Monday, October 29, 2012

Getting the cover right

           One of my co-workers posted a review on Amazon for my latest romance, The Dragon Bard. (Bless her heart; it’s the only review the print book has.) She mentions in her review that she wasn’t thrilled with the “skinny, not sexy” guy on the cover. She has the print version, so the cover was staring her in the face every time she picked up the book, but it really got me thinking about the covers for my ebooks.

I knew the guy I chose for this cover wasn’t ideal. He’s not nearly handsome enough to be Bridei and he is too skinny. But after searching through stock photos for hours, he was the best I could do. My cover artist uses a stock photo website for her images and even though the site has thousands of photos, it’s a serious challenge to find one where the model looks somewhat like my character and yet doesn’t have modern clothing or something else that throws it out of the time period of my book. I’m sure with a book set in the contemporary era, it’s a little easier.

I considered putting the heroine on the cover instead, since I thought it might be easier to find an appropriate image of a beautiful woman with long auburn hair. But the book is called The Dragon Bard. Since it’s about the hero, I really thought he should be on the cover. I also considered not featuring either character. The cover background has a misty, forest-surrounded lake with a harp on one side and a cat at the bottom. It’s pretty and mystical looking, but has no real focal point. In a thumbnail online, it would just blur together. (BTW, even the cat model is wrong. There were no wildcats in Ireland. The cat that plays a small but important role in the book is just a larger-than-ordinary housecat. But finding such a cat the right color that was posed right was a struggle, so I gave up and used the bobcat-like image my cover artist came up with.)

  After reading the review, I got to worrying that maybe the “skinny guy” on The Dragon Bard was holding back my sales. But then I considered the cover of my poorest selling book, The Dragon Prince, is a studly looking model I’ve seen on several other book covers. Even though women readers obviously think he’s attractive, it doesn’t cause them to buy my book. And then there’s my ebooks that do sell well. This month my re-released Viking book is my best seller. Since I couldn’t find a decent Viking model, I used a close shot of a couple kissing, cropped so you can’t see their modern swimsuits. There’s a tiny Viking ship in the background, but the only thing obvious about the cover is that it’s a romance. My other best-selling books feature pretty, nude women shown from the back. They convey that the books are sexy romances, and that’s probably what attracts readers.

The lesson in all of this (other than the one it’s easier to find female models that are universally attractive than it is male ones), may be that all an ebook cover needs to do is convey genre and have one strong element that stands out in a tiny thumbnail. Still as an author/publisher, it’s hard not to agonize. I know on the ebook loop I’m on, several authors have put up four or five cover variations and asked the loop members which one they like best. In most cases, they are designing the covers themselves so doing several versions only costs them time. If I did this, I’m sure my cover artist would have to charge me for all the variations. Then I would be incurring more costs that I’d have to recoup before the book started making money.

I have to say I almost miss the old days, when my publisher designed the covers. I didn’t hate any of them (although one had an anachronistic element that made me crazy) and some I really liked. I didn’t have to find the photos and come up with the basic design, or pay for it either. And I had a sense that the art department knew what they were doing. They were putting out dozens of romance covers every year and could really gauge what sells.
With independence comes freedom, but also a lot of responsibility. Here I am, stressing about covers when I should just be writing the next book!   

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Secret to E-Publishing Success

            It’s been almost a year since I published my first ebook, and I can say that I finally figured out the secret to success in e-publishing.  The secret is…  (insert drum roll) … you have to publish the right book.

I currently have ten ebooks available, not counting a box set of my series. Six of them are ebook versions of backlist titles and four are new. Many of them I sell only a handful a month, while two of them sell a couple hundred.  What’s the difference? Genre. My Regency romances are the ones that sell. My two Viking books do OK, while sales of my dark age romances and my Roman Britain historical fantasy are pretty pathetic.

If your ebook is in a less than popular genre, you may have trouble even giving them away. Indeed, I did three free promotions this last year. My dark age romance had over 500 downloads, my Viking book, 1100 and my Regency 11,000! 

Since I’ve been e-publishing, a lot of writers have been interested in my experiences. They’re wondering if they should take the leap. My advice would be, if you have a book in a genre that’s popular, then you could do very well. If the book has been rejected by editors of agents because it’s a tough sell, then you may not experience much success epublishing it. The gatekeeping process has changed, but it’s still functioning.

There are over half a million ebook fiction titles on Amazon. The only way readers are going to find your book is to search for it. And unless your name is Nora Roberts or Stephen King, they’re probably going to search for it by genre or sub-genre. But even that doesn’t help much. For example, there are almost 14,000 historical romance ebooks on Amazon. I still face pretty stiff competition. Next readers are going to search using key words.  I’ve tried to use keywords that might spark interest, but there’s a limit to how creative you can be and remain true to what the book is about.

Which brings me to a related reality:  Sex sells.

My Regencies are fairly sexy, and my next best-selling book is a Viking romance that opens with the heroine trying to seduce the hero. It sells much better than my Viking book where it takes a lot longer for the hero and heroine to get “down and dirty”.

Of course, if you’re writing mysteries or urban fantasy, or action adventure novels, sex might not be such a big factor. But the overall popularity of your genre or sub-genre is still going to be a huge predictor of how well your ebook does.

Independent e-publishing has been hailed by many frustrated writers as a wonderful, empowering opportunity. And it is. It’s a chance to get your “baby” to readers, get the story-of-your-heart out there. But you have to be realistic. Most e-published writers don’t sell thousands of ebooks. The ones that do are writing something that lots of people want to read.

But not every writer can or should write to the masses (at least not all the time). My Regency romances, while fun to write, were definitely not “books of the heart”. The books that mean the most to me, that I put my heart and soul into, are experiencing underwhelming sales. But that’s not to say I regret writing them. These are books I am very proud of, that I gave me great emotional and creative satisfaction.  They are my literary legacy. And in the grand scheme of things, that’s more important than money.