Monday, April 19, 2010

You Can Become A Kindle Millionaire Part 17

This post was written by my friend, Lee Goldberg, taken from his terrific blog A Writer's Life. I asked him if I could repost it, because I think it speaks to something I've been preaching about for a while.

If I were you, I'd rename all the .357 Vigilante books getting rid of ".357" and "Vigilante" in their titles. The new covers should be generic--maybe a gun or some sort of weapon as the central image--but they should also tie together as a brand. And they should be done by an artist. Maybe a friend (you must have graphic artist friends) or maybe you can hold a contest on your blog. I'm convinced your covers and titles (which scream "Men's Action") are holding back sales of this fun series.

I'm not sure that changing the covers for .357 VIGILANTE (or the titles) will help. The books are what they are -- pulpy, men's action adventure novels from the 1980s. That is their appeal...and their drawback.

Give me $XYZ. I'll give it to my graphic artist to redo the covers for the Vigilante books. Let me retitle them and do the product descriptions, and I bet your sales go up at least 25% in a two month period (compared to your last two months of sales.) If they don't, I'll give you the $XYZ back, and you get the covers for free. That's how sure I am those books will sell with the right packaging.

You have a deal!

So I sat back and let Joe have his way with my books. Here's the original cover for .357 VIGILANTE:

And here is what he did with it:

Vigilante 1
Here is the original cover for .357 VIGILANTE #2: MAKE THEM PAY:

And here is what he did with it:

Vigilante 2
Here's the original cover I cobbled together for .357 VIGILANTE: DIE MR. JURY, an omnibus collection of all four .357 VIGILANTE books:

Face and logo9
Here's the revamp I did for it last month:

Die Mr Jury1l
And here's what Joe did:

Jury Series
It's only a little past mid-month, but already it's clear that he's won the bet and his repackaging is a success.

Last month, 357 VIGILANTE sold 59 copies or about 2 copies a day. This month, with the new title and cover, it has already sold 46 copies, or about 3 copies a day. It remains to be seen whether that pace of sales will continue for the rest of the month. But wait...

.357 VIGILANTE #2: MAKE THEM PAY sold 39 copies last month and now, with the new title and cover, it has already topped that by selling 43 copies. But wait...

.357 VIGILANTE #3: WHITE WASH sold 23 copies last month. So far this month, with the new title and cover, it has sold 27 copies. But wait...

.357 VIGILANTE #4: KILLSTORM sold 14 copies last month. But with the new title and cover, it has sold 48 copies. That's right, the sales have more than tripled and the month isn't over yet. But wait, it gets even better...

.357 VIGILANTE: DIE MR. JURY sold 20 copies last month and now, with the new title and cover, it has sold 47 copies...the sales have more than doubled and the month isn't over yet. What's really surprising about this bump is that the book is priced at $4.99, making it the most expensive of my previously published/out-of-print titles on the Kindle. They aren't buying it because it's cheaper than everything else out there...I believe they are doing it because they think they are getting a great deal, four books for the price of one, a point Joe hammered home on the new cover far more effectively (and clearly) than I did on the old ones.

Based on these results, I quickly reworked the covers of MY GUN HAS BULLETS, THREE WAYS TO DIE and BEYOND THE BEYOND (retitling it DEAD SPACE) to take advantage of what I learned from the bet and from Joe's example.

What did I learn?

1. Your covers should have a clear, simple, striking image that will still pop out when the cover is reduced to the size of a postage stamp.

2. Your covers need to have a consistent, branded look.

3. Don't be afraid to experiment, to rethink everything about how your book is presented: the title, the cover art, the categories its listed under, the way you describe it, the way you've priced it. Just because your book has been posted, that doesn't mean it's been carved in stone and can't be altered. You need to adapt to find your audience. In other words, you can't just post your book on the Kindle and leave it. Your book will continue to need attention and, if necessary, updating to stoke sales.


