It’s no secret that becoming an Indie Author has been a rather steep learning curve for me. Lately I’ve been focusing on what I can do to improve my business and I kept coming back to one thing.
It’s a well-known fact amongst Indie Authors that the saying “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” doesn’t apply to us. Readers almost always judge a book by it’s cover. And you know what: they should. The book’s cover is supposed to catch your attention and it’s supposed to entice the reader to read the blurb. The blurb is supposed to entice the reader to buy the book. I’ve been hearing the Indie experts say this the entire time I’ve been publishing.
I don’t want to say I “ignored” the expert advice, but the expert advice comes with a catch. The Indie Gurus (Joanna Penn, Ella Barnard, Derek Murphy, Russell Nohelty, Mark Coker etc) generally agree you should buy a quality cover from an artist and not DIY your own cover.
I DIY’ed the initial cover for The Kingston Chronicles.
And it wasn’t because I thought I knew better. I’d hazard a guess I DIYed my cover for the same reason other Indie Authors do. Money. It can be expensive buying covers from artists, and it can be expensive to buy stock imagery even if you do have the technical skills to make yourself a great digital cover.
(Side note: most stock imagery websites I looked at (iStock, Canva etc) have various tiers of pricing. Most images, even free images, are limited to how many times you can reproduce them (especially in print) without paying for expensive licensing fees. Canva’s free images for example can be reproduced digitally an unlimited amount of times, but only 500,000(?) times in print. That may sound like a lot but if you’re an author you’re definitely hoping market effectively enough to sell thousands, and it also includes merchandise (which for me would be things like bookmarks, business cards, tote bags, posters etc). I want my books images EVERYWHERE I can put them without looking too pushy. Honestly, if I could put them in my email signature I could. So, if you catch a break against the odds with a knock out best seller, or you want to leave bookmarks lying around to catch people’s attention, that 500,000 could tally up super quickly.)
My budget is extremely limited. I funnel all my spare funds into my writing (classes, self-improvement books, publishing costs, bookmarks etc) and since I no longer have a “day job” the funds I do have are miniscule. I’m not being stingy (and I’m not looking for sympathy) when I say I just don’t have a budget for buying cover art (or Facebook ads, or really anything else); I’m being honest.
Even with limited funds it’s important to me to put out quality work. I’m lucky I have some amazing friends and family who have skills they are willing to share with me. Like line editing, and developmental editing (did you know books go through several rounds of editing after I’ve essentially gotten the manuscript where I want it. There’s like three kinds of editing post completing the manuscript). Seeing as I am a rather decent photographer (I have a BA in Photography and Writing) and I know how to use Photoshop, I thought I could utilize these skills and create a passable cover.
So, I made my first cover. It wasn’t awful but it could have been better. I knew it even before I released it, but I didn’t have any other options. I’d done the best I could with the skills I have.
But I wanted to improve.
Sales weren’t bad. Honestly, I’ve barely sold any Kindle copies but my paperback sales have been fairly steady. Although if you only looked at my Amazon sales that wouldn’t seem the case. My physical sales, books bought directly from me or Wholly Local, have been averaging 1-2 a month for almost a year. Some months I don’t sell any of course but that’s how it goes.
I decided I wanted to focus on Kindle sales for a couple of reasons, firstly because according to recent research ~50% of all books are read digitally now, and of those books ~25% are from Indie Authors, and secondly because it is difficult for me to get physical copies of my own books now. (I talked a little bit about that here, and I will do a follow up blog on the topic in the future). Also, money. Focusing on Kindle and Ebook editions of my books seems a way to try and solve that dilemma. It (hopefully) will allow me to make some money to put together a print run.
I know I talked previously about how covers should fit in with the other covers in your genre, and lets face it, when it comes to Urban Fantasy ebooks, my cover just didn’t fit. I tried to model it off books like Fallen, Unearthly, and Mercy, combining a forrest-y background with an image of a woman on the cover (basically half the UF book covers are a girl in front of trees, the ocean, or a city scape) but it wasn’t done well, and covers that work for print don’t always work for digital.
I decided I needed to take another stab at creating a DIY cover. I found some videos on Youtube, and some links to resources like Derek Murphy’s https://www.creativindie.com/ and did some professional development: code for I read a bunch of stuff, I watched a bunch of stuff, downloaded some free Photoshop brushes and fonts, and then I tried to apply what I learned.
And I made the cover for The Lady of Zion.
You cannot believe how happy I was/am with it. I still think it could use improving (partly because it could and partly because I’m highly critical of myself and don’t know when to let go), but in my opinion it looks considerably more professional than The Kingston Chronicles did. It also looked better than Samhain Sorcery (releasing in October), which I had made in the same theme as its predecessor. In fact, I had so much fun making the covers for the entire Lady of Zion series I just knew I had to re-do the covers for The Kingston Chronicles.
My cover went from this:
Again, still think they could be better, but I’m much happier with the new covers than the old. I planned on re-releasing The Kingston Chronicles and Samhain Sorcery next year (after the current editions had run for a little longer) but I just got way to excited. I’m trying to improve my professionalism and knowing I had better covers than the ones displayed ate at me. In hindsight, or maybe just in my head, having seen the “better” covers I couldn’t leave the old ones out there.
So, I updated my Kindle edition of The Kingston Chronicles with the new cover and replaced the cover on the not yet released Samhain Sorcery. (Samhain Sorcery releases 31st of October. You can pre-order it here.) I probably should have waited for my Kindle Countdown Sale to finish before I released the new covers considering you can’t edit an ad on Facebook once it’s running. But I didn’t know that ahead of time.
Just another part of the Indie Author learning curve. I’ve been doing this for two years now and I’m constantly striving to do it better. I knew about writing when I started. I didn’t know about publishing. That’s part of why I write these blogs about my experiences. Hopefully people can learn from my mistakes and save themselves some time. I am in no way an expert but I’ve a learnt a few things not to do since I started.
For example, it doesn’t seem very professional to me to advertise the old cover when the only Kindle purchasing option is the new cover. Hopefully the new cover is enough of a better quality than the advertised cover to make up for it. Next time, because I’m sure that this is not the last cover The Kingston Chronicles will ever have, I’ll be more patient when it comes to future releases.
Here’s hoping the advertised cover still gets people to click the link ;D. Because that’s what all advertising is supposed to do. It’s supposed to reach the audience you’re targeting and go “hey you like these awesome things, and I made this thing which I think is pretty awesome, maybe you’d like this too?” and then, all going well, the audience goes “Hmm. that looks interesting” and clicks the link to find out more.