[WARNING: This type of post has been controversial in the past. Many designers don’t like it because we use methods to hack the design process and get more quality work than you should ever be able to get for the money. My goal here is to give entrepreneurs and authors an effective tool for getting designs cheaper than they would be able to otherwise. Don’t resist the tools available to us – learn to use them.]
“Never judge a book cover,” is a cliché attempting to reverse our instinct to make permanent judgements immediately.
When you go on a date you know whether it was a good or bad idea in the first twenty seconds. As soon as you make a judgement you’re probably not going to change it.
Think about how you buy books. I almost exclusively buy books that are:
- Recommended to me by somebody I trust (or cited in a book I love).
- Released by one of my favorite authors.
- Catch my eye as I’m browsing the bookstore or Amazon.
This post will show you how to get a book cover that is guaranteed to get attention and master the third scenario.
You know how hard it is to write a book. You’ve been through pain of birthing something that you truly care about. Don’t lose steam and half-ass the cover.
It’s your duty to get your ideas into as many minds as possible. An effective book cover is one of your most powerful tools to sell books. Make it count.
I am going to show you how to:
- Brainstorm design ideas and communicate them to designers.
- Get about 50 designs made for cheap.
- Test which cover is most effective with your audience (while building your email list).
- Determine the best book cover based on your collected data.
- Make the final decision on what book cover you want to use.
You may want to bookmark this page for later reference. For now, read the whole thing to get an overview of the process and see if you have any questions about it. If you come across any problems not addressed, feel free to comment below and I’ll help as best I can.
Before we go on, congratulations on your book! You’ve taken a massive step. You’re probably exhausted and ready to move onto the next project (or am I just projecting that onto you?). Don’t drop the ball now! Follow through and make this book kick ass! You will thank yourself when it’s flying off the shelves – digital or not.
Step 1: Conceptualizing and Communicating the Design
The bulk of the creative work for your cover will be done by an army of designers online. Even some of the critical decisions will be made by other people when you set up the tests for your book. You may not have a real specific idea of what you want your book cover to look like but you need to have some idea of what you want it to convey. This step will help you help the designers make the best possible book cover.
Write down the answers to the following questions. Actually write them down. RIGHT MEOW!
That reminds me, sometimes to get creative it’s good to see something funny. I present to you: 83 seconds from the legendary Super Troopers:
Okay, MEOW let’s get some design ideas!
- Sum up your book in 1-3 sentences. These should include the major ideas in your book.
- Write down the first 30 words you associate with your book. It’s fine if they don’t make any sense. Just get 30 down.
- Now add 10 more, but make all of these images that you associate with the ideas.
- Go to the Amazon.com. Scroll through the most popular Kindle books and notice which grab your attention. How did they get your attention?
- Go to a physical book store and do the same thing.
- Check out The Book Cover Archive and find some inspiration.
- Are there any elements of style that stuck out to you when looking at books?
- Check out COLORlovers and see if any color schemes stick out to you. Pick 10 of them that could make sense for your ideas.
Okay, even if you did 5% of the above you now have some idea of what you’d like to see on or express with your book cover. Now we’re going to put together a design brief that we’ll use in the next step to communicate your vision of the book cover to designers.
NOTE: Don’t be worried if you have no idea what you want your cover to look like. There are plenty of capable of designers who love having free reign creatively. Specificity is only important if you have a concrete idea. If you have a feeling that you want communicated, they can do that; you just have to be open to more varied designs.
Here are the things you need to include in your design brief:
- The goal of the book.
- What you want people to feel (what they feel is more important than what they think) when they see the book cover.
- What imagery do you want used? If you’re in love with a certain image, tell them. Otherwise you can give a suggestion and say that you’re not too attached to it. In the case of Self-Made U, I just told them I want imagery that makes the viewer feel a certain way. I wasn’t in love with any particular symbols.
- If you have color palettes you like a lot then suggest them like you did the imagery.
- Emphasize the need for your book cover to stick out. It sounds obvious, but explicitly underlining the importance of remarkability will push the designers to make stand-out work.
- If there are certain books you want modeled then include their titles.
- Whatever else you think is important.
This is a picture of my brief. Keep in mind that some of the information is in attachments separate from the text.
Time to get your cover designed!
Step 2: Getting Great Designs
Go to 99Designs right now. There’s no place on the internet where you can get more quality creative hours for the price. It’s absurd.
A lot of designers hate it because they think it undermines what they do. The thing is, most self-published writers don’t want to spend thousands of dollars to get a book cover. Well, I want to, but that’s just a bad idea. For anybody looking to maximize their value, this is the place to go. You’ve got to think like an entrepreneur here, maximize value!
