Judging Your Book by Its Cover

Like it or not, most people will only give a cursory glance at your work. That’s because in a sea of choices, the average reader doesn’t have time to take an in depth look at every title. Even thorough shoppers, those who read product descriptions and reviews, are only given a paragraph as a preview and an average review score after they click. In other words, people rarely give a book more than a moment of consideration.

The human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text. That’s because there is no processing time for an image. Words, on the other hand, require us to remember and attach meaning. So not only are most readers not delving deeper than your cover they may not even read the title. Let that sink in. You are fighting for the attention, and the dollars, of the consumer- one who may not even be reading.

Not only should your cover be eye catching and stand out from the crowd, it also has to visually communicate what the book is about (or at the very least provoke interest.) That’s why genre expectations are so important. Crime thrillers need dark, foreboding covers because their subject matters are dark and foreboding. It would break expectations, and also look out of place, if a crime novel had bright and cheery imagery. (Make people terrified of a smiley face though and you’d have an award winning design.)

Even if you know what colors, fonts, and images to use for your work, you still have the trouble of designing and laying out the cover. Graphic designers spend years learning color and compositional theories and spend even more time refining their creative intuition. Few creatives have the capacity to both master writing and visual design (not to mention editing, marketing, and copywriting.) There is no shame in not designing your own cover, that’s why there are professionals, but there definitely is shame in having a bad cover.

Amazon’s Indie revolution made publishing accessible to everyone but that doesn’t mean that everyone has the knowledge to produce professional products. Consumers do not care where their book originated from, however, they do care that the book meets their pre-determined expectations- expectations that have been cultivated for decades by traditional publishers.

You can measure how much your perspective readers will care about your work, and also how much they would be willing to pay, by looking at how much you yourself have cared for the piece. If you do not care for your product, why should a consumer? Furthermore, it’s baffling to see writers creating products on the smallest budget possible- as if they are the only ones deserving of compensation. True, there are plenty of bargain products and services out there for writers, but those services tend to yield books only suitable for the bargain bin.

If you consider yourself a professional, and you want consumers to respect your work and properly compensate you for it, you must treat your work professionally. Editors, copywriters, layout artists, and marketers are all part of this important equation, however, the cover designer is by far the most important person you hire. Your cover should not be an afterthought or an afternoon on Canva, it should be the crowning glory of your book. It is the symbol of everything you worked for and is also your ambassador to the public.

So here’s the question to ask yourself: do you want your ambassador to be well dressed? Or are you going to take him to a five dollar tailor?

The Business of Free eBooks

by A.J. Cosmo

In the early days of Kindle Publishing you could take a “set it and forget it” approach to book giveaways. A free period, shortly after launch, basically guaranteed high downloads and inevitable sales. Over time, and with increased competition, free eBooks have lost a lot of their power as a promotional tool. Gone are the days of easy 1,000+ downloads. Now most authors celebrate giving away a few hundred copies.

Perma-free titles, along with the introduction of Kindle Unlimited, has further diminished the appeal of free eBooks. Anymore it feels like you literally can’t give away your books. So why then, under all this doom and gloom, do I continue to promote my work using free eBooks? There’s not just one reason, there’s ten.

  1. It’s Artistic Satisfaction– The act of giving away your material ensures that someone, somewhere, is reading your work. That’s artistic satisfaction, even if it doesn’t lead to any financial rewards. Most authors say they are grateful just to be read, but let’s be honest here, we write with the hope of making money.
  2. It’s Name Recognition– The only thing worse than no sales is having no one know who you are. Even if a reader never buys a book from you, the fact that your name has entered their conscious is reason enough to give away content. You want your name to be an option in people’s mind when they talk about books in daily conversation.
  3. It’s a Taste Test– If everyone follows the same quality standards, then the sale of a book will depend mostly on the taste of the reader. How can someone know if they like your work without sampling it? Even though Amazon offers preview chapters, there’s something special about getting a complete book.
  4. It’s a Loss Leader– Have you ever wondered why milk has been $2.99 for fifteen years? The cost of milk has gone up with inflation, yet it’s still pretty cheap. That’s because the store sells milk at a loss. Grocery stores know if you buy milk you’ll probably buy something else too. So if your eBooks have links to other titles, or if the free book is part of a series, then you are more likely to sell books when readers pick up the freebie.
  5. It Captures Emails- A free eBook, tied in with an email capture service such as LeadPages, can quickly grow your eMail list. These readers are giving you permission to sell to them, not just books in the same series, but anything relating to your work.
  6. It Keeps Up Rankings- Readers and algorithms constantly check the top of the best-seller charts. So, even though rankings reset when going from free to paid, the inbound links and “also viewed” carousel will bring eyeballs to your page and result in increased rankings. With well timed, and short, promotions you can fight constantly sinking tides.
  7. It Leads to KU Sales- Strange as it seems, many people experience a boost in Kindle Unlimited Page reads when putting a book on free promotion. The consensus is that the button to purchase the book for free looks the same as the Kindle Unlimited button to read  for free, so a simple mis-click means sales!
  8. It Leads to Reviews- Around .5%-5% of people who download your free eBook will leave a review. Those reviews can give you valuable feedback for improvement or a boost to your ego for a job well done. Either way, those reviews will inform other readers when they take a look at your work.
  9. Yes, It Still Leads to Sales- Generally speaking, around 1% of download numbers for a title will convert to paid sales after the promotion is over, so it really is a numbers game. Those small sales will lead to a higher ranking and, with luck, more sales down the line.
  10. It Gives Feedback- There’s nothing more heartbreaking than a dead book, however, even if no one is saying anything they are still saying something. If you can’t give away your book, then that means that something about the book isn’t working. Maybe the cover needs to be redone. Maybe it needs a fresh edit. Maybe the copy could be improved. And maybe, just maybe, the book came out of the oven too early. Use a bad promotion as a chance to take a look at your work and see what could be improved. It’s a tough market out there, give it your best.

In short, free eBooks are far from useless. They may not have the magical impact that they once did during the gold-rush days, but they are still an important, and sometimes very potent, tool in the independent author’s toolbox.

A.J. Cosmo is the author/illustrator of over thirty children’s books including the best selling “The Monster That Ate My Socks.” He lives and works in Los Angeles, California. Check out his website or say hi on Twitter.