Friday, October 02, 2009

That About Covers It

I just gave my homepage a much-needed update. It includes:

*Fixing the video on Invader and Invaders, two 16mm black and white comedy horror films I shot back in college, on the Photos page.

*Adding over fifty interviews to the Links page.

*Adding easier contact info.

*Adding new items to the Store page.

*Adding new cover art and material on the Freebies & Ebooks page, and on the For Writers page, kicking off the Great Ebook Experiment.

The new covers are something I've wanted to do for a while. I've had over 10,000 ebooks sales on Kindle, but I've never been happy with the cheap cover art I did myself.

I complained about this a few months ago, and the good folks at offered to make me a cover for Disturb. You can see the obvious difference.

My crummy cover:

The new cover:

Seeing a 25% uptick in sales once I stared using the new cover, I hired a friend of mine to redo my other covers. Here are some of his creations:

I've recently uploaded these covers to Kindle, but it takes Kindle several days to update. So if you'd like to see my original, cruddy covers for a comparison, just search for my books on Amazon.

Everyone has opinions about cover art, but few people are able to articulate why they like something, or why they think it works (or doesn't work.)

I approached the new covers with some specific goals in mind. Whether I reached them or not is open to debate, but here was my thought process.

1. Branding. Each of the new covers has a JK banner on the top, with a blurb in it. Even though the images and styles on the covers vary greatly, I wanted a unifying factor. The simple brand JK does this.

2. Genre. I want the reader to be able to tell in two seconds what sort of book this is based on the cover. With Truck Stop, it's a serial killer/cop thriller. Shot of Tequila is a men's action novel, so I wanted a throwback to the pulps with a Robert McGinnis-type of image. Origin is a monster-on-the-loose book, and The List is a technothriller. I believe each of these covers convey their genre.

3. Professional. My early covers looked self-published, like someone with no talent played around with Photoshop--which was exactly what I did. I wanted the new covers to look like books that big publisher release. Or, in the case of Tequila, released 40 years ago.

4. Reduceable. Amazon, and many other e-tailers, shrink the covers to thumbnail size when browsing. I wanted these to still be identifiable and readable when compressed.

5. Eye-catching. After the initial, two-second impression, I wanted enough detail to get people to look closer. The background of Origin is a bible page. The List has a gene sequence, and a family tree of related events. Tequila has some blurbs, an aged appearance, and a fake cover price. With Truck Stop, besides the blood and the bloody tire marks, the heel on the shoe is broken. Hopefully this makes the reader wonder who owns the shoe, and why it is broken, which is answered in the story.

What are some other things you look for in covers? What makes a cover good or bad? And do we really judge books by their covers?

I'd love to hear your thoughts...


Mary Duncan said...

They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but I believe everyone does.

As a graphic designer and author, when I create my covers, they tell the story right up front. No one is going to think it's a horror or a bodice-ripping romance when it's a historical fiction. My agent and publisher love my covers and those covers sell my books for me.

I see covers that might as well be a plain sheet of glossy black card stock for all the good it does representing the the story inside.

When I look at the thousands of books that sit waiting to be pulled off the shelves at the big box book stores, like children waiting to be picked for kickball, the ones I reach for have detailed, intricate artwork on them. For in that one glance, it has told me what wonders lie inside. Then I read the jacket text. If it matches what I thought when I had enough interest to take it from the shelf, that baby's mine.

Mary Duncan

Mary Stella said...

Jennifer Crusie has a couple of blog posts about the necessary elements of a good cover. Her three main criteria:
It must catch the eye across a bookstore.
It must be pick-up-able when the reader gets close.
It must capture the mood and the content of the story.

She illustrates her point with commentary on with several versions of proposed cover art for a couple of her books. If you go to her blog at and search for the posts from June 25, 2007 and July 3, 2007 you can read the posts and see the covers.

David Burton said...

These are phenomenal covers!! They scream pick me up! Nice work!

Anonymous said...

Professional looking covers are absolutely important. In my mind, they speak to the professionalism of what lies inside.

Anonymous said...

Ohh-- I love book covers. The Caustic Cover Critic is my favorite blog and cover talk is my favorite thing.

1. First-- I like your Photoshop covers. They don't look amateurish to me. But you were right about the "branding issue". The professional covers look better in terms of continuity of design.

