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!   


  1. Speaking as a cover designer myself, it's super hard finding the right models for each project. We're lucky, however, to finally be seeing more romance-related stock images available that are relatively affordable. Next time you're looking for a decent cover model, Mary, go look here:

    Covers are extremely important, and they should convey an accurate image of what the reader will find within the pages inside. For example, an amateurish cover warns a potential reader that the story inside may be poorly written. Or a romance that doesn't show people on the cover has the potential to hurt sales (this recently happened to a friend of mine).

    There's also some concern that authors get so caught up in making sure their covers stand out at thumbnail size that this is becoming a pattern. Readers are starting to recognize the "self-published ebook" based on its thumbnail appeal. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the cover of your book should be about the book, not its status as trad or indy. Just something to keep in mind.

    You're doing a great job as a self-publisher, Mary! Keep up the great work!

  2. Decisions, decisions! It's never easy, but I thought the cover was fine.

    1. Thanks, Cindy. I didn't think he was that bad either. At least the model gives a sense of what my hero looks like. I do think that part of the problem is that my friend doesn't usually read romance and I think she was a little embarrassed to be reading a book with a half-naked guy on the cover. But she didn't want to say that and sound prudish so she criticized the model instead. But her comment did get me thinking about how subjective this all is and how it's all just another thing to worry about with self-publishing.

  3. Hi Mary
    My cover artist gave me three choices. In my case, an epic fantasy, which has a flute as a major component, the choice is easy. Reviews indicate that I made the right choice, but I still haven't seen many sells. The readers haven't found me yet. I've read a lot about this, the only thing that seems to make sense is to have a lot of books available so that once a reader finds you, if they like you, then they can buy more.

    The struggle never ends.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Nancy. Good luck to you!