Self Publishing: A Cover Is Worth . . .

Last weekend I gave a talk about self-publishing at the Regional Gathering of the Cincinnati Mensa chapter, invited by John Cunningham (AKA “Terry Dunn”), my one-man street team. As I spent my odd moments over the past couple months compiling the distilled wisdom of my two years as a self-published author, it seems like a waste not to share this information here. This is the first in a series of blogs derived from that talk.

I couldn’t complete the title of this blog because I can’t quantify the value of a good cover. I won’t say that people buy books because of the cover (though some fans report buying my first book because of the fetching portrait of Max on the front), but the cover conveys the first impression of your book, and may be your only opportunity to grab someone’s attention.

The digital landscape that makes it possible for me to earn a living as a writer also changes the way books are viewed and bought.

At a brick and mortar store, you are given a limited number of options in your chosen genre and are likely to pull out several to flip through. Unless the publisher has paid for a front-facing display, your first contact with a book is via the title on the spine. A nice cover is an asset, but is not necessarily involved in the decision to pick up a book.

Compare this with your experience at an online book store. Whether you browse categories or search keywords, you are confronted with a glut of postage stamp sized images accompanied by text. The image that catches your eye first has the best chance of being clicked. That takes you to a product page, away from the other books.

You have 1/2 second to grab someone’s attention with your cover. If you succeed with this, you have two to four sentences to keep it with your blurb. If you succeed here, people will do one or several of the following things: Buy your book (Yay!); Skip to the “Look Inside,” where you have a page or so to sell them with your prose (or not); or check out your reviews (A portion of your product page over which you have no control).

Unless you have been referred to a specific book by some means, the entire process of selecting a book online begins with the cover. I have had one person argue that they pay no attention to covers. I would argue back, based on my background in the visual arts, that we are affected by visuals whether we are aware of it or not.

If you have to make a choice in where to invest hard cash in publishing your book, put it on the cover. Formatting can easily be done by anyone willing to read Mark Coker’s free style guide at Smashwords. As a writer, you likely know other writers you can trade with for beta-reading/proofing/editing. Unless you’ve got mad graphic skills, I suggest getting a pro cover.

Next: Tips for creating an effective cover.

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