Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cover Art and Advertising Headlines Have The Same Mission

Today I'm so pleased to bring you Vince Mooney to answer some questions I've had about cover art and how it can impact a sale.

Vince is a teacher, real estate broker, owner of a real estate school and former marketing executive. He has written nationally and internationally syndicated advertising with over 3,000,000 words in print. He has published in professional journals, wrote a real estate book for the Real Estate Education Company and has written over 100 different real estate seminars approved by Oklahoma for continuing education.

He is currently writing fiction and a nonfiction book on ‘Rewarding the Reader’ which is almost finished! Vince blogs regularly at Philosophy of Romance.

LA: Vince, thank you for being here with us today.  Will you please tell us what are the three major missions that need to be accomplished by cover art.

VM: The cover art missions are very similar to the missions an advertising headline must accomplish: (I mention this because millions of dollars have been spent testing direct response headlines and what makes them work.)
  1. Get the favorable attention of the best prospects for the product.
  2. When possible make the cover art persuasively promise believable benefits.
  3. The cover art should entice the reader to read the blurb and hopefully the    first line of the story.
LA: So, who or what are the "Best Prospects" for an author? 

 VM: A great deal of money is spent by marketing departments seeking to find out just  who the best prospects are for a product. Sometimes they are not who the marketing people think they are.

This takes market research. Who is buying the product? How did they find out about the product? What do they use the product for? What do they like best about the product? Why did they buy it rather than a different product? What are their demographics? (Age, sex, education, income, location, etc.)

Finding these things is the job of the author. Notice who comes to book signings. Can you tell who is visiting your blogs? Do you use questionnaires?

Let’s say you write mysteries. A lot of authors write mysteries. What made you different? I read Nevada Barr because she writes about crimes that happen in national parks. Her heroine is a park ranger and the books are full of inside park information that is fascinating. 

I also read M. C. Beaton, Hamish Macbeth mysteries, because I like Hamish but I also love her sociological look at the people who live in the Scottish highlands.

Note: I’m not reading these books just because they are mysteries. I read Janet Evanovich, “Stephanie Plum,” books because they are so funny and entertaining. I don’t read them just because they are mysteries.

Now, let’s say you found out that most of the readers who buy your books are women over fifty years old who like your heroines because they are gourmet cooks. It better be clear on your cover that these books are about cooking and chefs.
If you get cute and have an abstract cover that says nothing but ‘look how creative I am’…you have just blown off your best prospects.  Also, in selecting media, you should find venues that fifty year old women frequent. That may not be Facebook.

Notice: this is not the same as getting the most people to notice. What good is getting 90% of the people to notice your ad or book if only 10% of the best prospects notice it? It is far better to get only 10% notice if that 10% includes 90% of your best prospects.

 LA:  HUH? Explain please. That’s sounds contradictory.

VM: The above is one thought: Amateurs in marketing think in terms the most numbers. For example, the lowest cost per 1000 circulation or the most people who noticed the ad. These numbers can be misleading and be very damaging to your marketing efforts.
For example: if you were selling fishing bait would you buy ads on a radio station that cost only $15 a thousand listeners but had very few fisherman listeners? Consider: If there was only one fisherman per 1000 listeners then the cost per prospect would be $15.

Consider a different station that has a fishing show on Sundays. It cost $60 per thousand but it has 90% fisherman listeners. It cost four times more than the $15 per 1000 station but its cost per prospect is much less. Take 90% of 1000. That’s 900 prospects for $60 dollars or just 6.6 cents a prospect. Look how much cheaper the more expensive ad costs when you consider the cost per prospect.

So marketers look at attracting the best prospects and not the most people. They also look at the cost per prospect and not the cost per thousand people.

Advertising amateurs, often want something in the ad to attract the attention of more people. This can be deadly. It will attract more people’s attention but it could drive away the best prospects or turn off people and sour them on your business. It is a cliché in advertising to tell such people, “OK, let’s put a naked lady in the ad, that will get all kinds of attention. Almost everyone will notice it.” Of course, the boss at this point, is horrified. “I can’t do that.”

It is not enough to get attention. It must be favorable attention and it needs to be the attention of people who will actually buy your product.

LA: Okay, but how can Indie Writers do this research?  We rarely have book signings.  Any suggestions?  I know this is new territory.

VM: Polls, questionnaires, asking questions at book signings. Why did you buy this book? What did you like best about it? How did you hear about it? Ask leading questions. If the book takes place in Alaska and Alaskan artwork was on the cover, ask: “Do you like to read books that take place in Alaska? Have you read other books in the past that are set in Alaska?”

LA:  So onto Mission Number 2, what is our "Headline"?  The title, the art, a combination of the two?

VM: Both the title and the artwork. If the best prospect likes reading mysteries that take place in National Parks, show an identifiable scene from the park and make what is happening on the cover look interesting from that POV. Is it easy? No.

Publishers are not that helpful here because they are interested in the look of the line and what other books are coming out that month.

An indie can do what she wants and this gives the indie a big advantage in this one area. The indie can design the perfect cover.

The heart of all advertising is ‘promise’ – the promise of benefits and the benefit of those benefits.

From a newspaper ad:

 “Our mattresses are made of the most resilient, twice-tempered, steel coils so you will sleep better and when you sleep better, you feel better and when you feel better life is more enjoyable.”

Some salesmen only see product points and expect the buyer to figure out for himself why a product point is meaningful to him.  As Zig Ziglar used to say, “People don’t want ¼” drill bits, they want ¼” holes.”

Don’t talk about product points without giving their benefits. The best salesmen will go on to give the benefits of the benefits. "Not only will this construction help you sleep better but when you sleep better you will feel better and when you feel better life will be more enjoyable."

