Planning Ahead for Marketing

Hi everyone!

When it comes to self publishing, one of the things I’ve struggled with the most is marketing.  In fact, it’s been one of my biggest banes since I started down this rabbit hole.  Going in, I had no idea just how important it was, and for that matter, just how much it needs to be a part of your product development from day one.

I thought I had it all figured out in the beginning.  The day that I decided that I was going to self publish The Sword of Dragons, I immediately started looking at what I was going to do for a cover design.

Image Source – http://indiefreshpress.blogspot.com/2016/08/store-tour-absolutely-fiction.html

This led me to wandering bookstores with friends, pointing out book covers that stood out to us, discussing the good and bad parts of covers, and trying to figure out what would make a good cover for the Sword of Dragons.

In hindsight, doing so, especially first thing in the planning process, was a smart idea.  Unfortunately, that was probably one of the few things I did right in the beginning.

What did I do wrong after that?  For starters, I didn’t have a fully finished product.  I wanted my book out there, and I didn’t want to wait to finish important things, such as getting a polished world map ready.  I also didn’t spend more time researching marketing, researching fantasy novels, or cover design.

At one point, while looking at covers, I looked to a couple of my friends and said, “all of these fantasy novels look the same.  I want mine to stand out and be different.  So I’m not going to follow their examples.”

In principle it sounded like a good idea.  Make my book stand out amongst all the others.

Except I was looking on bookshelves.  Not at Amazon.com.  Not at Barnesandnobel.com.  Plus there’s one other aspect I hadn’t considered…

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

I’ve run into a problem with the Sword of Dragons series: everyone who has read it has thoroughly enjoyed it, and I’ve even gained a few fans!  And they’ve done their best to try to spread the word to others.

Books 1 and 2 side by side :)

But what about those who don’t know me or don’t know any of those fans?  Or even know the fans, but are so stretched for free time that they are picky about what they read?  What do they think when they see the cover for the Sword of Dragons or Burning Skies?  Do they see a book that looks like a great fantasy adventure?  Or do my covers say something else to them?

I’ve touched on the subject before about cover design, you have to target your audience.  And one of the things you can do is make a cover that fits within your genre while standing well on its own.  Many, many people have told me at this point, “put a dragon on your cover, your sales will increase.”  Why?  Because my book has dragons in it, and the entire series will increasingly feature dragons.  So I want to attract readers interested in dragons.

But there’s more to it than that, and this has as much to do with marketing as graphic design.

Marketing Books in the 21st Century

I think one of my biggest mistakes was trying to consider how my book would look on book shelves.  Even if I get to that point some day where Barnes and Noble puts my novels on their shelves, before I can get to that, I need to consider how my covers will look as a tiny little thumbnail on amazon.com.

And while working on a project’s cover recently (well, sort of recently, before we started packing to move), my fiancee had a great idea that I believe may have helped me in the long run.

If you go to amazon.com and start drilling down into book categories to, in this case, fantasy novels (sword and sorcery!) take a look at the books there.  The covers have all been resized down to thumbnail size.  Beck had the idea, “take a screen shot, and then edit in your cover design to see how it looks in comparison with the others.”

I knew the moment she said it that it was an amazing idea, and set out to do so.  It also helped me figure out which cover to use, because I had ideas for 2 or 3 different covers and had made preliminary versions for each.  I put each version up as thumbnails, and very quickly identified which cover popped best while still being easy to identify as a sword and sorcery type novel with dragons.

But I also realized there were issues with the.  The title blended in with the cover, and the cover was too bland-colored.  So I made modifications and performed several tests, until I had a cover that popped out nicely and whose title was easy to read.

That’s the thing to remember: whether browsing amazon.com or viewing your book cover from a distance at a bookstore, a reader will more likely see your cover as a thumbnail size, and so your title needs to be easy to read without overtaking your entire cover.  A difficult balance to strike, but well worth the effort.

Why Is The Cover So Important?

I keep coming back to this topic: your cover matters a lot.  Why?  Because every single aspect of your marketing campaign is going to hinge on your cover.  In book stores and on amazon.com, it’ll be the first thing a prospective buyer will see.  In a convention or book signing event, it’ll be the first thing patrons will see.  On advertisements, anywhere, whether amazon, facebook, or other, it’ll be the first thing they see.  If you have the money and resources to pay for adverts on billboards, bus sides, or trains, again, your cover, or some edited version of your cover, will be what people see first.

First impressions matter.  People judge books by their covers.

Granted, if you have a fantastic cover but a crappy story, you aren’t going to get anywhere with sales, either.  You might do better than if you had a bad story and a bad cover, but reputation will probably kill your book’s sales.

Do you have a good story?  Then you need an appropriate cover to go with it.  Not just good, but appropriate.

There’s more nuances you can add into a cover design, but I think I’ve written enough on the topic for one day :)  I hope this helps my fellow authors out there, I’ve learned so much about marketing and cover design in the past 3 years and I wish to pass that knowledge on!

Do you have any tips or lessons learned about marketing and cover design?  Please post them in the comments below for others to read!

Thanks for reading,
-Jon Wasik

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