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As some of you may know, I’ve been rebranding my book covers with a more consistent look. I’m also using a custom name font. My name is the same on every single new cover. I have given my cover artists very specific instructions about what I’m going for, and one of those instructions is that my name should be big. Bigger than the title, even.
Today, I saw a great illustration of why that’s a good decision. Amazon (as of Oct.10.2014) is now showing pages of top selling books in categories with two sections to the right that look like the below. Take a look. Which authors are in that Hot New Releases category?
Well, the ONLY author name you can read is Eloisa James. If you are a fan of historical romance, and you were thinking, maybe I’ll buy something else, how likely are you to click on a cover where you don’t even know the author? I think it’s very likely that buyers will say, oh, hey, I’ve heard good things about that author ….
And, of course, the image above illustrates the problem with covers in the digital space. The two boxed sets have issues. Yes, the images convey boxed set, but nothing else. The first one is just a blobby mess. The second one is partially saved by a recognizable image. This is the reason I’m not wild about boxed set covers like this… They are a design challenge that is not currently being met. So. The 3rd book in the top row. What the hell is that background? I can’t see the name OR the title. This cover is a fail. Truce — I can’t even tell what the eff that is. The title is big but you have to stare, and cheat with the title text below. All I really see is T[something]UC.
The Eloisa James cover is a win. Not only can you read her name, you can read the title, too! AND the image is recognizable. I would have asked for a fix at the upper left corner, which is too dark, but over all, that cover works. That last one? I can read the title, I have no hope of reading the author’s name. But the image is compelling and atmospheric so it I’d give it a marginal pass.
These books are doing well, that’s why they’re in that corner, but this corner real-estate is not doing the authors any favors. I imagine the click-throughs are disappointing because Amazon isn’t showing the author name and so loses a key reason for clicks. (I’ve heard good things about that author….)
There are six books there, and yes, a click will get you a Hot New Release, but there is nothing here to compel the user to click any given title (aside from rank). The publisher (whoever that might be) needs to provide a cover that will compel clicks on THEIR book over the other five.
I ask you, which book, other than the Eloisa James book, does that?
I expect Amazon to redesign this real-estate. They should remove “Kindle Edition” and show the author’s name so that buyers have more reasons to click. Plus, all these authors, except James, are losing name recognition moments. Free advertising that, in this set of covers, only accrues to James.
So, the image above was directly to the right of the one below. And you should be able to see why I was looking at this page.
Right. So at least these images have text that includes the author’s names. But that’s going to be the second or third thing people look at. Even if you have no interest in Scandal because you never heard of me, you see my name.
Miriam Minger has a similar success even with a cover that looks cramped. Those horizontal lines are a problem for Bolen’s books, too– whose name is barely legible and has a further problem with a busy background that distracts.
Now, I heartily dislike that P&P cover, but here I will give a pass on author name because the title is so famous. Yes. It’s Jane. Have we learned our lesson about horizontal lines? None of them are well done here.
The other two, well. The leftmost author’s last name is Cook. That’s really all you can read. And, I fear, someone seems to have actually tried to make Mary Campsi’s name invisible. It’s actually possible to look at the cover and think the author’s name is Sophie Seacrest.
The take away? I’m outselling Jane Austen in free books. Read it and weep. And who the hell is giving Jane fewer than 5 stars?
Some of you may know the current situation with Ellora’s Cave. If not, this post at Dear Author should get you to the information you need.
The TL;DR is that several authors who write for Ellora’s Cave have said they are not being paid money due them. The rumblings began at least a year ago. Recently, EC laid off all of its freelance staff. Jane at Dear Author recently wrote a post in which she discussed the ongoing situation at EC. The owner of EC has now sued Jane for defamation. Do head over to DA if you want to know more about this situation.
I am an author who was with a publishing company that was heading toward bankruptcy. (Dorchester Publishing) This post is about what the experience was like for me. My situation ended up with a silver lining, but the outcome I had was never certain, just as it is not certain for any of the EC authors who are wondering if they’ll ever get paid or if they are going to lose their books.
