How to sell books (part 1)

books on shelfIt’s a widely accepted view (I’ve read it in so many places I can’t even remember them all, let alone list them) that there are 3 main drivers that books book sales:

  1. Write a good book (a great one would be even better) get it edited, proof read and properly formatted
  2. Get a professional cover designed
  3. Put together a compelling product description (or blurb) for the book

Now obviously I would say that I’ve already achieved no.1 (there’d be no point in this Big fat Experiment if I thought my books were rubbish) and I’ve recently completely overhauled  the blurb for both The Loyal Servant and The Senior Moment. But I’ve been holding off on redesigning the covers as I knew what a big job it could be. But as the experiment is all about going the extra mile, sleeves rolled, muscles flexed, I finally accepted the mission.

Covers that work for ebooks
There are a few key elements that should be considered when designing a cover that will not only fit the book you’re selling, but also work well online (whether that’s at Amazon, Kobo, iBookstore or Smashwords). Here’s a lits of the big ones.

What’s on the tin
The image/design should fit the genre – there’s no point in having a pink cover featuring a woman in high heels swinging a handbag if you’ve written a gritty noir-ish thriller. The cartoony pink thing would work with cozies (more popular in the US than the UK, hence the spelling), but the only way for a reader to know they’re getting what they hope for when they click on that thumbnail image is making sure what’s on the tin matches what’s inside. I know it’s plain common sense, but the same mistakes are made over and over again

A sense of story
It also helps if the image picks up on elements from the book – a character or a location or an important object. You don’t have to be literal, but getting a sense of the story from the cover never hurts (didn’t someone once say something about a picture painting a thousand words?)

Fit for the front table at Waterstones/Barnes and Noble
It must look professional. This can be a tad controversial – what seems like a swanky bells and whistles cover to one person might look completely amateurish to another. And that’s just down to taste. But what you can’t do is throw something together in Microsoft Paint or even worse, Powerpoint (!) and think that it’ll cut the mustard.

One of the most neglected elements of cover design and the thing that will identify an indie author as an amateur faster than anything is bad typography – not just the use of unsuitable fonts (please: no more Comic Sans) – but also the positioning of the title and author name and the technical stuff like kerning and leading (basically the space between letters and the space between lines, respectively).

You have to be honest when you ask yourself whether your cover would look out of place in a long line of ‘also bought’ thumbnail images.

The Miniaturist
Talking of thumbnails… there’s no point in beautifully rendered titles and author names if they’re unreadable when the image is resized to postage stamp dimensions. Some people may say that any other text should be excluded from the design for this reason too – you just can’t make it out. But I think the addition of a tagline or a glowing quote from an established author adds to the professional look of a cover, without it an image can seem strangley naked.

Black and white
Choose colours that display OK in black and white. I’m not sure what the statistics are for readers browsing Amazon et al directly from their ebook reader (ie NOT from a tablet or via their laptop) but it doesn’t do any harm to cater for them when considering the elements of your design

All of which leads me to the redesign of The Loyal Servant. The cover has already been through two iterations (you can see them both here) but the one I’ve been using for quite a while now didn’t really suggest to a casual browser (they do exist, don’t they?) that the book was a political thriller set in Westminster. So I fixed that. I also tweaked the design for The Senior Moment so that the font choice and word placement matched more closely than they had previously – I wanted to make it clear both books are part of the Degrees of Separation series.

So now… the big reveal (I feel strangely nervous)

The Loyal Servant


The Senior Moment

I’d love to know what you think.


5 thoughts on “How to sell books (part 1)

  1. I think the new design is really excellent. It’s classy and well balanced, not just with the visual elements, but also with the pattern of light and dark on the cover. This allows the typography to work beautifully. So much better than the previous examples. Really well done.

  2. One big issue is that much of the ebook market is using lower level text only readers and smartphones and the market is segmenting along economic lines. We ‘get it’ about cover design yet that my not hold much water in a b/w or small screen environment.

  3. Hello, Eva. Your blog and the ‘reveal’ of these two new covers (which look great, by the way) motivated me right over to amazon to check out THE SENIOR MOMENT. I loved the opening for its sharp dialogue and action that had me empathizing with the main character right away. I might have even purchased the book, for the opening promises a good story, but one factor pushed me (and perhaps other American readers) away. Calling the robbers “Obama one” and “Obama two” really was a shock. Many Americans admire our first black President. Hope you find my comment helpful. Beth

    • Hi Beth
      Thank you for the thumbs up for the redesigns. The fact that the robbers chose President Obama masks to conceal their identity is actually crucial to the plot (which is revealed in a later chapter). I certainly didn’t set out to offend any Obama supporters. We’re actually big fans of his this side of the Atlantic too!

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