Monday, April 27, 2015

Why You Need a Giveaway or Contest to Promote Your Books



Should you run a Giveaway or Contest to promote your book?  If you want to gain the attention of potential readers, then yes, you want to host a Giveaway or Contest.  Unfortunately, this can be a sore subject with authors.  There are always complaints about giving away the book that the author has spent countless months or years working on.  Why should the author have to give their work away for free, or spend money to promote a contest?  It’s a tough problem to consider, but once you realize that giving a book away, or offering a reward will gain the attention of more readers, then it outweighs keeping extra copies of your book in a box under your desk collecting dust.

FREE FREE FREE - Consumers have become accustomed to getting something for nothing, even if it’s something small.  This is why extreme coupon clipping has become a sport.  The time spent on collecting the coupons may not be worth the $0.35 off a frozen dinner, but it’s the satisfaction that you save money on something.  Giving discounts or freebies warms the heart of a consumer and will grab their attention faster than a beautiful book cover will.  Sadly, the author has to give something up, but hopefully the reward of gaining new readers will be worth it.

In my everyday life, I have sold promotional giveaways and walked through tradeshows.  I will tell you that interesting toys or giveaways will bring people to your booth at a tradeshow.  The more interesting or unique the giveaway, the more people will line up.  Will you sell every person who walks into your booth?  No, but they will remember you every time they look at the giveaway stamped with your business name on it.  Personally, if the booth had candy in it, I was the first one there, but even candy can be imprinted.  In the case of the author, giving away their beloved book can be a good way to get a review in return.  A good review can definitely outweigh the price of a printed copy if it helps to sell more books, or raises your book in the ranks of book selling sites.

The best way to think about it is to consider the exposure that your book can garner when a giveaway is done the right way.  Goodreads.com is an excellent place to host a giveaway.  They are a social media site where readers exchange their ideas on books.  Their site will regulate the giveaway and promote it on their site.  You will need to define the giveaway, but they will only allow hard copies of books to be given away at this time.  You can offer up as many copies as you want.  You will set the time period for the contest and write the description.  Once approved and the giveaway goes live, there is a page dedicated to all of their giveaways.  It will be up to you to drive additional readers to the site.  The nice thing about Goodreads is their giveaway app.  You can copy the HTML into your website, or blog and it will link the giveaway in seconds.

The Cupie Doll Goes to the Boy in the Blue Shirt - Hosting a contest is another way of attracting the attention of potential readers.  Here, the prize doesn’t have to be your book, as long as the contest references the book in some way.  You can give away a gift card or some kind of merchandise associated with your book.  When you run a contest, you can ask for something in exchange for the chance of winning.  In this case, you may ask for LIKES on your Facebook account, or Email addresses that can be used to build your email campaign to promote future book releases.

The key is to offer something enticing, which won’t break your piggybank, in exchange for something you find of value.  I have seen contests where the site will talk about the book and then offer an interview by the author.  To enter the contest the reader has to answer a question such as, “What was your favorite part of the author’s interview?”, or “What was your favorite comment about their book?”  I assume that they will later use these comments in marketing campaigns or on their websites as testimonials.

The Structure of a Contest - If you decide to run a contest, you will need to decide on your objects, your platform for the contest, the rules, what you are willing to offer, and how can someone win.

Objective: Before you even decide to run a contest, decide why you need one?  Are you selling something?  Are you promoting something?  These are necessarily the same objectives.  Selling implies that you want a direct purchase from your contest.  Promoting is selling the concept of your book.

Do you want to sell more books? - This is Direct Sales.  A giveaway would be more suited for a direct sales approach.  A giveaway will expose potential readers to your book for the first time.  There is an instant gratification upon seeing the cover, or reading the blurb.  They may enter the giveaway for a signed copy, but if they are interested in the book, they may buy an ebook.

Do you want to gain more visitors to your website?  Do you want more LIKES on Facebook? - These are Promoting Strategies.  They are long term investments if you have a series that you need to build a following for.  You want people to bookmark your site for future events and news, or LIKE your Facebook to stay up to date on your posts.  Contests can be geared to help you achieve both of these objectives.

Platform for the Contest - You will need to be realistic in your expectations.  The bigger the prize, the more people will run to your site, but you may not want every person looking for a gift card to enter.  This is where the platform becomes important.  If you want people to LIKE your Facebook, then you will have to host it there and drive people to the Facebook page.  The same goes for promoting your new website.  These contests may have to be a little more creative.  You may not want to offer something large, but perhaps something related to the book.  To enter the contest, require an email so that you can contact them if they win, and ask the contestants to tell you their favorite book or favorite genre when they enter.  You can search through the answers to find readers that may have an interest in your book.  Those are the people that you want to put on your mailing list.

