Why asking for feedback on your book cover is mostly useless

I tell my book cover clients to get a lot of feedback – especially when they’re starting to commit to an idea I disagree with. Authors can often get too close and personal with their covers; they stare at the options for hours, making decisions, slowly forming a bond that is hard to break.

Which means, when they ask for feedback, they are really asking for confirmation.

They say, “Which of these do you like? I like this one…” and then continue to explain why their choice is the best choice. 9 times out of 10, the other person will agree with them. But that’s not the only reason getting feedback on your book cover is usually a waste of time. Here are some others:

1. Nobody will agree

If you have a large following, you may get hundreds of comments, and rigorously keep track of votes, and find everybody is pretty much split between all your options, or offer even more recommendations that you aren’t prepared to make. So you’ll end up making the decision yourself anyway.

2. You aren’t asking your target audience

If you ask your followers or Facebook friends, it isn’t likely that those same people are readers of the particular genre. They may not know what books in that genre should look like. They may not find appealing the things you used to appeal to your target readers. Which means all of their feedback and advice is dangerously misguided.

3. They approach the cover differently

A buyer on Amazon would glance at the cover for a second, click and glance again at the bigger size, then read the book summary. You’re asking people to really consider the cover itself. They’ll look at it, think about it, dissect it, criticize it. Of course they will find things they don’t like or that could be improved. Their interaction with your cover is very different from the natural interaction of would-be buyers, as such you can’t rely on their feedback.

4. Aesthetics vs. Function

The most beautiful or “best-looking” cover is not necessarily the winner. The cover’s job is to convey the genre and subject immediately to target readers. You want to make an emotional connection (for fiction) and attract readers who would be interested in your genre/subject. If you can’t do it all with the pictures, you do it with the title or subtitle by hitting the right keywords.

When you ask people to vote on their favorite cover, they ignore that stuff and vote on the one they think looks the best.

5. The limited-set problem

You may be asking friends and followers to choose between a handful of covers. If you have 5 amazing, excellent covers to choose from, any of them would work. But it’s more likely you have 5 mediocre covers, and none of them is a great option. If you made them yourself or hired a designer, you’ll probably be pretty excited about them already and maybe have your heart set on one (especially if you made it yourself, and have spent hours and hours working on it, you’ll get attached).

Feedback on mediocre covers won’t lead to a better cover, unless you’re getting feedback from really brilliant cover designers, who know a lot about using design to sell books.

Case Study

book cover design

She’s using this one right now, trying to merge the best features. It’s very clean and nice, although the pink script font in #4 says “Romance” more clearly, it’s still an attractive cover. See it on Amazon.

 

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6. The “expert panel” problem

A lot of authors use their “publishing team” for feedback – which may include their book marketer, small press, proofreader or copyeditor. Or it might just be some “indie publishing experts” who blog about self-publishing. Sometimes this works out well – for example a previous client of mine ignored my recommendations, until his team told him he should improve his cover; when he came back to me I just urged him to use the really good one I’d already made, but he hadn’t wanted. He showed it to his team and they loved it.

But a lot of other times, an author gets feedback that is in line with general indie publishing thinking about book cover design (a lot of which is wrong). Most editing websites, or author services sites, or small press websites, are ugly and unprofessional. Just because they know something about publishing doesn’t mean they really know what kind of covers sell books; and if they can’t get their shit together to make a professional and well-designed website for their own business, they shouldn’t be giving you advice on your book cover.

It isn’t about which cover looks the best – it’s about which cover most effectively conveys the essential qualities that readers need to recognize instantly to affect their purchase decision. It’s not a game, and it’s not a nuanced thing where everybody will have different but equally valid opinions. Different covers will sell a different number of books, and selling more books should always be your only consideration when it comes to book design.

“Book cover design by panel consensus” is dangerous territory. Any piece of art worked on by a group of artists will be incongruous and strange. And the real danger (for me at least) is that all my cover designs are pretty good, so if the client chooses one and his team likes it (but recommends some big changes like “make the text bigger and darker and bolder”) everybody will be pretty happy – except me, because my really brilliant work won’t get seen, and the author won’t sell as many books (two things that are bad for my business).