Talk in terms of the end results.

With a book, the benefits are the many levels of enjoyment that are possible.

Take "Julius Caesar." It can be read as a story of an assignation. It can be read as corporate politics. It can be read as political science. It can be read as ethics: is it ethical to kill a dictator? It can be read as history. It can be read as psychology. “Would Caesar really be a wolf if the senators were not sheep?”

Liz Fielding wrote a contemporary romance that also meets the expectations of a Regency novel but only Regency fans probably know this as they read it. She also wrote a romance version of “Bridget Jones’s Diary” in her “City Girl in Training”…it’s a hoot for those in the know. I love reading Liz because there is always other things going on besides the story.

Missy Tippens actually put her Moral Premise, in one novel, in the exact form of a Moral Premise. Most readers would not know this but authors and advanced fans might love it.  As I did.

M.C. Beaton, in her Hamish Macbeth mysteries, is doing wonderful sociology. I just love it. She used to write Regency romances and she has carried over the social situations to her Scotts.

LA: Just how can you show the benefits of the product points or the benefits of the benefits on the cover?

VM: That is hard to do. But think about it. Suppose your novel is called: “The Santorini Love Affair”. What is the benefit of being on Santorini?
Being outdoors, swimming in the water, being on a rich man’s yacht, romantic moonlight dinners.
For this book I’d like to see a sunset on a yacht in the harbor with a good view of the island, some stars in the sky, and a table set for two with candles and champagne. Perhaps you could still see swimmers on the beach. Here the artist is showing the benefits of a Greek island fantasy. Of course, the artist could just paint a still life of a Greek salad and let the title do all the work. I think you know which cover art would attract the most prospects for the book.

LA:  In Mission 3 you're saying the title and cover art must entice the reader to "look into" the book?  Read the first chapter?

VM:  Cover art has both advantages and disadvantages when compared to words. Artwork can show the promise of a great location, interesting profession, or intriguing hobby while words can offer greater specificity. 

You must determine who your best prospects are.  Ask yourself: who are the best prospects and what would best attract their attention? What element on the cover would get them to read the blurb?

For example, I was a best prospect for a romance that takes place on a Greek island. I bought, “Sailing For You,” by Mona Risk within  minutes of seeing the cover. 
LA: Why? Were you looking for a Greek Island Romance?

VM:  OMG! I’ve been to Greek Islands. I love them. The trips were a great experience that I would like to re-experience vicariously in a romance. It brings back the good times. But I want the book to be honest. It must mostly take place on a Greek Island, not just the first chapter! And I want it to be outdoors. I don’t want it to take place mostly inside a hotel. Do you see what I mean?  I am always looking for books like that. 
Books are more about feelings and the actual reading experience than they are about the story. I don’t think a lot of writers get this.

 A good ad guy always knows this and thus the benefit of the benefits is paramount.

Since I like professional bicycle racing, the cover on “The Price of Victory,” by Sandra Leesmith helped sell me on the book. In both cases I read the blurb to make sure the book really was about what was shown on the cover.

Books can take place at national parks. They can showcase trips and events people are interested in. Like RV travel and visits to Bluegrass Festivals.

Make the artwork attract and appeal to the ‘many’ best prospects. Add other art elements of high interest to certain prospects. A seaside scene with sail boats and a light house attracts many readers.

LA: Why a lighthouse? 

VM:  Why? Because many people love lighthouses. There are many lighthouse calendars.  There are even catalogs with nothing but lighthouse items for sale. Also many lighthouses are parks with untold visitors a year.  And how many people like sail boats? How many own sail boats? How many had an enjoyable experience on a sail boat?

And given the number of pet owners, why a pet on the cover is good should be self evident. But you must get the pet right on the cover and the pet needs a part in the story. Don’t cheat on the cover!!!
The Tale of Two Covers
Below are two covers. Both are from the same publisher and same author. One is outstanding, the other is not.

A Five Star Rated Book

Example; “A Family to Cherish"

This cover is beautiful. Its says inspirational romace. Notice the mystical lighting in the background. It also shows two adorable little girls. This will strongly attract readers who like inspirational romances that feature adorable girl children. These readers are also the best prospects to buy this book. From a marketing POV, this is an ideal cover.
Please note: this cover will instantly turn off many romance readers. When romance magazines run surveys on what readers would like to see less of, books with children in them usually top the list! Comments include: “Kids are not like that!” “I want to get away from kids!” “I read romances to escape. I sure don’t want kids in a romance.”
You get the idea. So even if 40% of readers will be turned off by this cover, that’s no problem as long as this cover attracts the attention of those readers who want a book like this. This is a great cover for selling the book which is inside. I know this because I have read this book.

Example: “Mended Hearts” 
A Five Star Rated Book
This is an attractive cover that serves almost no marketing purpose. It attracts no specific audience. I have no way of knowing what the story inside is like or if I would like it.
How does a cover like this come about?
I have been in many marketing meetings and I can hear in my mind the arguments for this cover. “It will be the only ‘still life’ cover on the shelves with the other romances.” “It will attract more attention because it is different.” “It’s a beautiful piece of artwork.” “It’s classy.” "We already have the same theme romance for the month this comes out. Let's not have them compete with each other. Hide the theme. Our job is to sell the whole line."
I've been there and I have heard it all. All the above comments may well be true. But one thing is certain: these arguments won’t better attract those readers who are the best prospects to buy this book.

From this cover readers will not know that this is a book for them. They may like the cover but while they are looking on the book shelves, they may see one or two other books that specially 'speak' to them. These readers are more likely to buy those books than read the blurbs on every other book that is ambiguous as to who the target audience is.

