Before we get to this list, let me tell you where I’m coming from on this. I try hard to support and read independent/self-published authors. I have a self-pubbed book coming out soon myself. I’m not a literary snob or a believer in any “one true way” of publishing. Roughly 1 in every 3 to 4 books I pick up will be indie/self published. I’m happy to read them. I want to read them. I’ve discovered some wonderful books and authors this way.
But lately, I’ve been almost immediately putting down quite a few of those that I pick up—some after less than a chapter or only a few pages of reading. And many don’t even make it to the point where I will pick them up.
There are a LOT of books I want to read. I manage 50-60 per year and my shelves and e-readers are still overflowing. So despite my desire to support, I’m not going to waste my precious reading time, either. Your book has to pass several all-important obstacles for me to read it. We’re not even talking about whether I end up liking it yet, so you get that ever-more-important good rating/review. We’re talking about just getting me to read it, all the way through to the end.
Obstacle #1 – The Cover
We should all realize by now the importance of the cover in selling your book. The average cover in a bookstore gets about 8 seconds to interest a potential book-buyer—I’d hazard a guess that online, that window of opportunity is even smaller. I can’t even count the number of articles and blog posts I’ve read that stress the importance of your book’s cover.
And a lot of self-published authors are still getting it wrong.
Look, I’m not saying you can’t create your own cover. Some writers have experience in website or graphic design, art, digital art, etc. You may be perfectly competent to create a good cover. If you have zero experience in any relevant area, you still might be able to do it, but realize that you must tread carefully and do your research. Either way, whether you take a crack at it yourself or hire someone, be smart about it. Here are a few things to think about:
1. If you are inexperienced and can possibly manage it, hire someone to create your cover. There are many options, from pre-made designs to custom artwork, at a range of prices. If you go this route, look over the creator’s portfolio and make sure they create the kind of covers that would make YOU pick up one of these books. I’ve seen some folks offering cover design lately that I shudder to think someone would pay for. Don’t go for cheap over quality, or assume that all designers are equally adept. You wouldn’t dress your new baby up in dirty rags to get her picture taken. Don’t cheat your book of a decent cover.
2. If you feel moderately qualified, take a crack at creating your own cover. If you go this route, do your research first. There are loads of resources online to help you. Like here, here, and here, just to start. And don’t neglect the fonts! A decent cover design can be ruined by the wrong font or not enough attention paid to fonts and title design. At the very least, check here and here before you proceed.
3. If you are self-creating, please, please, PLEASE get a second opinion on your cover when you’re finished. And a third. And a fourth, fifth, and sixth. And not just from people (family and friends) who are going to say nice things even if your cover looks like an incensed monkey threw poo all over it. Ask other writers and readers in your circles, online or in person. If you know an artist or graphic designer, run it by them. Ask for honest opinions and advice.
If you have none of these resources, put your cover on your computer screen and load up some websites or blogs that specifically showcase BAD covers. Compare yours to theirs and ask yourself honestly if you have committed the same types of sins. You MUST be hard on yourself. This is the very first obstacle you have to get potential readers/buyers past.
You may get mixed opinions on your cover—perhaps some people like it and some people don’t. For those who don’t, find out whether their dislike is based on personal taste (they don’t like the colours, or the mood, or it doesn’t look like a book they’d pick up) or unprofessional quality (the fonts are unreadable, images look pasted-in or don’t match, colours clash).
You need a cover that looks professional, and if you can’t create it yourself and won’t pay for it, it’s pretty much game over. Readers are not even going to give you a chance. This is a sad but true fact in the world of self-publishing, and you ignore it at your own risk.
Watch for Part 2 of this series tomorrow, and we’ll talk about the next obstacle!