kate Allure
- Weekly Lecture Schedule April 27 – May 1
- Weekly Lecture Schedule – April 13th to April 17th
- Jan Marshall presents: Cover Design and Writing – Are the Rules the Same?
- Oliver Rhodes – Author brands – Why Consistency is Worth Paying For