Tag Archives: publishing

Why Book Covers Matter

I’ve recently posted a couple of blogs about what goes into making a good book cover. It’s an obvious area of interest for any writer (especially if they’ll have to design it themselves) and it’s easier to talk about covers than about writing. “Today I wrote ten words and deleted nine of them” isn’t that interesting. Well, it is to me. But I’m special. My mummy says so.

Anyway over the weekend my brother asked me why I was “obsessed” with book covers. We can debate the semantics, but it raises an interesting question: why do book covers matter?

A writer could have written the greatest masterpiece history will ever see. But a reader won’t be able to see that. All they see is the cover. A bookstore browser will spend on average eight seconds looking at the front cover[source]. That might seem too short to worry about, but in eight seconds a book cover can:

• tell the reader that this is their kind of book;
• intrigue and encourage them into reading the back;
• impress the reader with its quality and suggest the content is just as good.

I know what you’re thinking: anyone can say that covers matter. But where’s the empirical proof?

Thankfully those chaps over at The Book Smugglers have conducted a survey of 616 readers. I recommend reading the whole thing, but I’ll summarise the best points:

• 48% said covers play a major role in their decision to purchase a book (though 41% said they played a minor role);
• 72% said “it depends” when asked if a good book cover could compel them to buy a book;
• an astonishing 40% said a book cover could be or has been the sole factor in a book purchase.

You’ll notice that none of these figures have blown your socks off. That’s because the cover’s job is not to sell the book. It’s to get the reader to pick it up. Those 72% who said “it depends” were probably thinking “it depends on the blurb and a sample of the writing itself”. The cover gets the reader’s attention. The content sells it.

And in a world that is seeing more and more books published, getting noticed is more important than ever. So I think my “obsession” is rather well-founded.

What are your favourite book covers? And have you ever bought a book based purely on the cover?

What Makes A Good Book Cover? Part Two

I’ve previously posed the question as to what makes a good book cover. Never one to leave a question unanswered, I’ve garnered feedback and done the research and this is what I’ve come up with so far:

1. Remember the size

In these days of online shopping, covers are displayed in small thumbnails. That means images and text need to be readable at small sizes. For this reason, make the title large, don’t use overly decorative fonts and make sure the cover still has a strong focus.

2. Keep it simple, make it bold

Few articles about cover design fail to make mention of the Twilight Saga covers. But they get mentioned for a reason: they’re striking and they grab the attention through high contrast and simple design. You don’t have to copy the style but you can borrow the lessons. The cover’s job is to grab the attention instantly. Big, bold images can do that.

3. Don’t be afraid of your demographic

If you’ve written a fantasy novel, does the cover design appeal to fantasy readers? If the cover doesn’t encourage them to buy it, is it really going to encourage anyone else?

4. Avoid stock photos

I know a lot of indie publishers swear by stock photography, but let’s be honest: it sticks out like a sore thumb and screams amateur. Commission some original art. It’s worth the investment.

5. Avoid too much symbolism

Yes, the violin is symbolic of your hero’s quest to be heard by his peers, but a stonking great violin on the cover will tell people that this is a book about violins. If they don’t like violins, they won’t pick it up. Symbolism is great in the text, but the cover is pure marketing; its only purpose is to encourage a customer to buy it.

6. Read Joel Friedlander’s Book Designer Blog

A bonus tip! Joel Friedlander’s Book Designer site is a fantastic resource for anyone who is looking to self-publish a book; it’s brimming over with information. Cover design is just one aspect of the things he examines, but you should definitely start reading it now.

These seem to be the main ingredients to good book covers. What do you think? Are there any missing, or are any just plain wrong?

Who Needs Amazon? Rowling Goes It Alone

In case you were hiding under a rock today (or if you’re just not a fan), the Harry Potter ebooks were released today and with a twist: they can’t be purchased anywhere other than J K Rowling’s Pottermore website. That’s right, Rowling is self-publishing and without Amazon’s help. Is she blazing a trail?