Marketing may seem cruel. The artist has a beautiful still life painting that can’t find a cover. She is sure it would win an award and draw praise to both herself and to the author. With such artwork the author at least can say that nothing in the book was misrepresented by the cover. However, with a cover like this, a generic cover that could serve for almost any story, a great selling opportunity was lost.
LA: Final Thoughts?
VM: In short, design the cover art to attractive the favorable attention of the best prospects.
Finding out the best prospects is the job of the author. Who buys your books and why? You must find this out or you could waste all your time by saying the wrong things to non prospects. This is the hardest part of marketing. (It’s like asking a philosopher to get to the point and just tell you ‘the ultimate nature of reality’.)

So the idea is for the author to develop a sense of who her best prospects are. Who would most likely buy her books if she could only find them and tell them about her book.
Can authors do this? It is hard because they don’t meet enough people – as salesmen do. But they can do the best that they can do. Perhaps they can ‘meet’ people in a more informative way when they make blog visits. The key is developing ways to get this information and then to always be working on this project. It really needs to become a habit.

So we all just got a college short course in Marketing!  You're making me think, Vince. 
I'm quite sure there will be questions out there.  Vince will be in and out today so ask away.  Those of you who know Vince, knows he won't give you the easy or short J answer, but you'll learn, baby, you'll learn.
Thanks Professor Vince. 
Now, I love my cover, but I'm having second thoughts about whether it is reaching it's best prospects.  So stay tuned and see what I'm thinking about doing with it.



  1. Hi Vince,

    Thank you for featuring my book in your post. I am so proud and pleased that my story met your approval. I had fun writing it after visiting the Greek Islands. BTW I was in Santorini two weeks ago.

    Also I learned a lot from your post today on the art and technique of advertizing: reach the right audience through the right ad.

  2. As always, thought-provoking words, Vince! As an avid reader and book reviewer, I know that covers are crucial when it comes to attracting readers. It's what book bloggers love to talk about - the covers that catch our eye, the images and artwork that beg us to read the book.

    Marketing is rather cruel in the sense that if a book has an unattractive cover (or at least perceived as "unattractive" to the target audience), it's that much harder to get a reader to give it a chance. I confess that I'm much more willing to give a book a try (like that YA alien book I mentioned in my latest post) if the cover is pretty. The cover of that book - Whispers in Autumn - caught my eye right off the bat, and then the synopsis intrigued me, so despite the fact that aliens really aren't my thing, I eventually decided to give it a try. (Of course, I got it when it was free on Kindle - but that turned out to be another great marketing strategy in this case, as I ended up buying the second book for $3.99 on Kindle!)

    Books travel to all sorts of places, and word of mouth is also key, so I know that any book has the chance to reach people. But if a book is going to reach the RIGHT people (in the sense of target audience) and the best NUMBER of people (for its target audience), it has to create interest right away. Whether it's on a shelf in the bookstore or on a website, it pretty much all begins with the cover - along with the title as part of the package deal - and then goes from there with the synopsis, endorsements, sample chapters, etc.

    Anyway, you explain things so well, Vince, and you've definitely given us some great inspiration in terms of figuring out whom each author should be targeting and how to best to go about it! Thanks! :)


    P.S. A great example of another ambiguous cover is the upcoming Thomas Nelson anthology release, A Bride For All Seasons. Rel posted the mid-2013 Thomas Nelson covers here:

    There's a great discussion going on there! One of the favorites seems to be Dark Halo by Shannon Dittemore. Unfortunately, A Bride For All Seasons is one cover that really doesn't have a lot going for it. :( Not much scene-setting, bland colors, no emotion, and a rather horrible title font/placement, in my opinion. :( Not that it won't attract some people, but as a fan of historical romance, myself, that one just doesn't do it for me...

  3. Cover art is something that fascinates me and yet I know very little about it. I loved this article and learned a lot. THANK YOU, VINCE

  4. Oh my goodness, Vince! What a graduate course on marketing and covers. All your points and examples make perfect sense. So why don't we think of those things ahead of time?

    The classic "embrace" cover continues to be widely used in historical romances. It says nothing about the story inside other than there will be two uncommonly pretty people starring in the book, just like a dozen other books on the shelf for that month.

    Why do they continue to use this selling tool?

  5. Great post on effective marketing.

    Cost per prospect: Aha. I didn't know what this was called, but I used to budget for advertising dollars at the day job.

    When people called in for information about the product, staff asked where they heard about us, and all our mail in leads had a code on the buckslip identifying which ad it was.

    So when it came time to book more ads, we made our decisions based on the following formula "$Ad Cost/Responses=$ per Lead.

    This was a high-dollar product and Leads were gold. If the $ per Lead was inched up above a set point, I had leverage with the magazine.

    Oh, and Vince, I get the 1/4" drill bit vs. 1/4" hole analogy. lol What's the OD on a 1/4" drill bit? On something that small, it's a teeny-tiny fraction, but it can matter.

  6. Great post, Vince! Lots of great info that I never really have thought about.

    I'll be more informed now while sending in my art fact sheet with my suggestions for the cover!

  7. Interesting as always, Vince!
    I have wondered a lot about who is reading my books and who my target audience is. They are Young Adult fairy tale retellings, but I get tons of messages on facebook from middle aged women who loved them, but then I also get tons of emails through my website from teen girls who loved them. I really have no idea if it's 50/50 adult women to teen girls, 75/25, 90/10 ... I have no idea and am not sure how to measure that. But I do think the cover designers knocked my new cover out of the park, because you can look at it and tell it is a fairy tale retelling and a historical romance, which are the two things that seem to draw readers to my books.

    Anyway, great discussion, Vince!

