Don’t judge a book by its cover is a nice thought that works best when applying it to people. However, it just simply falls short in the case of physical objects. As much as we’d like to pretend that we’re sophisticated and egalitarian, human beings use their visual sense to assess an object under consideration for purchase. Books are not exempt.
Beside poorly chosen quotes slapped on hyper-sexual images, boring covers or plain bad art won’t help sell your book to your audience. Spending time marketing my own work, I’ve come across a lot of examples that just make me cringe. You know what I mean (or, I hope that you do), because there are sites that collect similar quotes and images to mock them. That won’t happen here. I’m not going to single anyone out. After all, we’re all trying to do the best that we can with what we have. Writing skills improve with time and perseverance, and the means to produce a book hopefully become more available.
My advice to writers who struggle with the means to produce their work independently is to do the best that you can. Regard the cost as an investment in your business, because once you start publishing, even before publication, you are a business. If you can handle a small personal loan, it might be an option, but only do so from a reputable local bank. Keep it small, so you can afford to pay the investment back.
What you’ll do with the money is pay a good editor, proofreader, cover designer, and formatting specialist. If you can’t do the formatting yourself, it’s usually a small expense to be paid to someone who can (a few hundred at the high end). Formatting can be learned, but it’s touchy on Kindle. Trust me, my experience has pushed me to get someone else to help here. If you want a recommendation for a tool, check out Sigil. Do not, however, try to do your editing or proofreading on your own. You simply cannot do it yourself and should not, no matter how good of a writer you are. The same goes for designing your cover.
Cover design should be done by an artist who gets marketing and is not just a great artist. Color schemes, fonts, and layout matter beyond words. It shapes the impression that the book wants to give to the would-be reader, so that they take the book home. Despite what you want to believe, the cover is your pitch to the reader, not so much the blurb, but the image. Yes, the image is why your book will get picked up off the shelf. If it looks like a grade-school student doodled it, you will be passed over—granted someone might pick it up to mock it, but it won’t get bought. The principle of this extends to shopping online for books. Now, once they have it in hand, that blurb will be the part of the pitch that seals the deal. A tight cover design will make that blurb’s pimples less visible.
Blurb writing is an art in itself. You could consider reaching out to pre-readers, your editor, and colleagues to help you write it, even going so far as to hiring someone to write it on your behalf. Promoters and marketers who you’ll be using to beef up the sales of your release are a good resource for finding someone capable of this work. Likely it will run you a few hundred dollars, even though it’s only a couple paragraphs. But, if you’re serious about getting your book off the ground, keep in mind that a book blurb is the second, back up pitch that you need to guarantee sales. Don’t rely on good-enough.
If you want to see examples of why this all matters, you need look no further than mainstream publishing. The big houses are having to cut back on the costs of production in order to afford to continue dominating the market. Still, they have many decades of experience in publishing along with well-educated marketers to put them on top. Their prestige alone keeps the best coming to work for them and top authors publishing through them. Because of the decline of sales in recent decades, as mentioned above, the big houses are cutting corners on design as well as focusing more on guaranteed acquisitions (analyzing the market to see what will sell, such as the hot level on vampires that gave us Twilight).
Mainstream publishing houses also hire artists to work in house, and they’re paid salaries. They’re good at what they do, but they’re not independent artists, which is a much more difficult feat to pull off. The need to be better than the average artist is a prerequisite in independent artistry. Otherwise, you’ll be starving to death and not able to produce work for sale. Is it the salary that makes artists complacent? Not at all, because successful and sustained artists who are independent make enough money to live on, but they continue to innovate and push the boundaries. Rather, it is probably the structure of the publishing company, where art has to go through vetting stages and non-artists have a say in what is produced. It’s the loss of independence.
In the indie publishing world, authors support a wide-variety of independent workers with each publication. They will work alone with the artists to design their cover, and the process is much more open to creativity and results in a better product. Indie books also have to outshine their mainstream competition. The level of work done on them is to a higher standard.
“A cover beguiled you
into buying the book.” – @Woelf20
The reason that I feel indie publishing is rising while traditional avenues are stagnating, is the fact that innovation thrives in the struggle maintained by independent production. More creative answers to the same questions are necessary to outbid the competition. The writing was once thought to have dramatically less quality, but that is no longer the case as the authors have realized and grown into the expectations of their art.
Are there still problems? Yes, of course, but there are also issues among traditionally published works: poorly proofread, lazy editing, and bad designs. So, skipping the indie pile in the belief it’s a poor quality product has become nonsense. Most readers cannot tell an appropriately produced independent novel from one put out by a traditional publisher.
In addition to this, independent authors support other independent artists. You can be sure that your money is going to hardworking artists and not corporations who use them for profit. Think about this: traditional publishers require your work to be edited and proofread before you submit it for consideration (which you will need to pay out of pocket for), so what are their editors on staff earning that salary for? Did you know that you’ll earn considerably less per book sold through a traditional publisher than you will publishing independently? And, that your sales depend on you marketing your work, because they will not be investing in that? It’s up to you to prove to them that you can sell books. Part of the consideration for signing is your reach with a ready audience. Don’t expect them to throw up billboards or place ads in papers. You’ll have to pay for that yourself, too. If you don’t have a product with the right look, you’ll struggle. Don’t look to the publisher to make the best decision for your cover, either. Unless your contract specifies, you might not have a say.
Why are authors still publishing with the big guys?