I wrote this post yesterday that sparked a lot of comments here and online, and it morphed into a conversation about book covers as advertisements for the stories inside. I just wanted to expand on that concept, so here I am once again, avoiding my work in progress to bring you my pontifications.
Sometime I stumble into one of those lightbulb moments without meaning to. I'll bumble around in the dark for a while, trying this and trying that until something just works. One of these sudden insights occurred when I launched my first romance novel, Shine Not Burn which features an MC who's a cowboy out in Oregon.
I made the cover long before I even had a story to tell. It fit the new adult romance genre in every way. The story I eventually came up with really didn't match the cover very well, but I left it as is. As it turns out, the cover did the work of getting people to read the blurb and the sample and/or reviews and then the buys came. That's the book that landed me on all the bestseller lists.
You'll see people in the reviews for Shine Not Burn saying the cover doesn't match the story very well, but I'll bet you a box of doughnuts that if I'd put a cowboy on the cover, I wouldn't have even come close to selling the numbers I did. Several reviewers mentioned they never, ever read books with cowboys in them as a rule, but after reading SNB, they've started buying them. I managed to find a lot of new fans for cowboy romances, I guess.
Thank goodness I was too lazy to make a new cover! I followed my rule, which is make a cover with similar elements to those on the bestseller list in the genre you're writing in, and it paid off big time. If I had gone with the “make the cover like the story” rule, I'm quite sure it would not have worked out so well. This is not to say you can put up any old cover that misleads a reader into the wrong genre or anything like that. If the cover says new adult romance, there'd better be a new adult romance inside those pages. But in my case, the male on the cover didn't have a cowboy hat on, and the MC always did.
That ^^ is my strongest argument for covers being advertisements, designed to lure/guide readers through the process of getting to the blurb and sample or reviews (and of course finally to the one-click buy.) If your cover is poo, you've lost your chance.
Let's look at TV ads for a minute or two…
Another strong argument bolstering my theory comes from another industry … TV advertisements. They used to be ho-hum. They had pretty people, the product front and center with everyone smiling and miracles happening (Oxyclean! Wow!) Then they brought humor in, the first examples I remember seeing were the Superbowl commercials.
Ever notice how these Superbowl commercials are the ones people actually want to see? People will watch them for months after. They have millions of hits on Youtube. The Budweiser ones never failed to make me cry. Every damn year, I'm crying over horses and beer and I don't even like beer much. I have this great impression of Budweiser as a company because of those ads. These companies are paying premium bucks to show ads during the SB and they have the captive attention of millions of consumers, so they make every second count.
Now let's look at Youtube ads for a minute or two…
We're seeing the same thing with Youtube ads in the past couple years or so. Advertisements on Youtube come in 3 flavors: (1) the pop-up box, which is cheap to make and has very low click-through rates; (2) the ad that runs for 15 seconds and you can't click it off; and (3) an ad that has a 5-second period within which to capture your attention before you can click to skip the ad.
Notice something about those 3 ads:
- Ad #1 is boring with zero creativity and zero attention-grabbing stuff going on. They're cheap to place and get very poor results. Annoying, aren't they? I always click those suckers off without even reading them.
- Ad #2 forces people to watch for 15 seconds, and they tend to be like regular TV commercials – boring. The costs are higher than Ad#1 having to pay for filming and talent and so on. I hate these ads the most.
- But Ad #3 … a different animal altogether, much like the Superbowl ads. Sometimes they're so awesome in the first 5 seconds, I don't skip them! I want to actually watch them because I find them entertaining. I'll watch the full ad more than once. Ad companies put a ton of creative energy into these ads because they know they only have 5 seconds to keep you there and get you hooked. I would guess with the computer graphics and stuff I see that they are more expensive than Ad #2. Is it worth the extra cost? Hell, yes. You want people to watch the whole ad. Getting people to voluntarily choose to watch your whole ad is golden. That's how you lure the consumer into buying the product. It's also how you build goodwill into your brand by making it easily identifiable (because people bother to look at your logo and stuff in the ad) and by giving it this image of being “cool” and “creative” and respectful of a consumer's time.
The psychology behind these ads applies to book covers as ads…
Something else is going on there psychologically – as a consumer, I appreciate a company that will entertain me while also trying to woo me into investing in their products. Annoying or boring commercials I'm forced to watch p*ss me off and cause me to develop a prejudice against the company and its products.
I really despise those 15-second forced watching ads because they are always boring. Ugh. The companies know you're their captive, so they don't put the effort or money into making them creative or interesting. So guess what I do … I turn off my sound and open up a new tab on my browser and surf for 15 seconds rather than watch.
Think about that … wow. Talk about a waste of time and money for that company. I'd rather read 15 seconds of a Yahoo news bite about Miley Cyrus than watch their ad. When sledgehammer licking and twerking is more interesting than your product, you are in deep doo doo. They would have been better off putting more creative energy into their work and giving me something decent to look at.
My point is (I think), that's how we as indie authors/publishers have to look at book covers. You have seconds to capture a reader's interest and establish your brand and image. Maybe just 2 seconds. If you want them to not click away, you need to trigger something in their heads that makes them want to wait a few more seconds and see more. This leads back into my post about what readers are looking for in their next book, which is to re-create their last awesome reading experience. And like the TV ads, you want to give them a quality cover that makes them want to invest their money in your product.
A great cover makes them feel as though they're buying a great product (aka, a great story). Respect your readers' time, respect your readers' right to choose to stay or go, and respect your readers' book budget. Make your cover like those 5-second click off ads on Youtube – interesting, captivating, high quality, and communicative about what's inside the pages.