You can also make the contest part of a book release.  If you are creative, or make your own book covers, then host a contest to pick between different versions of the cover.  The winner can be pulled from those contestants that picked the winning cover.  You can use a gift card to entice them to enter, but make them part of the book launching process.  You could also have them choose the opening sentence for the book, or vote on a favorite excerpt, based on three choices.  These are ways of getting people interested in the book and make them feel like they are a part of the experience of creating a book.  People love to have an opinion!  Use their feedback to understand how readers view your writing.  This can be very valuable, especially when writing a series.

Rules of the Contest - Be sure to state very clearly what the rules are before the reader enters the contest.

- Define what the prize or prizes are.

- State the time period of the contest.

- State the restrictions of 18+ since it is a contest, but you may include other restrictions based on state and federal regulations.  You may want to exclude certain groups of people, like employees of a publishing company, or anyone that shouldn’t enter the contest depending on what type of contest it is.

- State how many people can potentially win, but that not everyone will win.

- State how the winner will be chosen.  Randomly is preferable.

- State how any information obtained through the contest will be treated.  Will their information be sold to a third party (hopefully not), will it be used for future marketing campaigns, will it be used in any other manner, or will it not be used at all?  People want to know how their information is handled; otherwise, they might not enter the contest.

- State how they will be contacted if they won, and how they can obtain their prize, or find out if they won.  Will the winner be clearly shown on Facebook, the website, etc.?  Will the prize be mailed or emailed?

These are some of the things that need to be taken into consideration before running a contest.  It’s always best to find out what kind of state and federal laws, such as taxes and restrictions, apply in your state.  There are different types of apps on Facebook that can assist in running contests.  Contests for websites will have to be more carefully researched.

As painful as it may be to offer up a free book, or a gift card, the exposure can be invaluable.  If no one knows that your book is out there in the sea of millions of other books, how can readers be expected to find it?  Make your book stand out but be creative about it.  The most popular booths at my local Health and Wellness Fair weren’t the booths with the cool banners or the ones with the video monitors, they were the booths that interacted with people and offered them something worthy of their attention.  While you may not be able to offer face painting, give them a chance to win something exciting.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Different Approach to Book Press Releases



After you complete your book and are ready to publish, there are a million things to take care of before the book goes live.  One of those things is to write a Press Release.  A press release is a news piece that is sent to newspapers and online news sources.  It details who you are, what your book is about, and why someone will want to buy your book.  Once you have it written, you have to submit it to different media outlets.  The problem comes when no one picks up your release.  You might wonder, “why didn’t they post my story?”  Probably because there are millions of other authors who are doing exactly the same time, but what can you do?

Launching a book for a self-published author is an uphill battle.  No one knows you; no one wants to give your book a chance, because are not backed by a big name publisher, so sometimes a self-published author has to start small.  Yes, you have a submitted your book to Amazon.com and Smashwords, but they are large sites and you are just one person.  You have to build your own audience and then drive them to large book sites or you will never succeed, one way to do that it to start small and focus on your hometown.

Extra Extra Read All About It - Instead of shooting for the stars and sending your press release to every major news outlet, start by submitting to your local papers.  Every town and community has a few papers that will run local news articles.  Gain the support of your neighbors and community, while working your major social media accounts like Facebook and Twitter.  The key to submitting a press release to local media and community sites is to make the local community care about you, as a person, not a writer, or an author of the “next great American novel.”

Local Man Does Something Amazing - Create your press release by talking about yourself from a community aspect.  What makes you stand out as a person and as a writer?  Talk about your struggles in writing your book.  Make the press release interesting to local readers.  This is an opportunity to humanize yourself and be spotlighted as more than just a writer behind a keyboard.  Mention the book and give a brief description of it, but think of the rest of the article as a human interest story.  If you already have ties to the community, then talk about that as well.  People like reading about individuals who have struggled to achieve something.  Find an aspect of your life than can be highlighted to make people relate to you and care about you.  They are more likely to support you by telling others about you.  They may not read your book, but they will talk about you and help spread your name.  