Joe sez: I'm happy Lee is selling more books, but I was pretty sure I was right about this. Even in the digital world, people still do judge books by their covers. Something that looks 1980s and cheesy has a limited appeal. But a subtler, professional cover, and a toned down product description (the original book descriptions had a lot of exclamation points and flashy adjectives and simply sounded pulpy) will broaden a title's appeal. As will the title itself. My mom isn't going to buy a book called .357 Vigilante: Killstorm! But she will buy a book called GUILTY.

Readers are customers. The secret to successful sales is: Know Your Customers.

It's also important to note that Lee's ebooks had some formatting issues, and I went through them and fixed a bunch. That's also key. People download the free sample, and if the paragraphs are all messed up, or the spacing looks off, they won't buy.

I read the .357 Vigilante books when I was younger, and enjoyed them before I'd ever met Lee. They're fun books, and deserve a wide readership. But Lee--who is a pretty savvy guy--wasn't presenting them correctly.

Would you serve fillet Mignon on a dirty paper plate? Of course not. The presentation is part of the appeal, and the sizzle sells the steak.

No sizzle=no sale.

The key is: Be Professional.

Hire a cover artist. Hire someone to format your books for Kindle if you can't do it yourself. Make sure the title and product description are targeting your audience. And, of course, make sure your book kicks ass.

BTW, if you need someone to format your manuscript for Kindle, I recommend Rob Siders. You can reach him at robsiders(at) He can even help if all you have is a paper copy, and if you're tech incompetent he'll also upload it to Kindle for you. Rob currently charges between $200 and $400 per manuscript, depending on how much work needs to be done. Could be less, if it's a quick job.

The cover artist who did Lee's new covers above is the same one who has done all of my Kindle covers. His name is Carl Graves, and he can be reached at cgdouble2(at) Carl currently charges between $300 and $800 a cover, depending on how much work needs to be done. Could be less, if it's a quick job.

If you contact these guys, tell them Joe sent you.


CJ West said...

Great experiment, Joe. You've got me reflecting on my own packaging.


Zoe Winters said...

Packaging is everything. Kept isn't a perfect cover by any stretch but I believe my book is selling as well as it is partly because of the cover. I'm afraid to tweak it and screw up the momentum I have going. Though I know the font my name is in, or how it's placed, or SOMETHING could be better.

As for Kindle formatting... I've been told (and now with my own Kindle I can see this with my own eyes) that my formatting on Kindle is excellent.

All I did was follow the very simple Smashwords style guide at Then I saved it in the format Smashwords prefers for Smashwords, and saved it as .html for Kindle.

It's simple it's clean. People compliment me on it all the time. It takes a few hours tops. It is NOT rocket science. Literally anyone can do it. The Smashwords Style Guide is absolutely the EASIEST set of formatting directions you'll ever follow.

To me, you don't even "approach" genuine formatting difficulty that isn't just trying to make something harder than it is, until you try to format directly for PDF or for print.

Zoe Winters said...

And I say all of that because while cover art and formatting and editing are all very important things, the more money you spend, the less profit you make OR the more risk you take that you'll end up in the red with the project. When you're just starting out, you're basically involved in a lot of test marketing.

Spending more money isn't necessarily indicative of being savvier. I had a wedding coordinating business once and the biggest mistake I made was "overspending to look more serious." A lot of this is stuff that can be learned (such as formatting) or can be gotten competently for very little money if you really think outside the box.

You aren't in NY. You aren't Random House. You don't HAVE to have this or that cover artist. If *you* have an eye for design, you can get a good art student building his/her portfolio.

I'm just saying. I see where epublishing can turn into a big outlay of money and people can lose a lot of money they can't really "afford" to lose. Because some people equate "spending more money" with "being more serious" about what they're doing. And that way lies madness.

Even on the low end the prices quoted ran to $500 for cover and formatting. And then you have to figure in editing. An author can easily spend themselves out of any profit at all if they aren't selling like hotcakes.

And you don't know how a book is going to sell until you get it out there and give it a few months to integrate into the Amazon system.

Carl said...

If a change in covers has increased sales, the implication is not that the book covers are being viewed by more people, but that of those that are viewing them, more are purchasing them.

