Saturday, 30 August 2014

Read this guide before making or choosing your book cover.

They say 'Don't judge a book by it's cover,' so it doesn't really matter

What complete rubbish! Getting a book cover right is vital because unless it catches the eye of someone looking for a book, they will never read the description, never read a sample and never make a purchase. If you are an indie author your cover will make a huge difference to your sales.

The Cover Image

Few books are successful without some sort of cover image. A good cover image should give the reader an idea of the book content. Look at the image used without any title or author text. Does it give you an idea of what to expect? Take a look at the five covers shown above. Do any of them match this book description?
With her mom in prison, and her father AWOL, ..... is sent to live with a squeaky-clean family who could have their own sitcom. She launches a full-scale plan to get sent back to the girls’ home when she finds herself in over her head...and heart. 

Is there any sort of formula for judging a cover image? I would suggest looking at it without the text. Does the image give any idea of the book content? I'm judging them on Amazon's thumbnail size - what a reader will see first.
  • Silent as the grave - A large, old house, possibly an institution of some kind? Certainly NOT a castle as the book description indicates - Expectation: Ghost? Horror? 
  • Fresh doubt - Looks like a derelict factory. No clues here other than a man is standing in it - Expectation: Business venture?
  • In between - A young girl, obviously not well off. She's going somewhere - Expectation: New situation for a teenage girl
  • To kill for - This image is too dark to make out at this scale. If you examine the book preview you can make out the object in it is a blood splattered tyre ('tire' for US readers) wrench. It can't be made out clearly at the thumbnail size though. Pretty useless as an image. It's the author name and title text which will sell here - Expectation: Something 'dark'
  • Where there's smoke - Someone with a lamp overlooking a desert or sea; it could be either at this scale. The clothing doesn't look western style - Expectation: Story about Africa or Asia

Author Name

Of all the text on a book cover, the most important bit is not the book title but the author name! Take a look at the top five free e-books at Amazon UK (4:00pm Saturday 30th August 2014)

Notice how clear the author’s name is in each case? Many new authors make the mistake of selling a book title when they should be selling their brand. Once you’ve bought and read a particular title you wouldn’t buy it again but you might search for other books by that author. An author’s name is their brand. Make the author name clearly visible even at Amazon's smallest thumbnail size of 58 x 87 pixels. Here's an example at that size:

The Title (and sub-title)

A good title is one which will catch interest without a cover image helping it. Consider these titles:
Do any of them grab your attention? My analysis is as follows - I'll explain EMV in a moment.
  • 'Silent as the grave' suggests to me a paranormal death experience - EMV without the subtitle 0% but with it 41.67%
  • 'Fresh Doubt' suggests something to do with a criminal conviction - EMV score with or without subtitle 0%
  • 'In Between' suggests a change of lifestyle and the use of 'production' in the subtitle possibly indicates a theatre or film. - EMV score without subtitle 0%, with 50%
  • 'To Kill For' suggests a murder. The use of 'family' and 'trust' makes it much more interesting - EMV score with subtitle 60%
  • 'Where There's Smoke' suggests the reader add 'there's fire' at the end and implies one event suggests another - EMV score 0% even if you include the 'there's fire'
Two things you need to know - 
  1. According to Mark Coker of Smashwords, fiction books with shorter titles tend to do better. The top 100 best selling books average 4-5 words
  2. EMV stands for Emotional Marketing Value. Words in various languages have been analysed for their emotional impact. Normal English has about 20% words which carry emotional marketing value. A really good title would have 40%. 60% is excellent
Of course you want to know how to measure the EMV of your title. It's easy to do on-line at Enter your headline in the box and select 'Media & Communications' as the category. Your title must be at least four words (and less than 20). If your title is shorter than that, add some neutral words such as 'as', 'the', 'and' or 'if' until you have four words. Remember - as the 'Fresh Doubt' and 'Where there's smoke' books show, it's possible to have a successful book with a low EMV score but you'll need an exceptional cover image or a recognised author name for that.

Getting a cover made for a low price

If you’re really stuck for cash and you can’t produce your own cover then consider getting a cover from This site will put you in touch with a number of people who will produce a cover for just $5.00. Use caution here though – make sure any images they use are not copyright.

What are your views?