If you have books with a publisher in the Flush Pile, here’s what’s quite likely:
1. No, you are never going to be paid money owed to you.
2. Yes, you could well lose your books. Gone.
Every publishing contract I’ve ever signed has had a bankruptcy clause. The clause means nothing. Zero. Zlich. It might as well not be there. If your publisher declares bankruptcy, your book is an asset of the company to be liquidated and turned into cash to pay to creditors. Authors are dead last on the list of creditors.
At Dorchester, authors talked amongst themselves. Advances and royalties due to authors were paid slowly. Some of use waited months for advances to be paid. More and more often, authors just weren’t paid. Foreign rights got sold and authors were never told. Those monies never appeared on royalty statements. I was surprised, for example, to find that one of my books had a Dutch translation. Toward the end, I also learned about other translations I was never told about and never paid for. One of them did not even have a signed contract despite being on sale. As royalties continued to be paid in haphazard fashion, there were consolidations and reductions in books, imprints and staff, and sales of rights to backlist titles of prominent authors to other publishers. (Marjorie M. Liu’s titles were sold to Avon, for example.)
None of this is legal advice. I’m not a lawyer. But if you’re an EC author, I do have some non-legal advice. In fact, I have advice for ALL authors with traditional contracts.
In 2010, my agent, who did not represent me at the time of my Dorchester contracts, was working hard to get reversions for me. I wanted them anyway, because the books were out of print and/or I was not being paid the money due to me. Dorchester had not filed for bankruptcy, but there was wide speculation that they could not recover from their difficulties and a filing was felt by some to be inevitable. I was advised that it was possible that rights reversions made within the year prior to a bankruptcy filing could be deemed fraudulent and any reversions negated. I was horrified to learn there was case law to that effect.
Even before the non-payment issue was a severe problem, it was clear to me that at long last, there was a good reason (ie, self-publishing) for an author to vigorously pursue reversions for all books that met the criteria of the out of print clauses. I’d read all those clauses and had begun that process with all my titles well before this. And by the way, I was roundly ignored everywhere except for Harper-Collins, who noted the request and put it on their schedule for a decision 6 months later. Literally. The meeting was in 6 months. Let that sink in.
My reversions from Dorchester came through at the end of 2010. Other publishers were an even harder nut to crack. St. Martin’s Press was spectacularly uncooperative. Hachette — I don’t even have words. And I have loads of hind-sight advice about what reversion clauses should say.
Eventually, quite late in the game, and months after I had my Dorchester reversions, Amazon bought the Dorchester backlist. Authors were given the option of a reversion or publishing with their Romance or Horror imprint. I don’t recall if Amazon agreed to pay outstanding royalties to those authors or not. By then, I was thousands and thousands of dollars ahead of the money Dorchester owed me, and more than happy with my own outcome.
My Advice to Authors with A Publisher in the Flush Pile
My advice is going to sound harsh. But, assume you will never be paid. The risk of waiting to see if your publisher rights their ship is the complete loss of your rights in your books. This is your career and you must not fail to take steps to protect your back list and front list.
You should take steps now to get your rights back. Read the reversion clause of your contract(s) and for all books where you meet the criteria follow the requirements for requesting a reversion and get it in now. Right now. If you have titles for which you have not been paid, then request a reversion on the grounds of non-payment. Get a lawyer to help you, if you can afford it. This is your professional writing career on the line, and this is not the time to be nice.
If you elect to wait it out, then make sure you understand the nature of the risk you’re taking. It cannot be that you hope everything works out. You must be sure that you can accept the worst case outcome — you lose control of your books and will never recoup your losses and never make another penny from those titles. The books will disappear from the market and you lose all benefit that accrues to your author brand when you have multiple titles on sale to the public.
In the current environment, every title you control is a title that can be earning you money right now every month. This is NOT a “I don’t know if my book is good enough situation.” A publisher bought your book. Therefore, that book can be making you money right now and you only have to worry about the vendor paying you.
This is also not a situation where you need to find another publisher. That might have been true in 2009 but it’s not true now. An author with reverted backlist can decide whether she wants to self-publish on her own or find another publisher or something in between.