  8. Hi Mona:

    You were just in Santorini! What a life. I hope you write a book about it soon so I can visit there vicariously. BTW: I did buy your new book, “Neighbors and More”, but the only high rise book I’ve ever read was “Condominium”. I may be in for a surprise. Thanks for coming by today.


  9. Hi Mary:

    Thanks for coming by today. I just have to use your new Christmas novella, “The Christmas Candle,” in my Rewards Per Page book as a great example of 5-sensing. I think you may be the Queen of Christmas Novellas. BTW: Your cowboy covers seem ideal for attracting readers who would enjoy those books. Your publisher is doing a very good job on the covers.


  10. Welcome Vince and all,
    You guys are so early. It's a bit past 8am here...

    I know I'm creating a new cover to encompass more of the what the book is about and I'll post them on the blog later.

    This post was fun to put together. Vince and I had many conversations about it. I really didn't understand some of the points and he patiently clarified them until we came up with this post.

    Thanks Vince for you patience and course :)


  11. Hi Audra:

    You wrote:

    “The classic "embrace" cover continues to be widely used in historical romances. It says nothing about the story inside other than there will be two uncommonly pretty people starring in the book, just like a dozen other books on the shelf for that month.”

    This is important. If there is a convention for historical romances, then showing that convention (the embrace) will attract it’s share of best prospects. These prospects know at a glance that it is a book for them (to at least look at).

    Now what I have seen done very well is having a small inset of the ‘embrace’ with a more specific ‘location and time’ identifying bigger image. You get the ‘embrace’ but you also get a lot more. Some historical fans are very particular. They mostly want a given time period and a given class. Some Regency fans would not want a book that does not involve the ton and upper classes. A historical cover should do several things: get the general historical reader’s attention, then attract a more specific audience for the time period and then show something that readers of that time period find most interesting. I love Roman Republic and Empire set romances but I do not want them to be in the fifth century or later. I want the classical period when Rome was most Rome. Of course, we are talking about the ideal here. Many indies will be selecting from stock photos and cannot have custom artwork made. However, if you know the ideal, you can at least try to approach it.

    Do you know what scene in your first historical romance would be most enjoyed by your readers? Can you put the reader ‘into’ your most powerful scene and still have that scene attract the best prospects? That would be ideal.

    It is going to be fun watching your journey into indie land.


  12. Hi Amber:

    Your comments point out another important consideration of covers: where will they be seen and displayed?

    Take Love Inspired. Each month a set of books are issued. They may well be displayed in Wal-Marts side by side with other romances. LI wants a mix of covers and themes. They would not want six ‘hidden child’ themes in the same month. Their books should have the look and feel of inspirationals but then they should also attract the best prospects within the group by theme for each given book title. It should be clear if there are children in the story, for example. These books can be picked up and opened.

    Now, if the book is only an e-book, then the cover has a somewhat different job. It has the greatest weight in attracting the prospect. An indie does not even have the ‘line’ identification as a series like LI has. The prospect already knows where to look for LI. They know the look and feel of the covers. They also know what they are going to get because of very tight publisher guidelines.

    For most indies there is none of this! The buyer really does not know what she is going to get. As such the cover has a much bigger and harder job to do. Often the e-book cover will not be shown along side many other book covers. It may have to stand on its own. As such the cover is more like a one shot ‘coming attraction’ poster at a movie. (Show me the best you got – the reader may be thinking as she looks at your cover.)

    In addition to getting the favorable attention of the best prospects, it must also look professional. A weak cover points to weak editing and a very poor read. I’m not worried about the editing in a LI book. I am in an indie. Indies need to invest in professional looking covers.

    A cover does not have to be pretty to work well. A pretty cover that does not attract the readers who would buy the book, is not good even if everyone loves it. A ‘not much of anything’ cover that does a great job of attracting the attention of the best prospects will sell a lot of books. Think: would you want a very handsome baseball player who hits .100 or an ugly man who hits .400?

    Best of all would be a cover that is so attractive that people will buy the book just to own the cover, (I’ve done this a few times in my life but always for print books), while at the same time doing the best possible job of attracting the best prospects. You can have both. One big advertising agency has a slogan that I just love: “It’s not creative unless it sells.” The same goes for a book cover: to me it is not beautiful if it does not sell the book.

    I’ll have to check your link over the weekend.

    BTW: are you doing NaNo? (I am. VincePlato).


  13. Hey Vince!

    Your insight continues to astonish. Such wisdom packed in here. Wawzah.

    Loved this Books are more about feelings and the actual reading experience than they are about the story. I don’t think a lot of writers get this.

    I'm going to cogitate on that awhile. Important info for an indie such as myself.

    (And I'm glad the cover for book 2 got the Vince stamp of approval. Wshew! All I did was approve it myself. Credit goes to the cover designer!)

    Thanks! /waving to Leslie Ann/

    I look forward to reading more!!

  14. Hi Pam:

    You wrote:

    “So when it came time to book more ads, we made our decisions based on the following formula "$Ad Cost/Responses=$ per Lead.

    This was a high-dollar product and Leads were gold. If the $ per Lead was inched up above a set point, I had leverage with the magazine.”

    This is so, so important! The best advertising people are the direct response people. They measure everything. They test headlines, pictures, copy, everything imaginable. They really know what they are doing. That is my background.

    TV agency advertising may be done by creative idiots. There is a saying in tv advertising: “A good ad in any ad that the clients accepts.” TV ad people are go ga-ga over advertising awards. Why? It’s hard to prove a tv ad worked. But if you run a magazine ad with a tag number (hint: when the address says, dept 13WSJ or something like this—they know that response came of the ad in the Wall Street Journal that ran on the 13th week of the year).

    Bottom line: When you talk to ad people find out if they did any DR advertising.

