If you asked my girlfriends as a teenager, a whole lot.
Alright, let’s lift our minds out of the gutter.
This is what I’ve been grappling with since launching damonza.com in 2012. Over this period, I’ve designed thousands of book covers, for almost the entire gamut of genres and topics.
And it all comes down to two seconds.
Two seconds is the total time that people usually spend looking at a book cover when browsing. Whether in store or online, your book has two seconds to take the reader from ‘what’s this?’ to ‘I’m interested’.
I’ve come to some conclusions along the way – some that will be more popular than others – which I’d like to share with you. While you’re welcome to take these thoughts with a particularly large grain of salt, after seeing the success/non-success of different works over the course of my design journey, I feel like there are a few things that are more key than others to a book’s sales numbers.
Take my hand. Let’s go for a stroll.
Sticking To Your Field of Expertise
God, I admire writers. It may be already terrifically obvious, but I couldn’t write my way out of a wet paper bag. To be able to have an over-arching narrative in your head, and build slowly, excitingly and dramatically to its conclusion, it takes a skillset that I simply do not possess.
When I started out in the book cover design game, the input from the authors was immense. They wanted a particular scene portrayed on the cover, or a hint at the themes which ran through the book. I took this advice on board, and did my best to meet their desires.
I now realise that this was a major mistake.
The ideals of cover design do not line up with the ideals of a well-written story. The complexity, intricacy and sense of immensity that goes into a great work is completely at odds with what goes into a great cover. The early covers that were heavily affected by the wants of the author were busy, convoluted and just a bit much.
While you may not get the snapshot of your favourite scene on the cover like you dreamed, trusting design experts with its design is vital to its sales success. Simplicity is king, and what you may feel like you’re missing out on in conveying your story, you’ll more than make up for in sales. I promise.
I’ll not offer to ghost-write your next book. All I ask in return is that you trust me to produce the best cover possible for your work.
Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover?
The ideal is not often a reflection of the reality. Just take that classic sentiment ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. Everyone strives for that ideal. No one hits it. If they say they do, they’re lying.
Humans are creatures of efficiency. Just look at the world we’ve created for ourselves. If you think that a person who is shopping for books isn’t going to judge them by their covers, you’ve got another thing coming, friend.
The cover is the only efficient way to judge a book. Sure, the blurb on the back gives a better indication of its merit, but who is going to systematically read every blurb on Amazon or in a book store?
Investing in your book cover is quite possibly the most important money you’ll spend on the work. And ensuring that the designer you choose has the expertise and wherewithal to produce a quality cover could make a bigger difference to sales than anything else.
Indie Authors vs Traditional
The perception – and it is only a perception – is that traditionally published authors produce better work than indie writers. It can be sternly argued that this isn’t the case.
The reality of the situation is entirely irrelevant.
The perception is all that matters. Because of the perception, those books that seem to be by indie authors don’t sell as well as those that seem to be traditionally published. And how do shoppers identify whether the author is indie or traditional? By looking at the cover.
Publishing houses usually spend between $3000 and $5000 on the cover art for a book. This shows in the cover, and gives shoppers the confidence to think that they can tell the difference between indie and traditional at a glance.
Traditional, big-spending cover art evokes emotion or tells a story in the simplest way possible. The shopper sees it, understands it, and develops a desire for it. All in two seconds.
You can get this look. And you don’t have to spend four figure sums. This high-level, professional look is no longer the refuge of the elite. You can have the indie control, without the perceived indie drawbacks.
Book cover design is an inexact science. The design process is a complicated one, and reward comes from patience, collaboration and trusting your designer’s advice.
You don’t want to rush it. You want to take your time, and massage it so that it produces the sort of results that you’re hoping for.
Just ask teenage Damon’s girlfriends.