By J. Robert Kennedy
I wrote my first novel about ten years ago, and it was accepted by the first publisher I sent it to. I promptly wrote a second, and between these two efforts, the eBook revolution began. For those in the industry back then, you’ll probably remember when the price of the Kindle dropped to under $150. This was a massive price drop, and really kicked things off. Having been in the tech sector my entire adult life, and too much of my childhood, I recognized the future—thanks in no small part to J.A. Konrath—and turned down a publishing contract for my second novel, instead deciding I liked the idea of 70% royalties with full control.
The rest is history, though if I end up being even a footnote in it, I’ll be stunned.
Hundreds of thousands have joined the fray, and it’s a constant struggle to be discovered. With millions of books competing for limited numbers of eyeballs on ever more limited screen space, you need to make certain that when you are fortunate enough to be seen, you are memorable.
But how to do that? Good covers are essential, but I built my career on homemade covers that I think eventually became decent, so you don’t need to spend big bucks like I now have started doing—hey Damonza, how about a discount? What I did do, however, was look at what the big boys and girls were doing, and there was one thing they did almost consistently, that I wasn’t doing at first, and so many indies make the same mistake.
Here’s the first cover I did for my novel The Protocol after I bought back the rights:
It’s not terrible, especially for an amateur’s first effort, and sold like hot cakes, though today when I look at it, I cringe. And it has the glaring mistake that I see so many indies make.
Take a moment and browse Kobo’s Trending Now list (that’s the cool new hip thing the kids are calling Bestsellers lists)
Scroll quickly through the list, then ask yourself what you remember. I’m willing to bet dollars to Timbits that very little of what you remember are specific covers or even book titles. I’m willing to bet you recognize names, like Stephen King, Dan Brown, Clive Cussler, and James Patterson.
But they’re famous! Of course I should remember them! Yes, this is true, but now, imagine if all their covers had their name as small as I did in my original cover above? While you might still recognize their names if asked, would you have even noticed them when quickly scrolling through a list of dozens of books?
Now, go back to the actual list, and scan those big names (in font size, not Twitter followers). Do you recognize them all? Probably, but if you scroll further down the lists, you might not. But just because you don’t know who they are, does that mean they’re not a big name author? After all, they had the gall to put their name in big bold letters at the top of the cover. They must be famous. And if you haven’t heard of them, maybe you should familiarize yourself with them rather than be left feeling the fool at your next water cooler literary jam session.
There is a psychological effect when something is placed prominently in prime real estate. It makes it seem more important. By putting your name front and centre, even if you’ve only sold to family and friends, you’re making a statement that you deserve to be discovered. And as your back catalog increases, when people scan the lists and keep seeing “YOUR NAME” in big letters filling up the top of the cover, even if they ignore it, eventually, after seeing it all over the place, on multiple covers, lists, and sites, some just might say, “Umm, maybe I should check this person out.”
Here are the latest two covers I’ve commissioned from Damonza, that use this principal:
When I put a new book out, I want my existing fans who might not subscribe to my newsletter (or who have my emails chronically spammed by overzealous filters), to spot that there’s a J. Robert Kennedy novel out there with an unfamiliar cover. Their eye catches my name, then checks the title to see if they own it. If they don’t, they click and buy. But if they scan a list, and see The Templar Detective, but not my name, they might just skip over it, and then never know there’s a new book. (Though why would you skip it? It’s such an intriguing title!)
So remember, YOU ARE THE BRAND. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished, and punch up the size of your name on your cover, move it to the top if you can, and sell yourself—the book will follow.