I used the five top free ebooks at Amazon as my examples. I have not read any of them (yet) so I can't honestly suggest you read/don't read any of them. If you are interested, I've added a link to each which takes you to your local Amazon. There is no guarantee they will always be free though - check before you download.
I would be interested to find if you agree with my analysis of the images and titles though. Feel free to add your own interpretation in the comments


It’s more than two years since I recorded the position of those books at Amazon UK. Where are they now? (September 2017)
Silent as the Grave is no longer free (£1.99). It ranks #210,656 in paid books. It’s no longer given a ‘bestseller rank.’
Fresh Doubt is no longer free (£1.99). It’s doing quite well at #20,762 in paid. It’s now #274 in International Mystery & Crime.
In Between is still free and performing strongly at #267 in free books. It’s #2 and #3 bestsellers in three romance genres
To Kill For is still free and #1,192 in free books. It has a new cover It’s #5 bestseller in Crime Fiction > Noir

Where There’s Smoke is no longer free (£0.99). It ranks #3,214 in paid books. It’s now #62 bestseller in Women's Literary Fiction

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And here's the cover - see what you think:
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Sunday, 10 August 2014

Getting your e-book price right - And the Amazon / Hachette war

Will Amazon bury the hatchet?

Until recently there was a war about e-book prices going on between Amazon and Hachette. Authors were stuck in the middle and those published by Hachette were losing sales and income. Indie authors stood to benefit if Hachette won though.

What Amazon wanted.

Amazon, a multi-billion dollar on-line sales empire, wanted to lower e-book prices because they've found that lower prices mean more sales and although each sale makes them less money, the increase in sales more than makes up for this. In a letter to KDP authors they stated:
Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We've quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.
It's rare for Amazon to give authors useful information like this. What they are saying is that if you reduce the price by 2/3rds you'll get a 75% increase in sales.  It's not just Amazon who say this, Mark Coker of Smashwords has given facts and figures which say similar things.

What Hachette wants

Hachette, a multi-billion dollar, publishing empire wanted the right to sell their books at whatever price they think fit. In general that means up to $15.00 but in practice their top 14 books sell at an average price of  $8.49 ranging from $12.99 to free

So who was being unreasonable?

Hachette obviously agree with Amazon that reducing prices leads to more sales and higher earnings. If they didn't, then their prices would have a higher average. But, they wanted the right to charge more for new ebooks from their top authors. This allows them to charge more for their paper books which would otherwise lose sales to e-books. They are obviously protecting their printing business. Amazon liken this to the introduction of the paperback book which in its day had its vitriolic opponents but which turned out to increase publisher's profits. Amazon say there is no justification for high e-book prices nor is there justification for the royalty share from e-books given to authors. Both sides are right. Both sides make valid arguments and neither is being unreasonable from their point of view. That isn't the same point of view for the reader or author though.

So where did this leave authors?

If you currently publish independently through Amazon their ebook price policy makes a big difference to the royalty you receive.
Minimum price - $0.99
$0.99 to $2.98 you get a 35% royalty
$2.99 to $9.99 you get a 70% royalty less a delivery charge
$10.00 upwards you get a 35% royalty
Here's what that means in terms of real money in your pocket. I'll assume an 80,000 word novel with a delivery charge of $0.10.

 As you can see, once the price is $10.00 or more you'll actually earn less money per book sold until your book has a price of $20 or more. This chart doesn't take into account total book sales however. If you include that you get a different picture. Fortunately Amazon have started offering a 'KDP Pricing Support (Beta)' service which attempts to predict authors optimum price. To get this prediction for your book at Amazon navigate to your dashboard at KDP. Click the 'Bookshelf' link at the top. Find the book you want the prediction for and at the right choose  'Edit Rights, Royalty and Pricing.' Click the button 'View Service' in section 8.

Here's what Amazon predict will be the effect on author earnings of changing the price of an e-book selling 40 copies per month at $3.39.
It seems Amazon suggest authors should increase their prices here.
Taking a different book selling just 22 copies per month at $3.99 Amazon suggest:
This time they suggest a price reduction.