Can you tell us a little about how the book covers are being seen by the ultimate purchasers in the first place? Are they coming up in keyword searches on sites that sell e-books? Is that all there is to it, or is there more?

Unknown said...

Those are some amazing numbers! I learned a lot. Thanks for sharing.

Ellen Fisher said...

I like Lee's new covers. I will say I wouldn't have had the moxy to spend money on a cover artist before I started my experiment in Kindling-- because it WAS an experiment, and I had no idea if I'd sell any books or not. I do have a reasonably good idea what sells in my genre, though, and perhaps that is sufficient to begin with.

At any rate, now that I've sold some books, I HAVE hired a cover artist for my next book, because I had a vision of something I couldn't do myself, and because I'm reasonably certain I'll at least cover (so to speak) the expense. And who know? If it sells well enough I might go back and get other professional covers done for my Kindled books, too. Lee's experiment shows is that even if you don't get something right the first time, you can go back and change it for the better. It isn't like traditional publishing, where you're locked into one cover for years, even if readers hate it.

Zoe Winters said...


I agree with you that the implication is that more people who see it buy it, but the more people who buy it, the more it starts filtering through the kindle system. You start showing up on other books' "Customers who bought this also bought this" lists.

It's a combination of a lot of things. Good keywords help. Tagging helps also. (When people tag(label) your book, and then when other people agree, adding the tag also.)

I'm told customer reviews help.

Then when you start selling more and your sales rank goes up, people find you even easier. Then the word of mouth gets going as people start talking about you on Goodreads,and etc.

It's a lot of things, but basically the more you sell, the more you sell. It's a self-feeding system, but it has to get started first. The first goal is to up your conversion rate, the number of people who look at your book page who go on to buy the book.

That's where cover and book description really comes in.

Jude Hardin said...

Congrats on the increased sales, Lee.

I'm wondering if going even more retro would work, like what Hard Case Crime does with their covers.

Lisa Rusczyk said...

Thanks for posting information like this.

The Daring Novelist said...

Lee posted about this on the Mobilereads forum, and has inspired me to make some changes too.

I do think one of the secrets, though is that the new covers still depict pulpy men's adventure fiction. It's just that the old covers looked out of date. Maybe in another 10 years he'll want a new cover.

However, I do think Lee's fear of misrepresenting the books with spiffier cover is something to worry about. You do want to sell to people who will like your books, you just don't want people who _might_ like your books to be turned off.

Anonymous said...

I love the new covers and this story. You were right Joe-- the old covers simply SCREAMED "Magnum P.I. Douchey-Moustache-Thriller".

The new covers are 100% better. But Joe, you are not immune to this yourself--remember how many times we told you that the old pulpy cover for "Shot of Tequila" was bad?

Has the new cover with the shot glasses increased sales? I'll bet it has.

Thanks for posting your cover and Kindle guys-- I was going to e-mail you and ask who they were.

JA Konrath said...

Some of you may have noticed a new ebook in my sidebar.

The Newbie's Guide to Publishing Book is now available on my website for free, and on Amazon for $2.99.

It contains hundreds of essays, and is over 370,000 words. Those who still like paper can print up their own copy--if you have 1100 sheets of paper handy.

Rob Siders, whom I recommended in this post, is the one who put this monster together. I just saw the Kindle version, and it looks great. All the links (and there are over two thousand) work, making this perfect for your Kindle for iPhone/iPad.

CGriffin said...

Killer study in marketing! Gave me much food for thought...

Stacey Cochran said...

I completely agree. I would argue that cover design is even more important in the new eBook retail market than in traditional print because the majority of eBook sales for titles under 2 bucks are impulse buys.

And why do people make impulse buys?

1) Low price
2) Great (cover) look
3) Lots of customer reviews

You could probably make the case that eBook sales have shifted the top two reasons folks by books.

In traditional print publishing, the #1 reason is name recognition, and the #2 reason is impulse purchases.

I suspect in eBook retail, these two have flip-flopped.


Stacey Cochran
Bestselling author of THE COLORADO SEQUENCE

Zoe Winters said...

That's very true, Stacey!

I find myself reading a lot more outside the box with ebooks.