Dear Editor, Please Post My Story - When submitting your press release to local papers, remember to be polite to them.  Most local sites don’t have a press release submission procedure, so you will have to send a general email to them asking them to run your article.  They are people in your community, show them respect.  They might not be lead reports at a huge metro paper, but they are the people you want to be nice to.  They have to review your submission and decide if they will publish it, but they are also members of the community.  If they are interested in your article, they will tell others.  If you are disrespectful and don’t thank them for their time, they will remember it the next time you ask them to post a news article and may pass on your submission.  

In Other News - Once the local papers have started to accept and publish your article, you will need to rewrite your press release for the other media outlets.  This release will focus on you as a writer and why someone should read your book, but it will have to appeal to a larger audience.  This is the “go big, or go home” article.  Take the basic elements of your original article and enhance them to stand out against the millions of other press releases.  Keep in mind that you must be truthful in your article and don’t over promise something you can’t deliver.  Always make the article creative, but realistic, and gear it toward your target audience.  If you write children’s books, appeal to the parents who will buy it for their children.  If you write romance novels, appeal to the women and men who love a good romantic story line.  Write your article for your reader, not the other portion of the population who has no interest in reading, or who only care about actual live news.  Jazz up your release with creative words and interesting facts about you and your book, but keep it grounded in reality.

Before you start your press release, Google “how to write a press release” for the basic layout and structure.  There are plenty of sites that can help.  The release date of the book will need to be posted at the top, or label it for Immediate Release.  Then create a cover letter for the review sites that only offer an email address for submission and don't forget to attached your book cover and/or author photo.  Most of all, have patience in submitting the press release.  Not every news outlet will post the article for different reasons, so it may have to be submitted again after some revisions, or during a slower news cycle.

For an example of my “local” press release, click here.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Why You Should Create an Author Q&A for Your Site



The first time I told someone that I was writing a book, I received a curious look and a nod, though the person didn’t ask too many questions beyond what the book was about.  They tuned out when they heard Romance, or Paranormal Romance.  They didn’t ask too many questions beyond the premise or the genre.  When I told people that I had published a book, suddenly their interest level grew.  When they had the hard copy of the book in their hands, it was a completely different reaction.  They were surprised that I had published a book and started asking all kinds of questions.  Most people said they had never personally known anyone who had written a book.  They looked at me differently.  They were excited for me, but it was beyond that, it was like they were excited that they had met a real live author.  It was strange since I hadn’t changed and I had been writing my series secretly for over three years, so I didn’t understand their reaction.  That’s when I realized that I had accomplished something that not everyone had done; I had made my dream a reality.  

Oh My God, You Wrote a Book, How Cool!  While I wasn’t prepared for the new way that they looked at me, I wasn’t prepared for their questions either.  Now, the questions were more about how I had accomplished this goal and what had inspired me to write a book.  I had never thought about these questions before, since I had always wanted to write a book, and had actually written a few that I wasn’t happy with as far back as high school.  To me, it was a fact that I wanted to write and I had found a way to do it.  I couldn’t figure out why people suddenly cared about these kinds of answers.  It took some time for me to understand that they were interested because it was something that they either thought was an impossible task, or had always wanted to do, but never had the chance.  People are always interested in others who do something they think is impossible, or that they would never be able to do.  I had to accept that they wanted to know more about me and that I had to tell them something.

I had spent so much time thinking of ways to promote my book.  I had never given a thought to promoting myself.  I didn’t have an interesting bio line for my book because I didn’t think I was all that interesting.  It dawned on me that authors could be as interesting as their book.  People want to know how you accomplished your dream.  They want to know how you managed to do something they have never done before.  That’s where the Author Question & Answer becomes important. 

Wow!  How Did You Ever Manage to Write a Book?  Taking the time to create questions that people might be interested in and crafting an honest and interesting answer is important for writers to do.  Our books go off into the world and we never interact with most of the people reading them.  One way to interact with them is set up a Q&A on your blog, or your website so that people can learn more about you, especially if you are creating a series and want readers to become more familiar with you and your work.  

I started off with basic questions for my Q&A, questions that I had been asked by people I knew.

“What inspired you to write a book?”
“Why did you decide to write this genre?”
“How long have you been writing?”
“How did you manage to find time to write a book and publish it?”
“How did you come with the idea for the book?”

