What Difference Does A Book Cover Make?


I'm so glad you asked. As a designer who also writes (or a writer who also designs, depending on the day) I have the privilege of being able to design my own covers for my books, and at least feel confident that the covers are in the top 50% of covers on Amazon, at least. Hopefully. Okay, maybe top 80%.

The point is, I've seen some really rough covers on Amazon. So I wanted to know: what difference does a book cover make? I recently did a little experiment with my first book, Echo, and its cover. This is what I've learned.

The Old

The first cover for Echo had a lot of deep meaning. I would kind of describe the genre of Echo as a cerebral military science fiction. So I wanted to capture that theme in the cover—something that would make the casual viewer on Amazon pause and ask how a tire swing ties into a military sci-fi story.

It didn't work. More on that later.

If you've read Echo, you know precisely what significance the cover art bears. But in practice, few people decided to pick it up to find out.

The other objective I hoped to achieve with the cover art was a classic, simple, yet iconic feel. It also fell considerably short of that. I had a couple different covers mocked up originally, ranging from photorealistic to what you see to the left, and the consensus was what you see, viewers noted that it looked timeless, which was something I had wanted to achieve. But again, in practice, that endeavor worked to my detriment.

Why Didn't It Work?

I suspect there are plenty of reasons this didn't work. For one, this was my first release. Many of the classic timeless covers you see from iconic pieces were penned by established authors, and so the name was all that mattered on the cover. Not so, with me. Who the heck is C. Scott Frank and why should I read his book about a science fiction tire swing? Great question.

The market is also substantially different today. People want thrills and quick payoffs. It's hard to see where the thrill and immediate satisfaction will come from with this cover. I asked readers to take a chance on the promise that it would all fit in the end. Why should they trust me with that?

It just plain went unnoticed. There's a little bit of contrast, but not a lot. It's easy for this cover to get overlooked. Like it or not, people scanning Amazon aren't scanning titles, they're scanning covers. When something catches their eye, they'll check the title, if it works, they'll click, if not, they're on to the next cover.

Finally, nothing about this screams science fiction. That's a big lesson here. Your cover needs to match your genre. Nobody who is expecting technology, space, thrills, action, or thought-provoking concepts is going to stop at a tire swing.

Everything about your cover should tell the view what your book is. Not just a part of what your book is, but the cover should basically be your blurb in a box.

The Numbers

My numbers reflected all of this. Here's a bit of transparency about the first 6 months of Echo's publication.

The first month (September) saw about 30 purchases. This was enough to give it a run at #1 New Release in short reads for a full week. I thought I was flying high. But a total of 2 KU pages read. So I had about 30 friends and family buy my book, but not even people who could read it for free wanted to take the chance. Awesome.

Month 2 was more telling: 2 purchases. 0 KU page reads.

The 3rd month, I decided to try and boost response, so I did a free campaign. 169 free downloads, enough to shoot my rankings way up, but no KU reads. 1 purchase in month 3.

Month 4 saw 0 purchases, but 9 KU reads. So one person took a chance and didn't finish it. I'll try not to take it personally.

January, month 5, gave 2 purchases, no KU. February had 1 purchase and again, no KU.

This brings us to March. I developed my new Frequency cover that was stylistically way different and realized I had to change Echo to match. So I played around with it and this is what I came up with:

Much better. Energetic movement. Gobs of contrast. Clearly says "This is an exciting science fiction piece."

So to coincide with the launch of this new cover, I did another free campaign. Care to guess how it went?

531 free downloads. That obviously shredded any previous numbers I had. 38 KU reads to boot, more than my combined KU reads to that point. Since the free Echo campaign, I've had about 3 sales a week, and 27 KU pages a week, or one complete read-through. This is all with no advertising or anything behind it. Purely organic.

The Importance Is Clear

You have to have a stellar cover. I want to kick myself now as I look back and wonder what different place I could be in if I'd launched Echo with this cover. The first month of publication is absolutely crucial and I missed a critical opportunity. But, I think my study has also shown that it's not too late to start over. It's okay to change to something better if you have it.

I've done a lot of research and tried a lot of my own testing with things, including marketing. So I can say with full confidence that most influential thing you can invest in your book's success is an amazing cover. The single most effective thing I did with Echo was to change to a stunning cover.

That's right, marketing, social media nagging, paid promotions, you name it. None of it had as measured an impact on sales as changing the cover.

I'll go ahead and say it a third time: the best thing you can do for your book is to make sure the cover is absolutely the best it can be.

Now since it's 2018, this is probably the part where you're expecting me to offer my services to design you a cover. But I won't do that. I don't trust my skills enough to consistently bear that weight. I'm not a cover design expert, I'm just relaying my experiences.

So here's my advice: nail your cover. The rest can be taken care of later.