My Advice to Authors With Traditional Publishers or Considering The Traditional Route
For future contracts, negotiate the fuck out of your reversion clause. If the publisher is making you both money, that is awesome. But the minute you’re not both making money or you’re below a mutually satisfactory threshold, then you should be able to ask for and timely receive a reversion. There is no nice girl here. This is your business and you should be in control of its operations. Therefore, you need to stand firm on reversion clauses.
Do not assume a publisher has an interest in your book selling well. They should, but they don’t. Their interest is in seeing which books unexpectedly hit. That’s it. If it’s not you, you’re screwed.
I have 5 books still with traditional publishers and I know for a fact that if those books were in my control, I would be making more money and more effectively controlling my author brand and, therefore, my writing career. That was not the reality of publishing prior to 2010, but it’s the reality now.
General Update is a fine military man. I like him lots. I would share pictures with you, but I don’t want to get in trouble.
In other news, I will soon have the new covers for Passion’s Song, Not Wicked Enough, and Not Proper Enough.
I have the final print cover for A Notorious Ruin and hope to have a print proof pretty soon . . .
We’re zeroing in on the final cover for Christmas in The Duke’s Arms.
I’m hoping to see a sample for Dead Drop.
My son is back at college. The house is too quiet.
Today I found out the the boxed set I’m in, Seven Wicked Nights, debuted on the US Today Bestseller List at #126.
So. I am officially a USA Today Bestselling author. And that is gosh darned exciting for all the authors in the set. It’s a great collection of stories by some pretty wonderful authors. So if you didn’t pick up your copy yet, you should.
You should get this now. It’s $0.99 for a limited time. When else can you get a combination of stories like this? Answer: Right now. That’s it. Go.
I’ve been working toward getting new covers for my books, with the idea that they would essentially be branded, that is, they’d have a recognizable look and feel.
I uploaded the ones that are final to my Pinterest Board. You can see, I hope, the developing look and feel. I haven’t finished updating everything on my website yet. Soon. Very soon.
There were two major challenges. Good artwork and the fact that I write historical and paranormal under the same name. Cost was another. Setting up a custom shoot with professional models is more or less far outside my budget. Otherwise, I’d be taking to John Marron and guys like that.
That cost issue : with sufficient budget, I could get the models I want and the clothing required, and the models would know how sell the poses. ::dreaming:: I’ll circle back to that.
Regarding covers and design, first, I recognize my lack of design talent. I do understand the principles of typography and design, since in my web development days I worked closely with the graphic designers. It was in their interest to educate me since I was more or less in charge of the website. Having been schooled, I am very very aware of my shortcomings. That is why I don’t do my own covers.
Why our Gender Problem Makes The image Challenge Worse
At the moment, we live in a culture that uses women’s bodies to sell products. The female body is sexual (as if a man’s isn’t, too.) The cliche is “Sex Sells” But what they really mean is “Women Imaged as Sexually Available Sell.”
And that is a problem because, contrary to popular notions about Romance, A romance novel cover image (excluding erotica) isn’t about sex. It’s about the promise of love. If you go look at stock images and search for Romantic Couple you see pages and pages and pages of women who look like they’re auditioning for a porno movie. Virtually none of them look like they’re falling in love or about to fall in love.
It’s a disgrace. It’s offensive. Probably those Royalty Free sites have the dregs of a photoshoot where the excellent shots went elsewhere.
The clinch cover is not, as that idiot from Vox implied, all about ::giggle:: she wrote a word that has a naughty meaning so let’s read EVERYTHING as if it has that meaning!!! It’s damn near impossible to find a couple who look like there’s love somewhere in there.
And, 99% of the time, someone’s idea of a “historical” gown comes from a $4.99 Halloween costume.
Fortunately, there are now some additional sites dedicated to Romance Novel cover images that have good to great models. There are fashion experts who will loan their historically accurate clothing to the cause of a photoshoot. So, it’s easier than it used to be. As in, instead of impossible, it’s almost impossible.