These are just some examples of questions that seemed to come up over and over again.  At first, I really didn’t have an answer for them because I never dwelled on it.  After I thought about the questions, I still didn’t know what to say because I had always been quiet about my writing.  I never thought I would have to plaster my life story on a billboard. I could talk all day long about my characters and my story, but I’m just the shy girl sitting in front of her computer writing down the stories in her imagination.  Who cares about me and what I do aside from writing?  I realized that by learning about me, as the author, they might glean some insight into how they might accomplish their own goals.  “If she could do it, I could do it!”  Other people were just surprised that they didn’t know me as well as they had thought.

Talking about yourself can be tough for some people, so it’s best to have some kind of a prepared answer so that you don’t come off sounding like a babbling moron.  You are a writer, for goodness sake, so sound like you know how to string two sentences together.  Think about these questions and be prepared to give people a glimpse into your world and your imagination.  Your answer doesn’t have to be long, but it should give the reader something to take away with them.

How Did You Create That Character?  Once you have down the basic answers about you and why you are writing, you will need to tackle more difficult questions for your Q&A.  You will have to answer questions about your books, but in reference to you writing about the books.  You have already given your book blurb and your readers already know the plot and the fact that the villain dies, but now they want to know what it was like to write their favorite book, or their favorite scene, or their favorite character.  Now you have the write the Book Q&A.

The Book Q&A isn’t about the how your main character is destined to end the world; it’s about how you came up with the concept.  What made you write about her?  Your readers are curious about your writing process and why you made certain decisions.  These questions can be difficult to tackle because most likely you were writing and the idea came to you and wrote it down.  Now you have to explain your decisions and satisfy the reader’s curiosity about the story you wrote.  

Here are some basic questions:

What was the hardest scene to write?
What’s your favorite part of the book?
What was the motivation for your main character to (do whatever he did)?
Who is your favorite character to write for?
How did you come up with these characters?
How do you give each character their own personality and voice?

To answer these questions, think about them from the reader’s perspective.  They love your characters, or hate the bad guys.  They want to know how their love story was created, or if you knew someone like him or her.  Are any of the characters based on someone you know?  When readers have an emotional response to your book or characters, they want to know more about them.  They want to feel closer to them and make them more real, beyond the pages of the book.  There are even role-playing sites set for books and characters.  Just because you wrote the characters doesn’t mean they will stay yours forever.  Readers will want to experience them in different kinds of way.  Give them what they want and make them fall in love with your stories.

I’m So Excited for the Next Book!  If you are planning to write a series, or already have one in the works, don’t let your readers down.  Give them a taste of what is to come.  If they fell in love with your book, then odds are they are clamoring for information about the next one.  Will their favorite character live or die?  Who will the main character chose the farmhand or the rich lawyer?  Will they get married?  Teaser Q&As are even more important because they whet the appetite of your insatiable reader and give them something to look forward to.  Give them just enough information that they will mark the date on their phone so that they can preorder the next book the moment it’s available.
Teaser questions will be more tailored to your book, but leave your answers vague or open ended, with just enough information to drive the reader nuts.  The questions are specific to your plot line, but answer them as the writer.

Q: Will she finally make a decision on who she will chose? 
A: “Annie” has a lot of things she needs to consider when it comes to these two guys.  One loves her with all his heart, but has his flaws, the other is the better man for her, but can she love him?  Annie will have to tough road ahead of her in the “Title of the next book”.  (You don’t have to tell the reader whether or not the decision will be made until book 3, but you can help progress the story)

Q: He was captured/injured/missing, will they find him/will he die in this book?
A: The last we saw of “Derick” he was in bad shape.  We will see more of him the “Title of the next book”, but he will face a lot of challenges.  He will have to bargain for his life, if he decides that he wants to live.  (Tease them with possible scenarios, or give them a vague description of what will happen to Derick, but leave enough room for readers to worry about him.  Make them HAVE to read the next book to make sure that their favorite character lives or dies.) 

Teaser questions can make or break the excitement of the pending book, so work on it until there is enough suspense for readers to want to dive into the next book.

What Do You Find Interesting about My Book?  If you don’t know what to ask, then let your readers decide what to ask.  Ask for feedback and open the floor up to them.  Create a form for them to ask the questions they are dying to know.  Use a forum like Goodreads.com where you can allow readers to ask their questions through the site.  You can direct them there and set the questions for daily, weekly, or for a specific time.  You can answer just the questions you want or ignore strange ones.  Once you have your questions, you can repost them on your own sites.