If you hire a single designer it will be difficult to get many variations. They may change a few things but you’ll almost definitely need to pay for any kind of full redesign. With 99Designs I was able to get 65 designs for $300. Pretty badass, huh?
Most people who run contests on 99Designs to get that kind of response. I’ve got some ninja moves that will make sure you get the best designs possible.
Time to get designers working on your book cover!
The Best Way To Launch A Contest
- Okay, time to actually go to 99Designs.
- Register an account. Give them all your details. Tell them about your love life, your childhood, your social security address, and whatever else they want. (Don’t do those things. But do register. You won’t get far without registering.)
- Start a “Book Cover Design” contest.
- Fill out the Design Brief (use your answers from Step 1 here).
- On the next page, Contest Details, I make two changes. First, set it to a $300 bronze (it says to expect 30 designs – I ended up with 65 entries). Second, make sure it’s a Blind Contest. (If the option for blind contest isn’t there, make a special request to the 99Designs team to make it one.)
- Pay for your contest then launch it! You are now LIVE!
Hacking Your Contest!
This section is imperative. If you don’t do these next steps then you are robbing yourself of the best possible book cover and hundreds of dollars in value.
It’s time to hunt down great designers and boost their egos while asking them to participate in your contest. This is how I got 65 entries when I should have only gotten something like 30.
- Click “Browse” from the top menu bar.
- Click “Book and Magazine” from the “Categories” box on the right.
- Now open the top 15 contests in new tabs. (On a Mac, you can do this by holding “command” and clicking on the links.)
- In each contest, open up the “Designer” page and open up 5 designer pages.
- Go to each designer’s profile and send them a message. Here’s the one used for Self-Made U:
I was going through some Book Cover designs and noticed yours in a couple of contests. I thought they were really awesome, you’re an awesome designer! I just launched a Book Cover contest, and I was hoping I could get some of your design brilliance in there 😀
Hope to see your work in there!
Ohhh yeah, rub that ego good. These are people you want participating in your contest. You’ve seen there work, let them know how much you like it! If you do this right you will be able to get designers who only go for the higher-priced contests to compete in yours.
Send this message to at least 100 designers. If it’s a really important design then do even more. This is a tedious task but don’t discount it. The more messages you send the more designs you’ll get. Beyond that, it’s good to explore the work of all these different designers.
Here is a small taste of designs we got back:
Step 3: Set Up Your Book’s Landing Page (i.e. Test Site)
You now have a bunch of great book cover designs but you don’t know which to use! You’ve probably selected some of your favorites but you don’t know which will be most effective to get people to act. Most people will guess about this or do a poll of a few friends. You’re not most people.
You’re going to collect a whole bunch of data about each of your favorite covers. You’re going to let people show you what their favorite cover is based on real actions; this is infinitely more useful than opinions.
This single step will teach you an immensely valuable skill: setting up landing pages. You will be able to use this for any product launch you do. I promise you the effort will be more than worth it. Like way more than worth it.
To get an idea of what we’re making here, you can check out the Self-Made U launch page. A screen-capture of it is below:
- Go to LeadPages and sign up. Gasp! It’s not free! It’s worth it, I promise. Get the annual one and it ends up being less than $17 a month. This thing will allow you to create all sorts of pages with no hassle. If you’re at all serious about building a business (especially a platform) then it’s imperative that you make investments like this.
- Once you’ve signed in click “Templates”.
- Now just below that and to the right click the “Use This Template” button under “Basic Squeeze Option”. You can try a different one, but this worked perfectly for us.
- Now you can edit this page to look anyway you’d like. Click the text to put in your own copy. Click the email box to customize the text there, the button to customize the text there. Click the image of the book to upload your cover. (You will need images of your books with transparent back grounds. This goes beyond the scope of this post currently but feel free to ask questions in the comments.)
- Choose just one cover for now (Step 4 will show you how to test them all). You may need help getting your cover designs to look like a book. We use graphicriver to make ours.
- Once you have the page just the way you like it, click “Save”.
- Now you will choose how you want to publish your page. I used WordPress because that’s what our site is built on. There is a great LeadPage plugin as well that will help you with everything you need.
- [Assuming that you are using the WordPress option and have installed the plugin. I’m not going to show you how to install a plugin, damnit!] Go to your LeadPages plugin and click “Add New LeadPage”.
- Keep the top “Normal”.
- Select the site you just made from the drop-down menu.
- Select the URL you want the page to be published to. This is what the settings for the Self-Made U landing page look like:
- Now publish that shit! You’ve got yourself a beautiful landing page to be proud of.
Bonus Step! Capturing Emails For Fun & Profit
Ever wonder why everyone online (including us) is willing to give you some great ebook in exchange for your email address? It’s because your attention has become one of the most valuable things in the world. You should treat it as such (but I already convinced of that). Your attention isn’t just valuable to you, it’s valuable for other people. That’s precisely why you want to collect email addresses.