2. The Shot of Tequila cover is the only one I don't like. If you had intended for it to look like a "pulp" cover, then it should have been using hand-drawn artwork. As a (wanna-be) former comic-book artist, I think that the electronic/computer look of this cover is not good. That's just my opinion.

3. The "Origin" cover is FANTASTIC-- the best one of the bunch. The "List" cover is also really good.

4. Without knowing the book's storyline, the cover for Disturb seems out of place compared to the rest. But I still like it. The ghostly skull is nicely done.

And yes, covers really do sell books. REALLY. Buyers have all kinds of weird prejudices. Some buyers won’t even buy from a writer who is a woman, or has grey hair—it’s funny because I actually have some of these prejudices myself.

Woman are usually highly critical of other women, and I got a non-fiction book on writing from another author who is an acquaintance of mine (and who I really respect, by the way) and her author’s photo was prominently featured on the front. It was a professional photograph and everything, but I noticed that she wasn’t wearing any make-up and her hair was all grey and not styled very well. You know what the first thing I thought? Jesus—put on some make-up and do your hair! And then I thought—maybe the information in her book is outdated, too. PREJUDICES!

*sigh* I dye the grey out of my hair every month. Thank god for root touch-up.

JA Konrath said...

@Christy - You're the second person to tell me Tequila looks computer generated. In fact it's hand drawn. He used a computer to ink it.

Rusty James said...

I dig one-word titles and bold primary colours set against black or white backgrouds - like AFRAID and DISTURB, for example.

Then I 'flip' the book to read the premise...

Pulpy and violent is what I like to read.

PV Lundqvist said...

I liked your previous covers, and didn't think they looked particularly amateurish. Specifically the books named after drinks. I can see why you changed the covers, however. The new ones do convey what they are about more.

I agree, with online sales, thumbnails need to sell it. Too often I'll see a cover that's too busy in detail, or too dark to make out, and I just don't click through.

JA Konrath said...

Specifically the books named after drinks.

Those were professional covers done by my publisher, PV.

Jude Hardin said...

Great covers! I like the one for Disturb best, but they're all really good.

Peg Brantley said...

Awesome covers. Each one gives the reader a clear indication of what they're about to get into. Kind of like a warning label. Or a tease.

radiosteve said...

As a bookseller I agree that covers need to catch the eye; it makes my job much easier. There's nothing sadder than seeing a good book come in, take a look at the cover and say 'what the hell were they thinking?'

Having said that; I like the 'Disturb' and 'Truck Stop' covers. 'The List' reminds me of Michael Crichton or Robin Cook, but should get the idea across.

'Shot of Tequila' and 'Origin' remind me too much of Elora's Cave books.

I feel that thinking of ebooks having 'covers' in the traditional sense can be a hinderance. They need a different form of marketing. A physical book jacket speaks to a different audience. The customers looking at ebooks are looking for a slightly different sales pitch; more detailed. The best comaprison I can think of is the difference between a book jacket and a movie poster. They require a different investment from the customer. With a physical book is the unspoken thought; 'can I live with this?'. with the movie poster it is more 'will this entertain me for a few hours?'

The marketing for ebooks needs to take into account the lowered need for subtlety. It needs to be a quick splash to grab the potential customer. With the physical book it needs to be more inviting, because you'll be looking at it for years. With an ebook, you really only need that cover art to sell it initially.

Peg Brantley said...

Wow,radiosteve. Yet one more thing for writers to think about . . . the different marketing slants depending on venue.


Rusty James said...

Yeah, great thing to think about radiosteve.

Think about the 'effectiveness' of a SAW poster in selling that film.

Susie McCray said...

I think the way the cover looks does get the reader's attention. It also gives the reader a sneak peak into what's happening in the book.

The next time I self publish, I will definitely put more thought into the cover art designing phase.

Karen from Mentor said...

I loved the Origin cover. They are all eye catching but that one would make me pick it up and take a look inside. [or click on a link to see an excerpt]

Karen :0)

Anonymous said...

I'm really surprised to see that Boolist reviewed Disturbed since it wasn't released in TB or HC. How'd you get them to do it?

JA Konrath said...