Self-publishing is notable for one thing: it cuts out middlemen. Self-publishers cut out the publishers and go straight to the distributors. Now Rowling is cutting even them out of the picture. So is this the next step?

After all, it doesn’t take much to set up your own personal online shop. Services like PayPal can handle the fiddly money bits. You just need a website to host the thing and services like WordPress take the hassle out of even that. So why isn’t everyone doing the same dance as Rowling?

Rowling, of course, is the exception to nearly every rule. The runaway first-book-success story, film deals and eye-watering advances. And in this, too, she’s an exception: she already has a massive platform.

You’ve probably heard of an author platform. It’s a term for the author’s reach and for how many people care when the author talks. A lot of people care when Rowling talks. She and Harry Potter are powerful brands. But why does this matter?

Because the buzzword of self-publishing right now is discoverability. The biggest challenge to self-publishers is being found in the first place. Amazon’s recommendations can help readers find new books as well as provide (hopefully) glowing reviews to persuade them to purchase. Readers are also more likely to buy from a trusted source than your little website.

But will that change?

Computer literacy grows daily and people are beginning to understand what to look for when they shop online. Using a trusted service like PayPal removes any concerns in that area. And the stigma of selling your book on your own website will be pretty much eradicated by the self-publishing revolution. So it really comes down to discoverability. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t find books on Amazon. I find them through friends and social media.

So is Rowling showing us the way into the future? Will self-publishers one day think to themselves: who needs Amazon?

What Makes A Good Book Cover? Part One

Dating an artist has its ups and downs. Sometimes she’ll drag you to a Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit, which is great. Other times she’ll make you watch the Next Great Artist reality programme. But I actually got sucked into that big time because they asked the artists to design a book cover.

And I was left very confused.

I’ll say it plain: I don’t like John Parot’s cover for The Time Machine. I can’t see that it’s got anything to do with the book. It’s a colour pattern. Yet it won where others, more relevant and less colourful efforts were left by the wayside. The reasoning seemed to be that you could see the cover across the book shop.

Is that the only criteria for a good book cover these days?

Consider this sampling of covers.

The cover for Children of Dune shows beautiful desert with a green tint, a free young woman and a darker, brooding man.The cover for Assassin's Quest is rich, green, fantastical, ornate and intimate.The cover for Dying Inside is dark, morbid but with a hint of light and hope.

These are some of my favourite covers. None of them leap screaming off the shelf in a multi-coloured assault on the eyeball. Are they bad covers? I don’t think so. I think they’re arresting images, beautiful even, that tie into the book and give you an idea of what you’ll find on the pages.

My initial reaction to Parot’s cover is that it’s a Shiny Thing tactic: it’s only meant to draw the attention. But should a book cover be more than that? Is it part and parcel of the whole reading experience? Or is just pretty packaging?

Personally I think it’s the former. But perhaps I’m just a rank amateur. What do you think? What makes a book cover a good book cover?

Authors Don’t Deserve To Make Money

Authors don’t deserve to be paid for their work. That appears to be what Matthew Ingram is saying. He clarifies his position in the comments, but his point seems to be pretty clear: because of the amount of free content available online, writers shouldn’t expect to make money from their work any more.

I couldn’t disagree with this more if I tried.

I don’t walk into a supermarket and take a loaf of bread without paying for it. Likewise, I don’t expect to read an entertaining novel for free. I expect to have to pay. The glut of free content on the Internet is irrelevant. Just because someone else is giving away their novel for free, doesn’t mean I have to. Two novels aren’t interchangeable.

An author can give away a novel of they want to. It’s their novel and that’s their right. But they also have every right to charge for it. They’re providing a service. They deserve to get paid.

It seems pretty simple to me.

Let Go, Luke: Should Creators Relinquish Their Art?

This month sees the first rerelease of the Star Wars Saga in 3D. Once again, George Lucas gets his sticky fingers on a new technology and shoehorns it into films he made in the 1970s. These changes are a constant source of nerdy controversy. Fans are angry because the films they love are being changed. Lucas contends that they are his films and he can do with them as he pleases.