So how do you know if your cover is any good?

Despite the limitations raised above, it’s still really important to find out whether your book cover is good enough to sell the book.

Here’s a test you can use:

Get the covers for 5 other bestselling books in your genre – your direct competition. Try to get the mainstream published ones (they usually have a reasonably good design standard). Some indie book covers are great too, but if you pick out the ones that you like, you don’t have a consistent measure or standard for what qualifies as “good design.”

Then, print the covers out along with your book cover, or photoshop them together. Block out all the author names. Now ask people to vote on them. Ideally, people will pick your cover over those other books!

But failing that, your cover should at least get picked as a favorite as much as any other cover. If nobody picks your cover, ever, then the others are all much better than yours.

Another way to do it is to use Google or Facebook ads showing the different covers (make each ad with the exact same text, but change the covers). Then just see which get clicked on the most. You can also use “Boosted Posts” – post each cover on Facebook with a short description, with “click if you like this book cover”, then boost the post for $15. See which one gets liked the most.

However, you’d really need to get a few hundred clicks before you get reliable data.

You can also just use a cover for a few months, and change to another one for a few weeks to see if your sales improve. It’s easy to switch the covers on Kindle

When should you ask for feedback

Even though getting feedback from followers or friends may not be useful, it can be helpful for reader interaction. People like to be involved.  Make sure you narrow it down to 2 or 3 really good choices, then ask for comments and feedback – then boost that post for engagement. Asking for feedback on the design is much more effective than doing a “reveal” of the final cover.

Just don’t take the comments and advice too seriously, and if you’re really stuck, email a few high quality book cover designers for their feedback (you can email me too if you want. I’m becoming somewhat of a book cover guru since I publish a lot of research and case studies on how book cover design impacts book sales).

Warning signs that you have an ugly cover:

  • You have a lot of good reviews, but sales aren’t as good as you would like
  • When you email people about your book and include the cover, they don’t respond (or you get a lot of rejection)
  • When you ask people about your cover, they give feedback but you ignore it because “they just don’t get it”

It’s a difficult situation – what we really need is a “hot or not” style website for book cover design (I’ll probably make one this year).

But a book cover makes a huge impact on your sales, marketing, reviews and everything else. Don’t just pick the one you like. Often getting a designer to make exactly what you have in mind is a terrible idea – because you’ve mapped out a detailed “scene.” Or you’ve made book cover choices based on your opinions and not market testing or sales data.

Don’t assume you’re “right” about your book cover design – there is no right.

There are only more sales and less sales.

A BETTER COVER WILL SELL MORE BOOKS.

MORE SALES ARE GOOD FOR YOU, your book and your author platform.

 

About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me
  • It’s a tough subject, the takeaway is don’t get too attached, and always use the cover that’s going to sell the best.

  • Most people don’t know the purpose of the book cover – when you understand the purpose, you can make a cover under 10 minutes.

    I challenge you to a design battle ” same title, subtitle and author name” we put side by side two covers one made by you and one made by me and we will ask people which cover do they notice first.

    I’ll even give you an advantage – I have no skills in photoshop.

    We won’t say which cover is who’s until we get some data extracted, then we’ll reveal the results – how about that for fun?

    Are you in, or you’re a pussy? 🙂

    This is the confidence everyone should have. I sell this stuff. 🙂

    • That’s a fun challenge, I’d be happy to take you up on it but only if we change the terms – use each cover for a month and see which cover sells the best. Getting noticed first doesn’t convert to sales, and a bold, confident title will almost always alienate the target readers for certain genres – and you say you only use 1 font per cover. I’m absolutely certain my covers will outsell yours, even if yours get noticed first.

      • I don’t know if we can sell same title and same subtitle. There’s a lot of criteria in sales – and cover image, which isn’t sloppy isn’t something that makes you sell more. It would be good to actually test it even with sales.

        I’ve seen some letters slapped on a cover and it sells. your credibility is something that makes the sales.

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