A Cover Story

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.

Thank you.

The Wallpaper Effect – Part 1 of 2

WallpaperWhere am I going today with my opinion?

Marketing, and more importantly – self-marketing.

I’ll explain ‘The Wallpaper Effect’ later in this short post, but before we get there I’d like to address what is probably one of the biggest headaches for indie writers.

An indie writer spends months, or perhaps a year or more working on a book. My average is between eight months and a year for a novel, and longer for a book of twelve short stories.

Having taken every care to get the book ready for the world, the writer is then hit with a variety of issues.

Where to publish?
What price to sell the work?
Where to advertise?
How often to advertise?
Produce it in paperback?

That is a short list, but I think long enough to make my point, so let’s move on.

There are those who believe (as I once did), that we should get the book written, publish it, and then plug it at every opportunity, on every available social network, and as often as possible.

I am not an expert, but trust me – that is not the way to go.

Why not?

There my dear reader is where I believe ‘The Wallpaper Effect’ presents itself.

The book is seen so often that it effectively becomes a ‘regular’ sight, so rather than attracting attention – it is ignored. Think of it as negative marketing.

Where did I come up with this theory?

I will use two previous careers to demonstrate my point.

We’ll look at ‘blending in’ versus ‘standing out’.

1 – In my military career, I had to ‘conceal’ my large radio truck in woodland by ensuring I broke up the square edges and straight lines with camouflage. I made it blend in, so it wasn’t seen. If I was on foot, I’d camouflage myself so that I blended in – unseen.

It was desirable to have The Wallpaper Effect.

2 – I now work a couple of days a week as a sales assistant, but before stepping down – for twenty years I was a retail manager, and for five of those years I worked as a ‘support’ manager.

My role encompassed many aspects of the trade, but one challenging area was pointing out to store managers why an in-store display or window display didn’t produce sales. Sometimes it was just badly done – but in many cases it was the ‘wallpaper effect’.

The display had been the same for so long that it became invisible. It had once caught the eye, but sadly no longer.

It was not desirable to have The Wallpaper Effect.

I’d suggest changes were made – and the product caught the eye once again – and sold.

Changes don’t have to be drastic, but we’ll cover that in Part 2 with regards to self-marketing for indie writers.

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In Part 2 of this post, which will be with you in a couple of days, I’ll write about my most recent (and successful) strategy. I will also mention a couple of ideas I’ve incorporated into that strategy.

How do I judge ‘success’?

During the past month I’ve had five days when I had no sales. I’m not big on statistics but I thought I’d throw in that small one. Okay, so I suppose that’s no big deal, but it gives my morale a boost.

For now, in summary I would suggest to the daily, blanket coverage, campaigner – ease off a bit, relax – and get onto your next title. Yes, still go for blanket coverage, but only once a week.

If you want to see what type of hornet’s nest can be stirred up when dealing with this topic, please check out fellow author and blogger Andy Updegrove‘s article.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you again on Wednesday or Thursday.

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P.S. How subtle is that graphic at the top!  😀