But who’s right? Who does art belong to? The creator or the audience?

This isn’t a new question for writers and readers but it’s been academic until now. Ebooks are easy to change. All you need do is upload a new version and poof, the old one is gone. Just like Star Wars, the only book available is the new one, and the only old versions left are those that have already been downloaded.

This may not sound so bad, but I recently tweeted about Ray Bradbury’s argument with some students over the meaning of Fahrenheit 451. He thought it was about the dangers of television, they thought it was about censorship. They weren’t wrong; by making the book publicly available, Bradbury had invited the world to interpret it however they liked. But what if Bradbury had rewritten the book to make his intention more overt and made it the only edition available?

A classic would be gone and something else would be in its place. I don’t think anyone would argue that would have been a good thing. The audience would not have been free to take ownership of the work, to interpret it and love it in their own way. Bradbury would have been dictating how they interacted with his work, constantly recreating it to prevent any opinion of it with which he didn’t agree.

Should creators become curators of their art and allow the audience to take it for themselves? Or, like Lucas, should creators be free to endlessly revise their work to bring it as close to their vision as possible?

Update: I’ve been made aware of R. T. Kaelin, who substantially rewrote his self-published book in an effort to get a traditional publishing deal. Now that Amanda Hocking has made the jump from self- to traditional publishing, I think we can expect to see a lot of people attempting to follow in her wake and with that see a lot of rewritten books. Is this an acceptable path to traditional publication, or should a published book be left alone?

Barnes & Noble Throw a Tantrum Over Amazon

The L.A. Times has reported that Barnes & Noble will no longer sell in its bricks and mortar stores any books published by Amazon. This is because, according to Barnes & Noble, Amazon are undermining the book industry using exclusivity.

So, to summarise, Barnes & Noble are throwing their toys out of the pram.

Let’s not beat around the bush; if B&N were in Amazon’s shoes, they’d push as hard for exclusivity and more. But Amazon has come along and beaten them at their own game. They’re pushing hard for their share and that’s great. Amazon are doing exactly what any competitor should do, which is to do it better for less. They’re challenging the status quo and innovating the market. And now B&N have a choice: go the way of the dinosaur, or step up to the plate and challenge Amazon right back.

Is refusing to stock their books the way? No. It’s juvenile and pathetic. At best it takes choice away from the reader. At worst it drives them into Amazon’s arms.

B&N, and any bricks and mortar store, already have an advantage over Amazon: they have a physical presence in the customer’s world. They can offer a human touch, personal recommendations, a haven for books and the book-lovers. At the moment, the status quo seem to view these stores as an albatross around their necks. But they need to embrace them and turn them into an advantage. Most importantly they need to start thinking and innovating too, instead of treating it as business as normal punctuated with a few tantrums.

Because, at this rate, the only books they’ll be selling are their own. Which would be zero.

The Best Writing Competition in Town

Terry Pratchett’s Anywhere But Here, Anywhen But Now prize has returned for a second year. If you’re writing a novel this is big news! That said, if you want to know more, the official competition page is damnably vague and confusing. But I think I’ve managed to glean the important parts and, to save you the headache it gave me, I’ve decided to share my thoughts here. I’m good like that.

The prize: pretty easy one this: a £20,000 advance against royalties and a publishing contract with Transworld Publishers. Definitely worth entering for.

The deadline: 31st December 2012. That one’s pretty easy too.

The requirements: an entry needs to be:

• a novel between 80,000 and 150,000 words;
• fantasy or science fiction. They aren’t looking for contemporary fiction;
• written by a resident of the UK, Republic of Ireland or British Commonwealth; sorry to anyone who isn’t!

The content: More difficult to determine. There’s a lot of guff in there about alternate Earths (I think that’s thrown in there to confuse people!) but it all seems to boil down to this: the story “must be theoretically possible on some version of the past, present or future of a planet Earth.” This is the muddiest part of the competition. After all, aren’t Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Star Wars all theoretically possible? The winners of last year’s competition are described as “A dazzling, tragi-comic tale of childhood wonder, time-travelling poets and theoretical physics” and ” a comedic tale of zombie animals overrunning the UK”. This one’s a judgement call, I’m afraid. Your guess is as good as mine.