Creating and answering these questions will take time, but they are worth it in the end.  They are yet another way of promoting your books, especially when you can’t be there personally to answer the questions.  Read through your answers from a reader’s perspective to make sure that your answers are interesting, but still leave something to their imagination.  Go back and change up the questions once the next book comes out so that there is always fresh information for your readers to absorb.  Have fun with the answers, but give them something that they will share with their friends who also love your book!

Click here to see how I handled my Q&A's on my site.
 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Book Covers - "Do It Yourself" or "Professional Cover"



I recently had a number of conversations with other authors regarding their book covers.  The question always comes up about whether to DIY (Do It Yourself) or buy a professional book cover.  New authors face this problem all the time due to money restrictions or lack of knowledge on how to find good covers.  The issue comes down to, how badly do you want to sell your book?  Most authors are so engrossed in writing and worrying about publishing that they are sometimes too close to the problem.  Covers can become the bane of their existence, yet authors need their covers to speak for them when they aren’t there to promote their works.  So which option is the best?

Do It Yourself - If you decide on the DIY method, there are programs out there that can help you design your cover beyond Photoshop.  My suggestion, if you decide to go this path, it to have reasonable expectations.  Are you a graphic designer or have some artistic abilities?  If so, you can make the DIY option work, but if not, you will need to have a great concept and way of making it visually pleasing.  

Choosing stock art or stock photos can be more cost effective than buying a cover, but you still need to have a basic understanding of layout and fonts.  If you can’t figure out how center a photo or add a text overlay, stop now.  You run the risk of failing before you even begin.  Picking a legible, but interesting font can be an even tougher challenge than finding the right photo.  The reader needs to be able to read the title of the book, even when it's a tiny thumbnail on sites like Amazon!  Don’t forget to make sure that your photo is size properly; otherwise, it will be distorted.  I saw a book cover that used a selfie from a camera phone and they stretched the photo instead of resizing it.  The cover turned out looking like a drunk person’s view of a woman.  I doubt that was the intended idea based on the title.

If you are using stock photos, find the right photo.  You want readers to be engaged by your cover, not confused by what you are trying to accomplish.  The main idea of the story, the main location, or the main character should be the focus of your cover.  If you lose sight of the main idea of your book or don’t properly represent it, readers will walk or scroll right past your cover.  Don’t be vague or understated.  This is your only shot of grabbing the reader’s attention.  Make them want to stop to read your description or blurb.  

Take the time to think about what theme you want readers to associate with your book.  If the tale is about dragons, don’t use a field of grass with a mountain range in the back, without a dragon.  People like reading about dragons! Give them a dragon to use as a model while they are reading.  If the book is about hot guys, don’t use a random cityscape.  Put the hot guy front and center on your cover and your female readers will line up just to see the cover.  Make sure that the cover wordlessly invokes your blurb or gives the reader the genre/tone of the book.  Express magic and light for fantasy books and outer space for sci-fi.  Tie the cover to the book.  Don’t pick a pretty picture you fell in love with when it has nothing to do with the book.  

Personally, I tried the DIY route, but I just couldn’t make it work.  The fonts were wrong and I had trouble the sizing the photo to fit the requirements for ebooks.  I had created multiple websites over the years as a hobby, but even I had a tough time with it.  I was honest with myself and admitted defeat.  Though I have seen some amazing DIY covers, you need a truly amazing cover that will stand up to professional covers.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it has to be unique.

Buying a Cover - If you decide to purchase a cover from stock cover sites, or through professional sites, perfecting a cover can still be a challenge.  There are varying levels of “professional” cover artists out there and they may not always have the answers either.  Graphic artists and authors have different ideas on art.  Authors want to visually explore the world that they are creating.  Graphic artists choose one part of this world to capture, but it might not be the right part.  Even graphic artists may have a limit to their abilities.  Again, you have to be realistic in your expectations.  They are worried about color and light, you are worried that the main character doesn’t perfectly match the person that you dreamed up in your head.  Odds are, the person you envision is prettier, or uglier, or thinner, or greener than the artist’s rendition.  Compromise will be important.  The model has brown eyes, but your dream guy has blue, but he is handsome and has an amazing smile.  You may have to allow some details to fall to the side, as long as the image captures the essence of what you are trying to accomplish.  Also, trust the graphic artist if he tells you certain colors will clash or if some details will feel out of place if you try to incorporate them.  They usually know what they are talking about.