Whether this new beta service will work remains to be seen. There are a lot of variables involved. In the case of the two books above for example, they are both part of a series. If sales of the first book drop there will be a corresponding drop in the sales of the second book. Perhaps a slight price rise to $3.99 would be justified but $7.99? If this was the first or second book in a series it would be likely to kill the rest of the series. Reducing the price of the other book is well worth considering though. The great thing about being an independent author is that you are free to change prices to find the best level as often as you wish.

What about authors publishing through one of the big five publishers?

All bets are off here. Amazon appear to negotiate different royalty rates with the big five. That 70% rate may hold for e-books retailing at more than $9.99 Neither Amazon nor the big five are telling but what we do know is that authors are getting as little as 25% of e-book sales as a royalty. Amazon suggests this is too low a rate.

What if Amazon wins the dispute?

For readers, the price will come down. Authors established with the big five publishers will see their earnings go up. Independent authors will see increased competition and a consequent drop in their earnings.

What if Hachette wins the dispute?

Prices will remain much the same. The best possible outcome would be for Amazon to extend their 70% royalty rate to cover books costing between $2.99 and $14.99. That might lead to a gradual price rise which would benefit authors as a whole. In the meantime high prices for e-books from the big five publishers mean independent authors can undercut established authors to get their foot on the first rung of the success ladder.

So what should Indie authors do?

Amazon suggested we all write to Hachette supporting Amazon. Do they honestly think that Hatchette will take notice of authors who are not using their services? If Hatchette were to do the same, would indie authors increase their prices and demand Amazon pay a 70% royalty on books $9.99 to $14.99? My personal opinion is the best thing we can do is stay out of this one. What's your view?

This dispute is now settled

Although the dispute is settled, it's not obvious who the winner was. Mark Coker of Smashwords said:
According to carefully worded statements this week by Amazon and Hachette - neither of which boasted of victory - Hachette will retain Agency pricing control yet conceded to certain unnamed Amazon demands that will incentivize lower pricing from Hachette.
It seems that Hachette got most of what they want which is good news for indie authors. Sadly that doesn't mean Amazon will extend their 70% royalty rate. That's good news for readers though.

If this post has helped or entertained, will you help us? Download a FREE copy of our book 'Immortality Gene' from
Even if you never read it (we hope you will) - it will help our rankings.
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Sunday, 3 August 2014

Why are so many authors making things difficult for themselves?

Making things difficult
I periodically return to my list of authors and go through it to add genre and location to my spreadsheet. I also add other authors I come across. I'm amazed at the number of authors who make things difficult for their readers to find out information.
  • Lots of authors don't have a website or blog
  • Lots of authors don't use Facebook or have their page set as 'private'.
  • Lots of authors don't use Twitter
  • Lots of authors don't have a Pinterest page
Where an author does have a discoverable website or blog they often fail to mention their Twitter name - mine is @JChapmanAuthor, Facebook page - mine is, Pinterest page - mine is Some don't even give a clue as to the genres they write in; we are supposed to guess that from the book covers.
Of those who have a discoverable Twitter presence, I'm amazed at the number who hamper their followers by using TrueTwit - If you are one of them, I suggest you read Mary C Long's 'How TrueTwit Helps You Help It Make Money – And Waste A Ton Of Time' at

I'm astonished that some authors make their Twitter accounts private. By all means make a personal account private but your author account should be made public and shouted from the rooftops!

I'm amazed by the authors who think it's good to respond to being followed with an auto-message promoting a book. While on the subject of automessages, some authors seem to think it's OK to automatically auto-unfollow those who unfollow and auto-tweet that information. Have they never heard that Twitter sometimes unfollows people? If you are going to unfollow - wait a month or so and autotweeting that '5 tweeps unfollowed me. Know who your latest unfollowers are? Find them at...' simply proves you are a vengeful person and maybe not a nice person to follow in the first place.

I'm amazed by authors who obviously buy Twitter followers and make that fact public by promoting buy follower posts. I can only think of one possible excuse for buying followers - to get round Twitter's 2000 followers rule. Any followers you get from purchasing will be otherwise useless and are likely to destroy your reputation. I usually block those who post these messages.
As to Facebook, some author accounts are simply a list of books and 'What I did today' posts. No interaction, no sharing. Boring and no fun!
Are you guilty? If so, then I think you are shooting your book sales in the foot. I doubt if I've covered everything. Can you think of some other examples of bad author practice?