    For example: we had cost per 1000 (CPM) of circulation. Then we had cost per prospect (CPP) what percent of the total circulation were prospects for our given product. Then we had cost per sale (CPS). What did each sale cost us from the last ad we ran. Then we had cost per good sale (CPGS). Some zip codes will buy anything but pay for nothing (zips with prisons or very poor areas in them). This is compiled after the marketer knows how many good sales there were and how many people asked for their money back (if you had a money back guarantee).

    This is just a little insight into who knows what they are doing and who does not in advertising. You were doing it right.

    BTW: When will we get to buy your new book? Have you seen the cover yet!


  15. Hi Missy:

    Thanks for your nice comments. You’ve had very good covers. LI does a very good job for the most part. And, I’m so glad that you are going to spend less times on blogs and more time writing books. Like Tony Hillerman, there is too much time between your books! Of course, I’m very happy you came by today. Thanks again.


  16. Hi Vince. Excellent points on cover art and marketing! I always appreciate getting your take on writing and promoting romance. LIH does a great job producing covers that tug readers to our books. Mainly because they know our readership.


  17. Hi Melanie:

    First all your covers are very good. And your readers remind me of something I read. The article said that half the buyers of YA were adults. Maybe they are trying to relive their youth. Maybe they are just better written. Some of the best books I’ve read have been Newbery Award Winners written for young people.

    I don’t know but I find that 50% statistic very interesting as a marketing person. I’d also like to know what they like best about my YA books. What themes, what locations, what time period. What scenes do they look forward most to reading?

    I don’t think an author newsletter will sell all that many books but it can be very important if you can use it to have a “Tell me something about yourself” section. A newsletter can be personal. Ask questions which ask for input to make the books better and not to get info to sell to marketers. What do you like best about my books? What scenes do you look most forward to? What would you like to see more of?

    Who knows what you will learn?

    I think it would help if authors thought more like direct marketers. : )

    BTW: If anyone orders your new book from Amazon on Kindle…it will be delivered to their Kindle on Christmas Day! A great way to gift yourself for all you do all year for everyone else! (What a great release date!!!)


  18. Interesting stuff, Vince! I'm always intrigued by your insights into this business. Your statement, "Books are more about feelings and the actual reading experience than they are about the story," is really thought-provoking, especially how that translates into cover design.

    You also said, "In both cases I read the blurb to make sure the book really was about what was shown on the cover." I really dislike it when I discover the cover of a book I'm reading has little or nothing to do with the story. Or doesn't match the author's descriptions. Or depicts a scene that never happened (or worse, couldn't even have happened off-screen).

    Which makes it crucial for authors to do a thorough job on those art fact sheets, because most likely the cover designers will not have read the entire book and are basing their design solely on the limited details provided by the author.

  19. Thanks, Vince! Yes, I had no idea how much time I was spending on blogs until I started tracking it. It's a time eater!

  20. Hi Leslie Ann:

    I’d love to see your revised covers. I can be checking in all this weekend for additional comments. You have some good scenes on the beach in Hawaii. To say nothing of a helicopter tour of the islands. How many people would like to do that? (me!).

    Who do you consider your best prospects? Do you know?

    How do you know who your best prospects are if you don’t know? A manufacture should know his product best. Also who the product is designed for, what other products will it compete with, and why this product is better than the others in some way if not in all respects. Can you do market research on an established author who you think is writing for the same readers?

    Sometimes a manufacture will create a product and find out later that people are not using the product for the reason it was built but for other reasons. In this case the manufacture markets the ads to sell to those other uses for the product. Remember all the uses they had for baking soda?

    An author should start with a hypothesis of who the best prospect is based on who she is writing the book for. Make a good mental picture of that prospect. Then as time goes on, by good observation, see if her hypothetical best prospect really is who she thinks. If not, then update the ‘ideal’.

    Also for younger readers you also have to consider who buys the book. The cover needs to also appeal to the buyer. Do grandparents buy a lot of your books? What makes them pick a cover. (There is no end to marketing considerations. : )

    Looking forward to a great day. So far so good. I must say we did work very hard over this post and I think it will be helpful. Especailly to indie people who have to do most of their own marketing.


  21. Hi KC:

    I’m glad you are going to think about that quote. Stories are like music. They are about how they make us feel. Just as sheet music is not music, ink on paper in the form of a romance, is not the romance. The real ‘romance’ only exists when it is being played in a reader’s mind. Readers want to feel the story. Kids even more so! They like to be scared or to giggle at something silly. They are more open with their feelings and we can learn from them…but then didn’t Jesus say that same thing?

    BTW: Your new cover is an A+.

    Thanks for coming by. I always enjoy your visits. You are always so positive! May is the best!

    BTW: You really get out and see your customers. You are doing a great job!


  22. Hi Janet:

    Great to see you here!

    You have one of my all time favorite covers! I would have bought the poster of your cover if there was one. I’m talking about “Courting Miss Adelaide”. The hat actually plays an important part in the story. Adelaide is a most wonderful heroine. This is my favorite book of yours.

    LIH has a big advantage because it has great quality control. Readers know what they are getting so often the marketing battle is between their own titles each month. Some authors are always complaining about strict guidelines but those same guidelines sell a lot of books. Readers trust LI enough to subscribe for the books, sight unseen!

    Of course, as good as guidelines are for the Traditionals, this restriction also opens many doors for the indies. There is room for everyone.


  23. Many of you are commenting on Vince's line: "Books are more about feelings and the actual reading experience than they are about the story. I don’t think a lot of writers get this."

    That comment changed my perspective about writing and cover art.

    Isn't it amazing that even though I've been writing for years, something said simply can profoundly change the way I look at my craft?


