Astute authors will recognise that irrespective of how good their story might be, it’s the cover which is the first point of contact with the reader (or ‘the customer’ if we’re honest).
I accepted early on in my writing career that if I wanted my books to be treated seriously then I’d have to part with cash, and not for vanity publishing—some people still do. In essence, I’d have to fork out before my hard work had produced any reward in royalties.
There are many more aspects which affect the success or failure of a book but for now, I’d like to stay on topic—covers.
It didn’t take much research for me to discover that poetry and short story anthologies attracted less interest than any other aspect of creative writing. Yes, as luck would have it, my first titles came into those categories, however, I’m a positive kind of guy and saw an opportunity. Here were two areas in which I could practice the dark art of cover design. Later, I would find another. 😀
My first novel took a year to write due to me also holding down a full-time management job. I produced my idea of a cover for Beyond The Law. Even with my artistic leanings, it was not an impressive sight, so let’s not go there.
For my next two novels, I bit the bullet, which is an option not many of my characters are offered. I paid a professional cover designer to cater for Ten Days in Panama and Amsterdam Calling. Both books sold steadily and a significant lesson was learned. I asked the designer to create a cover for Beyond The Law (later to be suffixed ‘Formation’. Like the other two covers, it was expensive, but the blow was softened when I saw the effect of a decent story married up to a good cover.
In less than six months, I received sufficient royalties from Beyond the Law to cover the cost of all of my first three covers. Needless to say, I went on to use the same designer for A Taste of Honey. When Beyond the Law – the trilogy was created with the addition of ‘Retribution’ and ‘Consequences’ I saw regular sales.
I continued producing the covers for my short story anthologies as the books were published. Yes, they would sell, I thought, but not in sufficient numbers to warrant a hefty outlay on covers.
One interesting twist came when I wrote my magnum opus, A Life of Choice. This was a five-part, fact-based fiction series; a depiction of my military career, but I had doubts. I hoped it was written in an entertaining and engaging style, but it was simply a story I wanted to tell. I didn’t see it as a prize winner or a major money-spinner.
I designed the covers using the ‘Regimental Colours’ of the Royal Signals (my Corps), and I used a small representative graphic for each of the five stages. My theory was that the ‘colours’ would attract the eye of some of the thousands of Royal Signals soldiers past and present. Following a slow pick-up and a few good reviews, this series rapidly established itself as my top-selling story.
The only issue I had was the regular requests for it to be available in paperback. I experimented and it took several weeks but I managed to amend the end/beginning of the five parts to convert them into a paperback trilogy—the same story, in the same words but broken at different logical points in time.
I recognised a potential saboteur—overconfidence. I contacted my professional designer and gave her a simple brief, sending her photos of the three pieces of equipment to be featured, samples of the background colours and all the printed matter for front and back exterior. For example, apart from the blurb, each book in the trilogy has excerpts from three different reviews. It took a few weeks to get there and I was delighted with the designer’s solution.
An area that some indie authors fail to register is that paperbacks are formatted differently regarding the front and back matter. I took great care in presentation, as I’ve done with all of my paperback versions so that they mirror traditional books.
One aspect of this series I didn’t expect was how much it would be enjoyed by those who had never served. The primary target of any creative writer should be to provide entertainment and it gladdens my heart to know I’ve achieved my aim with this special story.
As if by magic, the paperbacks continue to sell. I’m delighted to report that they are a popular prize at the many military fund-raising events to which I donate signed copies of the trilogy.
I recently felt that I’d gained sufficient knowledge and experience to try my hand again at the creative, challenging skill of cover design. It took a few days but I’ve refreshed the covers for the Beyond The Law trilogy. My versions are on trial for a couple of months.
Apart from poetry and short story anthologies, I said that later I was to find another area for which I could create the covers. Erotica is that area and not surprisingly there aren’t that many reviews although they are good. There are, however, plenty of sales. 😀
If you’re an author at whatever stage of your journey, please remember that a well-crafted book with a good cover is more likely to see a healthy return on the investment of your time and money.
Thank you for reading.
9 thoughts on “A Cover Story”
I especially like the theme and cover art you did for the LIFE OF CHOICE trilogy
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* for the paperback series
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It was clever how five books became three, Senan, and I like the cover art too. I see hundreds of covers on Readers’ Favorite, very few that good, or like Spectral State. To often, I have to peer at the screen to read the author’s name, and they are, or will be, the same size on Amazon.
Hi Senan. Thank you. The trilogy was designed by the ‘pro’ but it took a few weeks of ‘to and fro’ because I was very specific. Apart from the regimental colours, the radio featured in the first one was obsolete even when I used it. The helicopter, likewise, because it’s a Scout, one of the series before the Gazelle and the Lynx. Even the antennae in the third one was being phased out by the time I finished my time. 🙂
Covers are often challenging.. I love your updated covers.. the never judge a book by it’s cover may be advice we give simply because so many people do just that.☘️🎈
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Hi and thanks for the compliment, Patrick. Yes, I believe ‘readers’ can be put off too easily in some cases … ‘I don’t like the look of that woman …’ etc. 🙂
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You opted for a professional cover for Beyond the Law and it worked so well it covered the investment in covers for the other two books in the trilogy. That’s a convincing argument until we reach your own new designs. They are an experiment and only time will tell, but I think they’re superb – a massive improvement on the originals.
My question now is, was it the covers that sold the books or the content represented by a good blurb and backed by an intriguing opening to the Amazon “look inside” feature?
None of my covers have been bought, though Ruth has had an enormous amount of help from Sharon when she designed them, and we also took on board your comment on branding – adding the title, and especially the author name, in the same place.
If you had a free hand, and plenty of my money, which of my covers would you recommend changing and why? (eBooks only – my paperbacks rarely sell, though I do have one for most of my books; family like them.) Please include Shattered Lives in your thoughts. A title + A DCI Gerald Persaud Thriller and my name would retain their places, but the picture would be different. For book 1, it features the main victim – the girl who is in danger and must fight back from her shattered life. Book 2 would have a totally different story, although a DCI is restricted to interest in serious crime like murder, and even he breaks the rules a bit.
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Hi Sarah, and thank you for the compliment on the new covers. Regarding the ‘look inside’, I tend to have a hook within the first two or three pages of a novel. Within the first chapter is all very well, but the sooner the better and the ‘look inside’ is a good reason for earlier.
I think your Richard and Maria covers work well, and so too does your new one. If it was in my hands I’d refresh the full set for RCFS. I’d keep the same man but show him with different women. If I were asked to change only one it would be Sweet Temptation–it’s the only one with a solitary person. For your new series, it will depend on the ‘victims’ but a similar look for each would work. A simple thing like different hair colour would do the job.
I ran into a problem with Sweet Temptation. When Ruth suggested changing the covers, there were only three books, so we grabbed the three most suitable images featuring the same man. A different woman didn’t cross our minds and, back then, using more than one image for a cover didn’t either. Food for thought.
I agree about the “look inside”. The earlier the hook the better. The thriller opens with the killer planning a murder, but he’s already outside the house…
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