There are certain big occasions in life when you spend extra time getting ready so you can look your absolute best. Maybe it’s a job interview, a first date or maybe you’re meeting the parents for the first time. Regardless of what the event may be, you know it’s important to make a good first impression and the way you look will be at least part of the equation.
The same can be said for your book. The cover doesn’t tell the whole story, but whether you like it or not, it’s going to provide readers with that oh-so-important first impression. If that impression isn’t positive, it could be impacting your sales. Here at Romance Rehab, we’ve seen a bazillion romance covers over the years and have noticed the vast majority of the sales-killing problems tend fall into seven categories:
It doesn’t fit the genre
Like all major book genres, romance has a wide range of diverse sub-genres including: contemporary, paranormal, suspense, historical, new adult, and comedy just to name a few. Covers typically have a “look” that lets a reader know it belongs to a particular sub-genre. There aren’t any hard and fast rules per se, but in general, if your cover doesn’t look like it belongs, fans of that sub-genre will probably ignore it.
It looks like every other cover in the genre
You know how we just finished telling you your cover needs to fit the “look” of its specific genre? Well, there can also be too much of a good thing. That’s what happens when your book cover fits the genre so well that it starts to look generic. The hard reality is that your cover is competing for the attention of readers. If it doesn’t stand out in some way, your book could end up on the losing end of that contest.
It looks like your neighbor’s kid designed it
We get it. Professional book cover design is expensive. And when you combine it with editing, proofreading and ebook formatting, the expense of self-publishing can really add up. It’s tempting to save a few bucks by hiring an amateur or an inexperienced designer who doesn’t understand romance. (Some authors even try to design their own covers using online tools like Canva.) Unfortunately, any money you save on low-end cover design will almost certainly cost you much more in missed sales. The reality is that most readers are likely to skip right past an amateurish cover for one with more professional polish. Bye-bye sales!
It’s too crowded
If you ever want to get our in-house designer to go off on a rant, ask him about clients who jam way too much stuff into a design. Sadly, authors can sometimes be the worst offenders. Mostly because they feel the need to tell their book’s entire story on the cover (“I need a dragon, a unicorn, a man, a woman, an abandoned warehouse and a 1969 Mustang with wings. Oh and I want my name and the title to really pop too?”). Overcrowded covers are almost always a hot mess. Spoiler alert: readers usually aren’t attracted to covers that are a hot mess.
The type is boring and/or hard to read
In our opinion, font choice is almost certainly one of the most overlooked decisions in book cover design. To be fair, it’s very subjective. What looks elegant and stylish to one person may look dated and boring to someone else. The best advice we can give is to work with your designer to select something that fits within your book’s specific genre while also being distinctive and unique. Above all else, it has to be highly readable. If your cover can’t be read at a glance, readers will simply move on.
It doesn’t match your blurb
So you’ve spent money on a professionally designed cover that looks awesome and consistently attracts the attention of potential readers but you’re still not getting sales. WTF? One possible reason is that readers were intrigued by your cover but when they read your blurb, there was a serious disconnect between the message being sent by your cover and what they were reading in your blurb. You know what readers do when they’re uncertain about a book? Yup, they move on to something else.
(BTW - in the name of full disclosure, Romance Rehab offers romance book blurb reviews for only $10.)
It’s not pretty
Obviously, this category is a super vague. It’s also arguably the most important. The simple, irrefutable truth is that readers are attracted to pretty things, including book covers. You can follow every design rule in the book but if it doesn’t result in a cover that’s beautiful to look at, your sales will likely lag. To some extent, selling books is a beauty contest. You’ll want to make sure your book is ready for its closeup.
What should I do?
If your book isn’t selling and you suspect your cover may be part of the problem, you have a few options, each with their own pros and cons:
Facebook and Goodreads groups: Facebook and Goodreads both have a wide range of groups filled with authors and readers in your specific genre. Most members are willing to provide feedback about your cover if asked.
Pros: It’s quick, easy, free and you’ll likely get a ton of feedback.
Cons: The major downside is that the feedback will be all over the place and much of it will come from people who lack the kind of expertise necessary to be truly useful.
Professional design review: Some professional book cover designers offer cover reviews.
Pros: The feedback will come from experienced designers with a strong understanding of how to create a cover that sells. Some even provide reviews for free.
Cons: Not every cover designer has a strong understanding of the romance genre and their feedback will almost certainly be limited to design issues as opposed to issues a reader may have. If we’re being honest, it’s also important to remember that one of their main goals is to convince you to use them to redesign your cover which means they’re probably more likely to find a ton of problems with your existing design. That doesn’t mean their feedback isn’t correct...it’s just possible that their motives aren’t 100% altruistic. When in doubt, go with your gut. Take the advice you agree with, and ignore the rest.
(Full disclosure: Romance Rehab offers romance book cover reviews with feedback from both a romance super reader and our in-house designer. And we don’t redesign book covers, so there’s no conflict of interest. We’ll just tell you the truth as we see it.)
The bottom line
There’s no simple formula for designing a romance book cover guaranteed to produce sales. If it were that easy, everyone would just follow the same recipe. The reality is that it’s a tricky tightrope walk between strong design and a deep understanding of the romance genre and readers. Any misstep can send you plummeting into the dreaded pit of stagnant sales. The good news is that you always have the safety net of a do-over. Just make sure you learn from any mistakes you may have made the first time around.
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