  24. Hi Missy:

    I showed my wife Buster Posey’s photo after I read one of your posts and she said she wanted him for a son. I said, we missed the boat on that one. You’re going to have to wish he was your grandson. : )


  25. Hi Myra:

    That is a pet peeve of mine when the cover misleads the buyer. This hurts the author. The reader is mad at your book for something that is not your fault and not wrong with the story itself. Unfortunately authors don’t have any say in this – unless they get to proof the cover.

    This is doubly sad because the right cover would have attracted readers who would have liked the book!

    I love reading about the Australian outback. I bought a book because of the picture of Ayers Rock on the cover. The whole book took place in a city! They didn’t even go into the outback.

    Then one book had a cover of Caribbean Island and only half the first chapter took place on the island. The rest of the story took place in the Midwest USA during a snow storm. I can understand the marketing people saying, “Put a picture of the island. That will get a lot of attention. People dream of island vacations.” And this can sell a lot of books but the author will pay for this.

    Again this points out that the cover has to draw the ‘favorable attention’ of the best prospects and not just the attention of the most people. Like all things in life: it needs to be honest.

    Thanks for your comments. I can’t wait for your books to come out in eBook form so I can read them! (I need the larger type). What a joy that will be! Thanks you Harlequin.


  26. Vince, great article! Thanks a lot for sharing all that information and insight. Unless I'm already a fan of the author, the cover is what attracts me. If I like what it suggests about the book, I go further.
    I especially like the Zig Ziglar quote--a good example. I'm going to save this blog.

    Thanks again!

  27. Vince,
    When I was on Seekerville's blog as Audra's guest, I mentioned I wanted watercolors to be brand for my books. I still do, but I've realized that I need to use only parts of the watercolor. (b/c of your blog here)

    You mentioned Hawaii is in my book... and that is what a lot of people are commenting on in reviews... and most people think the watercolor is "Hawaiian" which it is.

    So combining the images of jagged ripped paper, the silhouettes separated with hands stretching across the image that indicates Hawaii maybe the best of both worlds. Suspensy and Hawaii.

    We'll find out.


  28. Vince, what a great article! I'm laughing because you used two of my covers at true opposite ends of the romance spectrum. Some day when we meet in person again you and I can have a laugh over the Mended Hearts cover! That was my only weak cover and let me just laugh and say it was a big surprise! But it turned out okay in the end. We just pretended that still life cabbages need love too!!!

  29. As a part time cover designer, I find your advice to be a fresh page of marketing. Thank you for your very constructive and insightful insight...

  30. Vince, I love doing the Christmas novellas and I hope I can do one every year forever....I say that with absolutely no plans so far in advance at all, of course.
    but I'm going to remember your cover advice. It seems so obvious and yet it's not. Not until you put it so clearly into words.

  31. PS I think you're wrong about Ruthy's cover.
    NOTHING says romance to me like a basket of cabbage.


  32. VINCE!!! WOW ... what a powerful blog, my friend ... gonna share this puppy on FB!!

    LOVE the statement: "What good is getting 90% of the people to notice your ad or book if only 10% of the best prospects notice it?"

    Oh my, is THIS the truth!!! This is the problem that I run into a lot!!!


  33. Hi Julie,
    Thanks for sharing the blog on FB, it is a powerful blog, so much more than what I expected when I first asked Vince if he'd do it.

    It started at 500 words, wasn't that right, Vince?

    You all have my blessing to pass it on, it's great info!


  34. Hi Leslie Ann:

    You wrote:

    “Isn't it amazing that even though I've been writing for years, something said simply can profoundly change the way I look at my craft?”

    This reminds me of a question that comes up in every marketing course.

    “What business are we really in?’”

    Are we in the train business or the transportation business?

    Are we in the typewriter business or the word processing business?

    Are we in the computer business or the information processing, education, and entertainment business?

    Are we in the business of writing novels to sell to publishers or are we in the business of creating the best reading experiences? That is, do we write to the needs of the novel or to the needs of the reading experience? These are two very different things. (But I am going to cover all this in my book on Rewarding the Reader).

    People who answer the simple question above correctly are called visionaries. Those who don’t are often called bankrupts.


  35. Hi Leslie Ann:

    About your cover. The cover could pass as Hawaiian but is it what people first think of?

    When I saw the cover it said, Japanese or China watercolor on silk. It said self-help book of poetry. “Dare to Believe” is a self-help, inspirational, title. The lack of other description on the cover made it seem like a book of poetry.

    Now, could it also pass as Hawaiian? Yes it could. But the question is: will it?

    I think the water color look is fine. It could make a good ‘brand’. It is also a nice piece of artwork. But I would like it to look more like a book and a novel.

    With the same style you could have an aerial view from a helicopter looking down at a man running along the beach. A montage of other scenes from the book might also be worked in.

    What would you think of a subhead. Dare to Believe: A Hawaiian Romantic Suspense Adventure. (But write a better subhead.)

    Something like that. You have the elements. It just take time. What do you think?


  36. Hi Ruth:

    You are a good sport. All in all, the important thing is that under each book is the phrase “A Five Star Rated Book”. That’s what a reader cares about. Isn’t there something famous about ‘cabbages and Kings’ somewhere?

    Thanks for coming by today. We will meet again.


  37. Hi Ellis:

    I’m glad you liked the Zig Ziglar quote. It gets down to what Leslie Ann was saying about insight. We have to keep in mind what our real objective is and not just what we are doing.

    You also reminded me of this: an author has a duty to attract the right prospects! I am very interested in Machu Picchu. There is a picture of me there with my wife on my Facebook page. If I passed over a book I would have loved to have read because Machu Picchu was not on the cover, I would be very upset. This is especially true for a line like Love Inspiried which I would never expect would publish a book set in this exotic location. But they did and I saw it and bought it.