I'm really surprised to see that Boolist reviewed Disturbed

They didn't. That review is from one of my other books. The kind folks that made the cover for free put the quote there, and I let it go. I'm not a bestseller either, technically, except on some small lists, but I let that go too. Don't look gift horses in the mouth...

Anonymous said...

"The kind folks that made the cover for free put the quote there, and I let it go."

The first rule of bookcovers is to never use a blurb or quote that seemingly applies to the book at issue when it in fact doesn't.

It's not an excuse for you as the author to "let it go" simply because you apparently got the cover for free. The cover isn't about you or about the person who made it. It's about the reader and the prospective purchaser and any other person who might rely on the truthfulness of the reviews or blurbs contained on the cover. Publishers and authors have a duty to be honest with readers and purchasers. That's why the rule exists.

Rusty James said...

Here come the whingers.

JA Konrath said...

The first rule of bookcovers is to never use a blurb or quote that seemingly applies to the book at issue when it in fact doesn't.

The quote is about me. Last I checked, I'm Konrath (among other names.)

And FYI, blurbs are reused, reapplied, and recycled all the time.

That said, I agree with you, and might get around to changing it.

JA Konrath said...

I tweaked the Disturb cover to make it fit in with the theme of the others. The blog reflects the new cover.

Besides putting the band on the top, I got rid of the "bestseller" line, since it wasn't true, and attributed the blurb in the skull to Dirty Martini. I really don't think the blurb makes a difference one way or the other, since it was comparing me as a writer to Jeffrey Deaver, and not specific about any particular book, but now there's no confusion.

Anonymous said...

I was hoping you'd just fix it instead of debate it, so good job. You still have my respect.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Love the covers, and I can't agree more about the need for professionalism on covers. A couple of weeks ago I ordered a paper book from Amazon that I knew had Microsoft clipart on the cover. But when I opened the package I was not prepared to discover it had no print on the spine! Presumably this was commercially published, but the clunky layout inside verifies that the author owns the publishing company, and professional it is not.

However, I'm glad I didn't judge the book by the cover, because it's a how-to book on writing dialogue, and it is truly excellent.

I will mention the mystery spine in the review I'm about to write, so consider yourself warned that lame cover gaffes may get bad press.

JA Konrath said...

I was hoping you'd just fix it instead of debate it, so good job.

I debate everything. It's the reason I'm still blogging after all these years. :)

In fact, I blogged about blurbs a while ago, and how the blurbing community works, and it's pretty grim.

So many authors blurb without reading. Publishers often cut and edit to make negative reviews seem favorable. Everybody wants to get blurbs, but no one is sure if they help sell books. And they are recycled when the blurb refers to the author, or the author's lead character.

As for Disturb, the blurb didn't bug me as much as the "bestseller" moniker, but it was an easy fix.

Anonymous said...

"As for Disturb, the blurb didn't bug me as much as the "bestseller" moniker, but it was an easy fix."

That's a noble restraint, given that you could make an argument for using the term following the kindle success of some of your books.

I'm in agreement, though, that the term should be reserved for those who truly deserve it. My books are routinely in the top 5 of very competitive categories in Kindle and yet I would never dream of using the word simply because of that.

There's nothing more pathetic than someone who makes it into a top 100 list somewhere for some fleeting moment and then declares themselves to be a bestselling author.

JA Konrath said...

Just added the Suckers cover art. Jeff is the one who came up with the tagline. Mine was "Finally, a vampire novel that doesn't suck." which he soundly rejected.

Natalie Hatch said...

That Origin cover is fantastic, amazing what talented people can do.

JFBookman said...


Nice post, love the covers. I find it interesting the cover art has had such a major effect on sales. From this lot the Shot of Tequila and Origin ones look the best to me, and Tequila is one I would pick up in a second. Really good evocation of the "pulp" school, and I'm now looking forward to reading one of these.

As a book cover designer I really appreciate when someone not trained in this type of art produces covers like your "before" models, which are actually not bad at all. Good luck with the new line.

Patty Barrué-Coffman said...

Your new Disturb cover is definately better. Very professional. The bright blue skull and your name against the black background works well. The white title is the first thing i see, then the skull.

The prior version of black lettering against white background is used a lot by self-published authors and it's amateurish.

I judge a book by it's cover, that is the first thing i see and if the cover interests me, i pick up the book and read what is about.
Congratulations on your excellent new covers!!!

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