Why I hate Cover Wars and Book Cover Contests

trophiesCover design contests and “cover wars” are becoming a staple of indie book promotion and marketing. For awhile I’ve been quietly voicing concern but I thought it about time to take a stronger position.

Here’s why:

1. The underlying assumption behind book cover contests and cover wars is that the best designed cover will win. This is rarely true. Instead, it’s a popularity contest that rewards whichever author promotes themselves most aggressively.

2. This encourages spammy self-promotion links like “Go Vote for My Book Cover!!!!”

3. All the traffic leads back to the contest host, which is great for that website – but not so good for you! Why work so hard building up somebody else’s business, when all they are doing is charging you to enter, and then letting you do their marketing for them?

4. Indie book covers are already ugly, why are we giving out awards to ugly covers instead of finding ways to reward beautiful ones? (There are a few cover contests that actually choose nice covers, but most don’t).

Here’s why you should probably do them anyway

Despite my nay-saying, however, abstaining from cover contests and wars won’t really accomplish much either.

1. It’s usually cheap to enter and it puts your book in front of new readers.

2. The host website will usually do a lot of promoting for you.

3. Your book will get seen by a lot of people.

4. It doesn’t hurt to enter, regardless of who wins.

5. Voting on something is an easy way to build reader engagement and a loyal following.

As “Indie Books” on Twitter says (linking to their cover war on Masquerade Crew, a site whose design represents the standard of indie authors):

The true power of Cover Wars are the authors themselves and their fans. Sign up today!

And they’re right, kind of. Authors should be working together to cross promote. They should be promoting themselves less and promoting other authors more.

But trying to get your fans to go and vote for your book cover may backfire: there are better ways to increase engagement. You don’t want to ask your fans for a bunch of favors. Why should they care whether your book cover wins some contest? Wouldn’t you rather run your own contest to build up your sales or reviews? Couldn’t you engage with them more personally by asking them a question or trying to find out more about them?

Cover wars and contests are powerful because they take a bunch of other people’s content (book covers) and put it all together to give other people something interesting to look at, and then involve them by asking them to vote.

Altogether it’s a smart marketing idea and business move. If you’re an indie author, you should be thinking of ways you can help other author’s books get more visibility (so that you can build your platform, because it works way better than just trying to promote yourself!)

As a book cover designer, I’m resistant to the fundamental principle (it’s like putting a Van Gogh next to a Dali, and then counting up which artist has the most friends and declaring the winner the best painter).

I’m also adverse to poorly designed websites who use amateur and annoying promotion tactics charging indie authors money to show off their books, but it probably does work a little, help to sell more books, and possibly grow the reader’s fanbase.

If you don’t want to grow a real platform of your own, and just want to sell a few more books this month, and paying somebody else seems easier than doing hard stuff like developing your own content and attracting readers to your site with helpful or entertaining articles, then I see no reason not to go ahead and sign up.

Just don’t assume it means anything about the quality of your book cover – and the quality of your book cover is THE REAL THING you need to be worried about; because if you have an ugly book cover, all of your marketing efforts, no matter how much money you spend, will fail.

What the world really needs is a place you can upload your book cover, and they will tell you just how ugly it is, and make you a new one for free. Kind of like this one I just made, except I’ll only do a few free redesigns a month.

www.doesmycoversuck.com

PS) I know there are some book cover contests out there that aren’t just popularity contests – please share the ones you recommend in the comments. Also, if you joined a cover contest or cover war and saw a big bump in sales, please post the details!

 

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
  • joelfriedlander

    I would recommend the contest run on my site each month, the Ebook Cover Design Awards. There’s no voting, and no way to influence the outcome. Virtually all covers get a short (sometimes very short!) critique, and badges are awarded for the best covers each month. It’s simple and free, with a lot of participation. (And Derek has won several times for his covers.) You can check out the latest one here: http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2014/08/e-book-cover-design-awards-july-2014/

    • Absolutely Joel! Several times while writing this post I almost said “excluding Joel Friedlander’s cover contest because he gives real advice.” But I didn’t want to play favorites – in my recent books though I made sure to mention your cover contest.

      • Bridget McKenna

        Yep. Joel’s contest is the real deal. Educational in the extreme.

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