The Cover Controversy

I’m in several writer loops online, and the subject of covers comes up over and over. “What do readers like?” “What will make them buy my book?” “If the cover is shit, will it sell?”

As a lifetime reader and buyer of books (paper and electronic), I’m entitled to an opinion.

When I’m flush, I spend more freely and will take a chance on books written by unknowns. If I’m on a strict budget, I choose my purchases carefully, because who hasn’t plunked down $10-20 for a book only to find out it sucks?

There are a handful of mainstream writers I will always give my money to, and if I hear about a terrific new book from an author I’m not familiar with, I may buy it, but if the author is unknown, it’s the cover and blurb that decides whether or not I get it. 

If the cover is ugly, my eye moves right past it, so yes, a bad cover can prevent me from buying your book. There’s a lot of choices these days, and why should I buy something with this yuk cover when I can buy that one ’cause it’s so pretty/eye-catching/elegant/mysterious?

A good cover makes me stop and read the blurb, and if that blurb contains info that appeals to me (I’m a sucker for certain types of stories!), you’ve made your sale. But it starts with the cover.

When I first got published, I had no idea how things worked. My first title was Love at First Sight, the story of how actor Will Crawford met bookstore owner, Ren, and they fell in lust. There’s some hot sex, but they don’t spend the entire story in a bed. This is about a relationship, not how many times they came.

It’s a short story, and it’s my opinion that it’s a damn good one. There’s a story arc, the main characters are clearly written and experience growth, and there’s a satisfying ending, though it’s not the ending I originally wrote. This publisher wanted happily ever after, and mine was more like real life. (I still prefer my ending, because it gave the story more power and better closure, but the rework isn’t bad. Hell, I was getting PUBLISHED for the first time. You think I was about to quibble about that? I’d have hung from the shower rod, whistling Dixie, if they’d requested it.)

The publisher sent me a form, asking for info about the main characters: hair color, what they looked like, type of clothing they’d usually wear, etc. I was excited beyond belief to be participating in the process of designing my first cover.

Then it was released and this is what I saw:

I hated it. HATED IT. It didn’t say anything about what happens in the story and worse, implied it was sex sex sex.


One of my MCs had black hair and the other brown. The cover shows brown and blond. And they’re, what…in a bed? I still don’t know what the hell they’re lying on. The colors are dark and muddy, and I soon found out that all stories that length get that same awful cover, so why bother sending me that stat sheet at all?

I can’t tell you how disappointed I was, but more than that, I knew few people would buy my ebook because of that cover. Hell, I wouldn’t buy it, so how could I expect others to?

This morning, on impulse, I redid the cover. I found an image on google, sized it, adjusted levels etc., and added the title and name. It took me five fucking minutes, and I liked it so much better! I could spend more time on the typography, but tell me, doesn’t this cover make you want to buy the ebook?

This cover tells you something. The story involves a bookstore. The warm colors make me feel warm. They make me want to open that door and walk in, i.e. buy the book! The bike out front adds the right, almost whimsical note, because the men in my story are real and nice and interesting, just like most people. Along with the blurb, this would have been a story that sold (and consequently made me some money).

But the ugly cover doesn’t make me want to do anything but roll my eyes, and I certainly wouldn’t have plunked down money for it.

I know why my first several releases didn’t sell. The covers drove people away, and I lost money and so did the publisher. A good cover will help sell the book. It gets attention, and if the story is also good, word of mouth will sell more copies.

Stock photos are cheap. There is no reason for a publisher to slap the same cover on all stories of a certain length or to offer lousy Photoshopping of any kind. Pay a little more and everyone benefits!

So if you’ve looked at my ebooks, groaned at the shitty covers, and then bought something else, please know that the stories are good. I can’t guarantee you’ll love or even like them, but if you enjoy well-written m/m books, ignore those covers and give me a try.


About Fenraven

Fenraven happily lives in south Florida, where it is really hot most of the year. Find him on Twitter, Google +, and Facebook by searching on 'fenraven'.
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6 Responses to The Cover Controversy

  1. AJ Rose says:

    You know this is why I paid somebody to do my second cover. When my cover model choices came back with one brunette guy in two different poses for my first cover, and I didn’t like either pose, I knew I was screwed. Then finding out later that this publisher is an industry joke for their covers? Not surprised. So I bought Photoshop to learn how to do it myself.

    I just don’t trust anyone to do right by my stories anymore. There’s more to it, which you well know, so I won’t hijack your comments.

    I do like your cover. Eye catching without being cheesy or formulaic.

  2. That’s my blog for tomorrow: how we’re taking control of our work and making sure we put out something we’re proud to have our name associated with.

  3. Chris says:

    Your color is MUCH better than the one they used. Plus I think every book in your published works sidebar there got stuck with a cover that’s part of a “line” of stories. To me, the stories in those lines sort of blur together. When a new book in the line is released, I might not even notice, because I think it’s a previously released book.

    • That’s definitely one of the problems. Remember what happened over the holidays last year? Every book released over forty days had the same damn cover. It was appalling. How the hell would anyone find me in that sea of sameness? Not to mention that the cover was badly Photoshopped. I tried to fix it before I posted it on my sites, but there was only so much I could do.

      As warm and welcoming as the people were at that publisher, and as wonderful as my editor was, I will never submit to them again unless they step up and get as professional as they need to be.

  4. You know, you are an awesome photographer Fen, what about making your own covers. You don’t need to pay models and there are lot of gorgeous places that you could use and you don’t need to pay anything to use the view, don’t you? This cover is perfect for your book, as the author you know exactly the atmosphere you wanted to show, the vibes you want the cover to give. I’m not talking about using others pictures, I’m talking about using your own pictures. I don’t know anything about publishing but Is that even possible?

    • I am now making my own covers, and yes, even when working with a publisher, a writer can contract or create their own cover (though it does have to be approved by the publisher). This is something new writers don’t realize because no one tells them!

      As the saying goes, I wish I’d known then what I know now…

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