Andrea Waltz - June 23, 2020 - 8 min. read
Why You Must Judge Your Book by the Cover
A book cover changed the course of our business and our lives!
My business partner and husband Richard and I have been publishing our own books since 1997. We’ve written half dozen non-fiction books, 10 fiction books, and have acted as the publisher to another handful of authors who have trusted us to produce their book.
We recently wrote a book about writing and publishing books called Million Dollar Book Formula.
As I said, the right book cover can change your life. We don’t just know this, we’ve lived it.
We also have experienced the pain, regret and embarrassment of short-term thinking by designing a book cover ourselves and trying to save a few dollars by hiring the wrong person to do it.
Let me explain…
When we launched our training company over 20 years ago, we published a couple books for the retail industry. The books were more like small training guides at just 64 pages and they sold very well.
We did everything ourselves, literally. We thought we could do no wrong.
So, it came to time to write book number three.
And this book would be even more successful because it wasn’t just for the retail industry. It was a book on overcoming fear failure and rejection in sales. It had the potential to be a massive success!
We called it Go for No!® and we published it in January of 2000.
We created the text AND the cover in Word! (Crazy, right?) Amazon did not exist, so we did an “offset” print run which meant that we ordered books directly from a book printer.
To get the cost per unit down, we ordered 10,000 copies. Once the books arrived, we mailed 500 copies to decision makers (like Vice Presidents and Sales Managers) and the mailing was received with a resounding thud. Crickets.
We just couldn’t understand it—somehow, we’d missed the mark.
We knew the content was powerful. Did it look fabulous? Well, no – not really, but did that matter so much? Who cared about the cover? It’s the inside that matters.
People shouldn’t be so superficial and judge a book by its cover, right?
After our disastrous first mailing of Go for No! we stopped marketing it for a period. Spending money on mailings and getting ZERO RESULTS didn’t make sense.
A few years later, we were at a conference in Las Vegas for professional speakers. We decided to bring some of the Go for No! books and give them away. We took twenty copies with us and gave them out to people we met at the conference.
As we were ready to leave on the final day, we had one book left. I overheard that the guy sitting in front us was in sales, so I told Richard to give him our last copy.
Three days later, we were sitting in the office and the phone rang. It was the sales guy we gave the book to – a guy named, Tom. Tom said, “I’m calling about your book.”
He said, “I don’t know if you realize it, but I think you’ve created one of the best sales ever written… with the worst cover in the history of publishing. If you’re willing to change the cover, I’ll take 5,000 copies.”
We hung up the phone and Richard said, “No wonder the mailings aren’t working. No one is reading the book because the cover sucks!”
People like Tom were looking at the book and dismissing it immediately.
So, with his offer hanging out there, we tracked down an experienced book cover designer. Not a web designer. Not a “graphic designer” and not an “artist.”
A book cover designer!
It is a specific skill. Why does it matter? Would you hire a chef from France to make you sushi? Yes, they both work with food but it’s a different skill set.
Now for the good news… and more bad news.
The good news is, we changed the book cover and the book actually started to sell!
People started reading it because the cover no longer “unsold” them on the book’s quality. The more it got read, the more it got recommended.
Now, are we saying the cover was everything? Obviously if the book content was bad, it wouldn’t have the staying power.
But don’t miss the lesson: A great book cover can’t guarantee a book’s success. But a bad cover can pretty much guarantee a book’s failure.
Now for the bad news.
When it came time to do a series of fiction books years later – a lifetime “dream project” of ours, would you believe that we let the same thing happen
Yep. We didn’t personally design the cover this time, but we oversaw it because as writers, we had a “vision” that we could not let go of. We refused to be dictated by the genre we were in.
Our series was a supernatural/paranormal suspense. We didn’t want to look like everyone else and insisted on being different! Did we create covers that would be of obvious interest to the readers who love paranormal suspense? Nope.
Whether it is fiction or non-fiction, a book cover has one job: To compel the potential buyer to read the back cover… or in the case of online, the book description. And then from there, to buy and read the book.
It didn’t communicate the genre. People didn’t get what it was about by looking at it. And because we were involved, it was amateurish and missing the professionalism you get from a book designer.
We knew we had a great series – with a cover problem all over again.
We had a choice: start over or go along hoping that the cover was “good enough.”
We knew better. We already learned how critical a cover was in the non-fiction world. In the world of fiction books, covers are easily 20 times more important.
People are buying not for “information” but on feeling and “emotion.”
So, what happened with the fiction series?
I won’t bore you with more heartache (we tried a second design that also failed!) and we found by accident an amazing guy and extraordinarily skilled book cover designer Alexander von Ness whom we hired to redesign all ten covers of our series. They are beautiful, fit the genre perfectly, and we know we did the right thing.
People are interested in the series now – simply from looking at the cover! That is one way you know you have the right cover.
If you want a great cover design and the best chance for success, you’ve got to hire a book cover designer who has a reputation for designing great covers. All you need to do is look at their portfolio. We’ve since hired Alexander for several more of our books.
But what about the expense? Isn’t a book designer expensive?
Not really. Besides, we’ve spent so much time, energy and money – hiring a skilled book cover designer from the beginning would have been cheap in comparison.