The wrinkles: The conditions state that entrants “have not previously had a full length novel written or co authored by them (under any name) published under a valid ISBN”. This means:

• traditionally published authors aren’t allowed to play;
• indie authors who have published in print aren’t allowed to play either;
• indie authors who have published on the Kindle only are eligible as long as they didn’t purchase an ISBN for their work (as Amazon only don’t require one for Kindle publishing).

Anything I’ve missed or got wrong, please let me know. As soon as I’ve finished the first draft of my novel I’ll get started on a Pratchett Prize novel. Let me know if you are too!

Amanda Hocking's Hollowalnd

Speeling iz imprtunt

Let me get this out of the way; I gave up on reading Amanda Hocking’s Hollowland. I stopped reading because I wasn’t enjoying it. I found the plot pedestrian, the characters flat and forgettable, and the story entirely lacking in heart. But that’s okay. I don’t have to be a Hocking fan.

Having said that, and based on my experience of Hollowland, I think Hocking is very harmful for self-publishing.

I’m a tyrant when it comes to spelling and grammar. I can’t overemphasise how important they are. And, as tyrannical as I am, I am even more embarrassed and mortified if I make a mistake in my own writing. I think this reaction is completely justified. Writing, after all, is what I do. Hell, I’m paid to do it, and so I expect myself to do it well. How can I be taken seriously as a writer if my writing contains simple spelling or grammatical errors?

See where I’m going with this?

Self-publishing is still new and readers are asking themselves why they should take an indie author seriously. Why should they read a book that wasn’t good enough for a publisher? Indie authors are still having to prove that their worth is as good as their traditionally published cousins.

Amanda Hocking is touted as the self-publishing success story. She is the cream of the crop, a big name. And yet Hollowland is riddled with spelling errors. Not just one or two, but dozens.

That is unacceptable from someone who makes their living from writing. And if Hollowland is a reader’s first experience of self-publishing, what will they think? That indie authors can’t take the time, or don’t have the care or professionalism, to check their work before publishing it? Instant turn-off. Indie authors lose a reader.

Hocking doesn’t have to write the kind of books I like to read, and I wish her all the success in the world with her career. But I will not sugarcoat the truth; she needs to proofread her work. Because it hurts the burgeoning industry that she, however unwillingly, has become a figurehead to.

Is Apple Looking to Get Into Self-Publishing?

It’s being reported that Apple are hosting an education-focused event on January 19th, and a fascinating quote has emerged over the last few days: “GarageBand for ebooks”.

What does that mean?

We know GarageBand enables mere mortals like you and I to make a professional sounding song, allowing us to record live instruments as well as adding loops and editing tools. But for ebooks? Whilst ebooks can be difficult to format, it seems unlikely Apple would be happy offering a formatting tool. It’s not whizzy and exciting enough for Apple. And, let’s face it, formatting a document is neither whizzy nor exciting.

It’s far more likely that this will be an app for creating interactive ebooks. Interactive ebooks can range from children’s picture books with narration, sound and touch elements to adult books that incorporate sound and video. The iPad is a perfect platform for such books and could help Apple challenge Amazon for dominance of the self-publishing market.

What does this mean for writers and readers? Well, up until now, writers who wanted an interactive ebook would have to find and hire a developer to do all the work for them. But if they can buy an application from Apple that makes it easy to do it themselves, they can create that ebook for a fraction of the cost. So more creators can create the ebook of their dreams. And for readers? Just as with more traditional ebooks, readers will have the opportunity to enjoy a greater variety of books and often at a lower cost than those with expensive developers behind them.

Of course, this is all conjecture at this stage. But Apple have a golden opportunity to challenge Amazon’s dominance of the self-publishing market. Here’s hoping they take it.