Saturday, July 28, 2012

Judging A Book By Its Cover

You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, or so they say. But in fact most people do, and I’m convinced the fact that I go to a lot of trouble choosing designs for my covers was one of the reasons I sold more than half a million eBooks last year.

The simple fact is that most readers are influenced by the cover of a book, and with an eBook the choice of cover is doubly important.

In a book shop a potential buyer can hold the book and flick through the pages. With an eBook all a buyer gets to see is a thumbnail picture.  And if that picture looks amateurish or unappealing then the potential buyer will move on to the next book.

I’ve never done my own covers – I just don’t have the talent or the skills.  But I see lots of self-
published writers who mistakenly think that playing around with Photoshop is all that’s necessary to produce a cover that sells.  I always use a designer – and it’s paid off.  My bestselling eBook The Basement alone sold more than 150,000 copies in 2010.

Recently I decided to write a series of erotic short stories that I plan to sell through Kindle and Smashwords and wanted to try a new designer.  But through an accident of fate I ended up dealing with two designers – which gave me the chance to compare styles and prices.

My first port of call was a designer called Carl Graves.  Carl has done lots of covers for eBook guru and self-publishing phenomenon Joe Konrath.

Carl had a sale a few months ago and I snapped up one of his ready-made covers for just $150 and used it for my erotic short story Banging Bill’s Wife.  It was the perfect cover for that story and so when I wanted covers for three more erotic stories I sent him an email asking if he’d be interested. The stories – which at that point I hadn’t actually written – were THE ALPHABET GAME, THE PREGNANT WIFE and THE THREESOME.

I sent Carl a rough treatment of each story and waited to hear back from him. After a couple of weeks I emailed Carl again but when I still didn’t get a reply I started looking for another designer.  That’s not as easy as it sounds – I Googled and Googled but didn’t find many decent designers. Most appeared to be offering the same old designs done from the same templates, and I got the impression that a lot of the sites were simply middlemen and not actual designers. 

I tried one designer who had done two covers for a self-published writer friend of mine but he turned me down – I later discovered he is a committed Christian so I guess the subject matter was a problem for him!

Eventually I stumbled across Dafeenah Jameel at Indie Designz and sent her the treatments.  She offered to do three covers for a total of $175 (£110), which I reckoned was an absolute bargain.
But within hours of agreeing Dafeenah’s price, I got an email from Carl - he’d been having internet problems which is why I hadn’t heard back from him. Carl had already started work on the covers and was quoting me a price of $900 (£570) in total.  He usually charges $400 a cover but was giving me a discount.

Because both designers had already started work I thought it wouldn’t be fair to cancel either of them. And besides I realised it would give me a chance to compare their work – and prices.
Both came through with initial designs within a few days, and both were very open to suggestions.  Both had final designs finished within a week and to be honest I was well pleased with all of them.

It was interesting to see their different approaches. Carl does a lot of thrillers and horror books and has more of an “in your face” style.  Dafeenah has a softer approach with more of a “Mills and Boon” feel.
I think that’s best shown with the covers they did for THE ALPHABET GAME. Carl has a girl with a scorpion tattoo sitting astride a guy, and below them a Thai house on stilts.  (The house was one of the themes I specifically asked for).

Daffenah’s was much more romantic, with the couple sharing a kiss.

I put both covers up on my Facebook page and asked my fans for their views – and they were unanimous that Carl’s was the one they liked for an erotic story.  I agreed and that’s the one I’m using, but I really liked the cover that Dafeenah did so I asked her to put a different title on it. I’m planning a story called THE COUNTRY GIRL and I think her cover will be perfect for that.

For my story THE PREGNANT WIFE, I prefer Dafeenah’s cover, mainly because the female figure is so much more erotic.   But Carl’s cover does capture the theme of the book, about a guy who becomes besotted with a pregnant girl.

For THE THREESOME I prefer Carl’s cover, and I like the way he has the title in triplicate.  But I wouldn’t have a problem with using Dafeenah’s.

Dafeenah's version - 

Carl's version -

So who will I use in future?  Actually, I’m going to be using both. They were both very professional and they’re both very talented.

I think Carl is probably the better call for thrillers, and for novels that I know will generate a lot of sales.  He isn’t cheap so if a book is only selling a few dozen copies a month it will take a long time to earn enough to pay for one of his covers. And he's pretty slow at replying to emails, I guess because he is so busy.

Dafeenah’s covers seem more romantic and I’ll definitely use her for any more erotic stories that I write.  But her low prices mean that she’s a great bet for those books and stories that I give away for free.  I have already asked her to design a cover for an eBook of short stories that I’m planning called SHORT FUSES.  Because I’ll be giving the eBook away price is an important consideration and Dafeenah charged me less than £40. I would definitely recommend her for any self-published authors who are on a tight budget!

I’ll be putting the stories on Kindle and Smashwords over the next few weeks. I’m not sure how well they’ll sell but I am sure of one thing – they’ll be selling better than if I’d done the covers myself.

  Dafeenah’s website is at


  1. EBook covers are very variable in detail. I can't say that I take much notice of the cover page in deciding whether to buy a book.

    That said, I'd like to note that 'False Friends' is being released tomorrow, I've got no idea what the cover will look like (and I don't care) and I've had it on pre-order for what seems like months.

    I'm cursing the time zone difference that means that I'll have to wait till the late afternoon before I get my hands on it.

    1. OK, I've just finished 'False Friends'. A definite 5 stars. Is the 10th in the process of being written yet? I'm already impatient for it... In the meantime I think I'll read 'the Fireman'.

    2. Glad you enjoyed it! The Fireman was one of my very early books, I'd be interested to know what you think of it!