There is no better way to keep a relationship with a community of people than their Inboxes. Facebook barely shows your posts to anyone (even if you promote them). Google+ is a bit better but nobody seems to want to hang out their for long. Twitter. Well, at least we have @replies.
What percentage of Facebook statuses do you see? Probably somewhere near zero. What percentage of emails do you see that come through your inbox? Probably pretty close to all. All of the percentages. At least the headlines. It’s a powerful way to reach people and it’s an honor to be in someone’s inbox. Don’t take it for granted. That’s a discussion for a whole other post though. For now, get into inboxes.
To increase engagement (and therefore get a better measure of what cover was the best) we bribed people with a free copy of the book and a free preview of 50 pages immediately. It worked well and we ended up getting a great sample from something less than a ton of traffic. This is how to set yourself up for
- Sign up for mailing service. We use
InfusionSoft(Update – We have switched to OfficeAutopilot) because we use some pretty heavy-duty features. If you’re trying to keep things simple then MailChimp is probably your best option. If you want a bit more functionality and can deal with a slight learning curve then check out Aweber.
- Set up a list on your chosen service.
- Get the embed code or API for that list. Then copy the hell out of it (highlight it, right click, click copy).
- Find your way back to LeadPages (usually using the address bar or some other digital transporter).
- Click “My Account” from the top-right menu.
- In the left menu select the email service you chose. You’ll find these under the “Email Marketing Services” heading.
- Plug in your API or otherwise activate your marketing service.
- Now get those emails!
Remember, taking the time to do this bonus may potentially pay for this whole process if you get enough emails. This is an in-depth topic that we can easily spend too much time on. It deserves it’s own post (and book), and, by-golly, it’ll get them!
Step 4: Setting Up the Test
Now you have a bunch of book covers designed and a beautiful landing page to gauge how effective your site is at getting people to give you their email addresses. It’s time to now test the different book covers and see which is the most enticing for your customers.
- Sign up for VisualWebsiteOptimizer.
- Select your favorite 4-5 covers. In the next step we’ll be driving traffic to the landing pages. You want to get as much traffic to each page in order to get a valid data set. Focusing the traffic to fewer covers you get enough data more quickly.
- Click “A/B Test” from the “Create Test” menu.
- Enter the URL of your landing page and click “Create Test”. You will see the page you made earlier.
- Now click “Add Variation” from the bottom right. This will add a duplicate page. Now you can begin changing things.
- Click the image of your book.
- Click “Change Image”. Select the next book cover you want to test.
- If you want to edit the text, do that now.
- Keep adding variations and changing the cover until you have made a variation for every book cover you want to test.
- Click “Proceed To Next Step” at the top right.
- Fill the boxes out using the formula I used below. “Optin [your book]” triggers when visitor “visits a page” [link to a “thank you” page].
- If you don’t have a thank you page already setup, make one now. It’s as simple as going into your WordPress Dashboard and clicking “Make New Page” under “Pages” in the menu. Here is an example of what (a variation of) ours looks like.
- Name your post.
- Check off “Heatmap”. We won’t go over this in this post, but it’s pretty sweet.
- Click “Start Test”.
- You have started your test!
Now we are going to begin driving traffic to your page. We’ll find out exactly what cover works best!
Step 5: Driving Traffic to Find Your Winner
Get as many people to your page as possible. We opted out of mailing our list because our audience would be bias – of course they want more of our goods!
Google Adwords and Facebook Ads are great for getting you a bunch of traffic quickly.
Make sure that you are driving qualified traffic. You don’t want somebody interested in gardening on your landing page for a book about starting an online business.
To get you started, Google will give you $100 😉
Step 6: Finding the Winner
Alright, now let’s look at the results. For reference, here are the results for our test.
Remember to leave plenty of time to get a decent sample size. Our control initially did better than the best and then quickly dropped to being the worst performer. You need to give yourself enough time to see how each one does.
These are some pretty amazing differences in performance, aren’t they? I really liked the control – and it ended up performing more than 50% WORSE than variation 1 (which I also happen to like a lot)!
It will quickly become obvious which are performing and which are not. As you can see, we waited for just over 100 sign ups to let us know which of our covers is the best.
Once you have your winner. Claim it and order your books!
Step 7: Celebrate!
When you’re done, congratulate yourself! This method can be used for future projects and makes for a great conference-conversation. Share this with your friends who have written a book and are considering launching with a haphazardly designed cover.
If you go through this whole process please share your results! Either comment here or email me at kyle <at> startupbros <dot> com.
I’d love to know what you think about this so please leave a comment or email me even if you don’t go through the whole process. Maybe a step is unclear, let me know. Maybe you have a suggestion to make it better, let me know.