    BTW: LI did miss one. There is a book about the French Revolution and the cover does not look it at all. It would not get my attention because as far as I know, LI does not publish books about that period. I bought it because I like the author and I was totally surprised it was set just after the revolution.

    Thanks for you comment. It made me think.


  38. Hi Neringa:

    I really appreciate your comments. I approach cover art from the POV of what makes a headline work best. This is well known from over a century of relentless testing. I come from the copywriting wing of advertising. Much of cover art theory comes from art directors and artists. They know art but they don’t always understand the need to also sell the product.

    I did direct response where every return can be measured. I also wrote retail advertising for years where I would have to walk down to the showroom floor every day and face the salespeople who wanted to know how come my ads were not brining the people into the store or why the featured bedroom suite is not selling.

    Given all this, we still need the expertise of the artists. Just look at how much good an artist can do to sell a book when their beautiful artwork also is created to attract the best prospects!

    Thanks again.


  39. Hi Mary:

    Wrong about Ruth’s still life cover? Okay, maybe, it might work if I could barrow and slightly adjust your tag line:

    “Romantic Comedy with Cabbages”.


  40. Hi Julie:

    You wrote:

    “Oh my, is THIS the truth!!! This is the problem that I run into a lot!!!”

    This makes me think of the advice of Will Rogers who advised in his common folk wisdom this: when you go fishing use bait that the fish likes to eat and not what you like to eat.

    This makes a lot of sense. Do you want artwork you like or artwork that is going to attract the most sales? Of course, once you know it will attract the most sales, you’ll probably like it fine.

    BTW: If you put this on FB with all your thousands of friends, I’ll be so busy I won’t be able to fit in my NaNo quota! But go ahead anyway. Who needs sleep?


  41. "Romantic Comedy with Cabbages" LOL! Great promo opportunity for Weight Watchers in January : )

  42. Hi Leslie Ann:

    You asked:

    “It started at 500 words, wasn't that right, Vince?”

    That’s right. You requested 500 words on cover art and I sent 500 words. Then you had 500 words of questions…and the rest…is a long story. : ) But a happy one, I hope.

    I just went to Seekerville and they are talking about us.

    BTW: It is Julie’s birthday today so she is being very nice to take time away from all the celebrations to come visit us. She’s a sweetheart.


  43. This couldn't have come at a better time. I have been gathering ideas and researching for hours in order to prepare to meet with my cover artist--tomorrow! Thanks so much!

  44. Hi Annie:

    Thanks for coming by. And if you can please let us know how your meeting with the artist turns out. I will be checking in on both Saturday and Sunday. I wish you well. I'm going to have to do some covers myself soon.


  45. Hi Christina:

    Thanks for coming by today. Glad you liked the post.


  46. Hi All:

    I'll be away for a little while but I will check back tonight to answer any questions. This has been fun!

    I'll also stop in on Saturday and Sunday to see if there have been any comments.

    Back tonight.

    And special thanks to LA for the wonderful job she has done in making this post look so good and for all the great follow up questions she asked.


  47. VINCE!!!!!! SHAME ON YOU!!!!

    She was planning to launch it on Thanksgiving, sort of a 'harvest home' moment. Only with cabbage.

  48. VINCE SAID: "This makes me think of the advice of Will Rogers who advised in his common folk wisdom this: when you go fishing use bait that the fish likes to eat and not what you like to eat."

    LOL ... you and my husband, Vince!! I write "passionate" Christian romance because it's what I like to "eat," but the Christian market has a much less spicy palate, I assure you, which is why you don't see my books on any CBA bestseller list. Keith keeps trying to persuade me to put a bonnet on Charity to up my sales, but I refuse ... ;)


  49. Julie, what's the point of writing romance if you can't be passionate? Lukewarm emotions don't satisfy. They leave the reader feeling half full -- kinda like a diet.

    I'm still giggling over the Romantic Comedy with Cabbage : )

    Anyway, passion needs to be evident in our writing and in our covers. A little sauciness and spice on the cover is NOT a bad thing.

  50. LOL, Vince! Yeah, Buster is only 25. :)

  51. Vince this is such valuable information. Thank you!!!

  52. Hi Mary:

    Ruth might get the last laugh if her new brand takes off like the Cabbage Patch Dolls of yesteryear!


  53. Hi Julie:

    I would not want you to change a thing. If you toned the passion down, then you would join a much bigger pool of ‘me too’ safe titles. This could result in less sales not more.

    I really think you are in the right place. You just need more people to discover your work. I’d like to see a slogan that says something like:

    “Passion rich enough to warm the coldest heart yet tender enough to comfort the most gentle soul.”

    Also, putting a bonnet on Charity would be like putting a super bowl ring on an old man: it won’t make him an NFL quarterback! Besides Faith is more the bonnet type.


  54. Hi Audra:

    Your wrote:

    “…passion needs to be evident in our writing and in our covers. A little sauciness and spice on the cover is NOT a bad thing.”

    I think the key is that Julie writes everything with passion and that makes the passionate moments transcend the ordinary meaning of the words. You feel the passion even if you don’t see it.

    Now, I'll be looking to see that ‘sauciness’ and 'spice' on your first historical romance cover. It's a great marketing idea, that's for sure.


  55. Hi Missy:

    Buster may be only 25 -- the problem is my wife still thinks she’s 45. When will you get to see the World Series ring? See, that's how a man thinks!


  56. Hi Tina:

    Thanks! You have made my day! It’s been fun but it is now time to call it a night. I’ll check in Saturday and Sunday.