The image Challenge
My first covers were severely hampered by two main things: the image problems, my talent problem. For some time I could get away with mediocre to good covers because there were others that were so bad … The bar was low and lots of authors benefited from that, whether they knew it or not. The fact that so many NY Romance covers were also just as terrible or worse also contributed to that low bar. I quickly realized that NY was using the same stock image sites as the rest of us. Some of my early covers were pre-made but with some custom typography work.
So, my goal then was to get my reverted titles on sale with the best cover I could manage given all the handicaps around that, and then to bring out front-list, too.
In early 2013, the cover bar got higher, or I got less tolerant of the shortcomings of my covers. I had good cover artists, but I wasn’t letting them do their job. I did have to learn to get out of the way. Early on, I wasn’t able to also get print covers made …. see lack of talent from me. The person I was working with at the time didn’t do print covers and I was not able to do them myself and be happy with the result and the time spent.
This was a problem for me. I ended up having almost no print presence, and that got to be a worse and worse situation, to the point where I had to find another artist. Ultimately, to get all the covers done, I ended up using two different people.
The 100% Improvement Dilemma
Here is a true fact. For ease of discussion, let’s pretend there’s the following spectrum of ability:
- Worst ever in history
- Never should see the light of day
- Not bad
- Almost good, if you squint
- I like it
- OMG that’s amazing
- Off the charts genius
Suppose you start out at horrible in the “Cover Ability” area. You get Photoshop or Gimp and learn a few things and voila! You have a cover that never should see the light of day. You have improved a lot. You work some more and now your cover merely sucks. You have improved 100% in ability, you can see that because look at the difference between where you started and where you are now! You can use the tools! Eyedropper! Oh, hey, fonts. That I did not buy.
But your covers are still terrible.
If you’re in the business of selling books, your covers need at minimum to be at least Nice. At least there. If you’re not an actual artist, chances are very very slim that the cover you think is Nice actually is.
It’s a skill. And it’s a separate skill from design. Courtney Milan wrote a post about this. Go read it. FYI, I Googled “Courtney Milan and the Duke’s Cock” to find and link to that post. It was more fun than it should have been. But I’m not even ashamed.
What I did, several several several months ago, was find someone good at typography and commission a custom name font. Anthony Piraino as it happens. It was a chunk of change but a more than acceptable business expense. I wanted a font that would work across genres, so it couldn’t look too historical or too paranormal. It’s not just a font with letters that spell my name. (grin) He made pixel level customizations to the shapes of some letters for me.
The first time I used it on a cover, I could see it looked — as it did. The effectiveness of the name font isn’t apparent until you see it on several covers. Then you can see the branding and how it pulls the books together.
Color and Contrast
What I know from my work on websites and from studying the hell out of my cover situation while I pondered solutions, was that in the digital space, thumbnails matter a lot. You need colors that contrast. There are a lot of things wrong with the current trend in historical covers, not the least of which is how bad they look at thumbnail size.
On a purely personal level, I don’t care for the pastel trend, in historicals particularly. I wanted vivid, vibrant jewel tones over a year ago and I wish I’d been in a position to get all my covers done then. I wasn’t able to make it happen, alas. I would have been WAY ahead of the curve. I’m sure that will change at some point and I’ll be looking for another composition and color effect.
A Key Difference
Here’s the thing. Across all the books I ever published traditionally, my covers were always branded to the publisher and/or imprint. Not to me. I got one cover and that was it. There were no do-overs, or huh. It’s not working, let’s try something else.
What I have done is replace covers that stopped working or were too divergent from the look I was trying to hit. What I’ve done or am in the middle of developing, is a look that says, this is a book by Carolyn Jewel. And that never happened when I was traditionally publishing. I got some fantastic covers. Several of them were distinctive enough to build off of … There was nothing cohesive across my name even at the same publisher.
I am shallow. Very shallow
I have spent a lot of time looking at images of men, women, and couples. Here’s a list of the things I began ruthlessly saying:
- She’s not pretty enough.
- He’s not handsome enough.
- Great body. Meh face.
- They look like they hate each other.
- That guy is SUPER DUPER cute but he isn’t ripped enough.
- Please, dude. You are not that good looking. Just stop it.
- Lady, could you at least TRY to look happy?
- Holy shit, he’s hot.