  57. LOL, Vince. I hope to see him Christmas. I'll let you know about the ring! I'm pretty sure he won't have the new one until spring. But maybe we can see the one from 2010. :)

  58. Hi Missy:

    Wow! Just 25 years old with two World Series rings. He has a real shot at Yogi Berra’s record of 10 rings. Ask him if he is after Yogi’s record. : )


  59. Great info! Thanks.

    I saw a post from an excellent cover artist who said, "If you have the word 'apple' in your title, never show an apple on the cover. Because you're treating the reader "like a moron". But I have trouble reconciling his advice with advice like 'show a sailboat if the book is about sailing'. They both seem like good advice. Can you comment? I'm guessing the key is not to use 'sail' words in the title, but what if your titles are something like "Sailing mysteries"? No sailboats on the cover? Thanks.

  60. Hi Carly:

    You wrote:

    “"If you have the word 'apple' in your title, never show an apple on the cover. Because you're treating the reader "like a moron".

    I never head this said in over my 30 years of experience. It sounds like something an artist might say. It’s like saying, “Don’t make it too easy for the reader to learn that this is a book they would love reading.” The whole idea is not to miss getting the attention of the best prospects.

    Just look at the cover of “Sailing With You”. Do you think all those sail boats insult my intelligence? All I see is a place I wish I could visit.

    Now, I must say there is some sense to that advice. If the cover needs many art elements to attract the best prospect, then if one of those elements can be conveyed by a word in the title, then it might be best to cover a different element than that one in the art work.

    You bring up a very good point. Cover art work and titles can be coordinated to produce the maximum benefit in attracting the best prospects and selling the most books. However, I don’t think this is ever done. Departments are very territorial. The art department is going to do the cover and the editorial department is going to control the title. The best organizations always have former copywriters in charge of the who operation. And it really helps if that copywriter has lots of actually selling experience.

    But consider this: the indie writer can select a title to best go with the cover art at the time it is most needed. I think indies should exploit every advantage they have. This is one of them.

    Great question. Thanks for commenting today. I appreciate it.


  61. Hi, Vince--I was so glad to see your name. The topic is so pertinent and very tricky for the romance author and artist to determine the right thing. I learned on my own how important covers are, because I am a visual person and certain things will instantly turn me off--colors, for one well as others.
    I carefully read your statements and beliefs, and added to my miniscule store of knowledge.
    A new writer friend decided covers weren't important with ebooks, with me begging her to put an appropriate cover on her books. Nope. She only puts words on a solid colored backgrouns--title and author. That's it. She self-published these, as well as two children's books--yes, you're right--no pictures, not even on the cover. I could not fathom her idea. I'm watching--now close to a year, and her sales are dismal, practically non-existant. I don't know is she learned her lesson or not.
    I knew Mona would be thrilled that you added her cover to your article!
    Thanks for the information--I'll also keep the idea in mind that romance readers don't like children in their books. I do have a quarrel with that idea...but that's just me.

  62. Hi Celia:

    Good to have you visit. You bring up some important points.

    Fiction without cover art is very iffy at best. It would have to be a gimmick like a book with the title: “The End”. It would be cute but I think stupid from a marketing point of view.

    A non-fiction book could 'live' with just a title. The great best seller “How to Win Friends and Influence People” had just a title and a small photo of the author – as I remember the original covers. These self-help books don’t want to be taken as fiction. But fiction, I don’t see as not having art elements.

    If anything eBooks need great cover art more than paper books. At least at this stage in history.

    Great artwork means someone spent money on it. If they did that, then there is a likelihood they also spent money on proof reading and story editing. I think having no art work on the cover is like getting a phone call that shows up on the ID as ‘blocked’. What are they hiding? Why trust this book?

    I love your “Addie and the Gunslinger” cover – it’s dynamic, interesting, totally compelling if that kind of romance you are looking for. I like all your dime novel coverss. I’ve read three of them so far. Your book that I like best is “Texas Promise” and both covers I’ve seen have been beautiful but neither one ‘says’ historical cowboy romance. I’m not sure I get that cover. I’d like to know your rationale.

    Now as far as romance fans not liking kids in romances, that was only the results of surveys taken by RT. They asked what would you like to see less of in romances? Every time it seems that ‘less kids’ wins the contest.

    I don’t agree with this. I prefer books with kids in them. I like the kids to be between 3 and 7. I like the idea of the hero being able to give them a good home and be the father they so need.

    But then I think the whole idea of not having kids in romances is silly. There are more romances published each month than most people are going to read in a life time. There is plenty of room for everyone. Just pick the kind of romance you want. (And the right cover will help you find it!)


  63. Wow, Vince!
    They are keeping you busy. Questions are great as are the answers.

    And remember, I'm going to post a tale of MY two or three covers, so sign up to be a follower and see what happens.


  64. Hi LA:

    Do you mean ‘you’ in general as to all our visitors? I think I was your number 2 follower. How’s that for a low party number? I know a good thing when I see it! : )


  65. Leslie Ann, that's great you'll be sharing your cover tales.

  66. Hi Missy,
    It's scary! I'm trying to find a way to insert a poll into the blog. So far I have three distinct covers.


  67. Vince,
    Yes, you were number two, right after Audra. Sweet man aren't you! It is a fun blog even from the get-go. And wow, the numbers have climbed. Thank you :)

    Yes I meant the universal "you" for people to join. I don't post a huge amount so you won't be inundated in your mail boxes :)

    And I hope to get some indie film makers and some indie music producers/writers/musicians to participate.

    Leslie Ann

  68. I'm stopping by very late, but so glad I did. Such an excellent post. Thanks, Vince, for the marketing advice. You are amazing.

    Can't wait for your book to be published!