Choosing a Premade Cover - If you find a cover from an online premade cover site that you are happy with, you may want to contact them to see if they can make minor changes to their cover if something is out of place.  Sometimes choosing a premade cover feels like a compromise.  It’s less expensive than a custom cover, and typically better than a DIY, but it may not be exactly what you are looking for.  Many of the graphic artists are willing to make changes for a small fee.  They can also add the fonts to the cover and may take suggestions if you have a font that you have used before.  See if they are willing to work with you.  If they want to make a sale, they should be willing to put in some extra work.

Personally, I went this route for both of my covers.  For my first book, I had a hard time finding exactly what I wanted, because I didn’t know what I wanted.  I scrolled through literally 3000 covers and bookmarked only three or so that I sort of liked.  In the end, the one I chose started to grow on me, but I still wasn’t happy.  (You can see the cover on the upper left side of my blog.)  The artist wanted to use red font, so I requested that he give me the artwork without the title and did the font myself.  The original photo had a deep blue filter that overpowered the photo.  I used Photoshop and toned down the blue.  What I found surprised me.  The blue receded and brightened the background giving the water and the lightning a chance to shine.  I’ve received a number of complements from strangers on how beautiful the cover is, which lets me know that I made a good choice.  

Premade doesn’t have to mean limited.  When searching for my second cover, which is still being worked on, I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted, so I took my own path.  I found two different covers that interested me, each capturing one part of the cover that I wanted, and I merged them together.  Thankfully, both covers were designed by the same graphic artist and she was willing to work with me to combine the two covers.  They layout of both covers helped make my vision work.  The left half of cover one had the guy I wanted, and the right half of cover had the background I wanted.  A little cutting, pasting, a minimal fee, and I got the cover that I wanted.  

Turn Clich├ęd Covers into Exciting Covers - “A picture is worth a thousand words,” so use those words wisely and avoid covers that say the exact same thing as the next book.  Avoid using the same image that everyone else uses for the same genre.  Pick something unique to show the readers.  Grab their attention in some way.  Every vampire story has sharp teeth on the cover or a powerful woman ready to slay it.  Find a way to make your cover stand out.  Research the main idea or the genre of your book and look at all the covers that come up.  Find a new angle and make people stop to look at your cover.

I will cite an example.  I have seen many book covers with a muscled guy wearing a hoodie.  In the search for my cover, I tripped over a bunch of them.  It’s a known image, but it can be changed into something unique.  When I saw Lisa Medley’sReaper Series,” I saw the hooded jacket guy, but her covers made me stop and look.  She took a known image and used bright colors and interesting backgrounds to stand out.  She employed visually pleasing, and interesting font to express her titles and her names.  In a sea of Twitter posts, these images captured my attention.


Find a Test Audience - Regardless of the method used to make your book cover, all of this effort will be wasted if readers don’t like the cover or don’t understand what you are going for.  It was suggested to me by another author to have multiple people look at the cover and give their opinion.  I’m not talking about your mom and your boyfriend; I’m talking about people from different cultures, different background, and different age groups.  It’s important to find out how different demographics will interpret your cover.  A 20 something male will likely have a different opinion than a 50 something female.  Decide who your main demographic is and make sure they like the cover.

After finding the cover I wanted, I took it to my test group.  I was interested in seeing their reactions.  While the men nodded their heads and understood that my book was a romance novel, they didn’t have much to say, just as I expected.  When I showed the cover to my 20, 30, and 50 year old female demographic, 4 out of 5 of them had the intended reaction.  Their mouths dropped on the ground and they stared delightfully at my Angel of Death.  Most were speechless for a few seconds, followed by, “WOW!”  Their responses ranged from, “now that will sell books” to “where do I get one like him?”  I knew I had a winner.  As one woman said, “the guy on the cover gives me a person to imagine while reading.”  That’s the response you want!

If you don’t have a test audience, post your cover ideas on your Facebook or Twitter accounts for feedback.  You can also run a contest for people to vote on their favorite cover and choose between two covers.  If you still aren’t sure, reach out to other authors for suggestions on author sites.  Other authors are usually good at giving you their honest opinion and advice since they have been in the same spot as you.

There’s Always a Second Chance During a Reprint - First time authors learn a lot about readers and promoting their books after their first book launch.  Even if you have a team of promoters and publishers, sometimes a cover just doesn’t work out the way you thought.  After speaking to readers and getting feedback from reviewers and critics, there is always the opportunity to change a cover during a second or third reprinting of the book.  Figure out what was missing from the first cover and incorporate the suggestions and new ideas.  If you couldn’t afford a professional cover, hopefully, you will be able to work with a graphic artist the next time around.  Don’t be afraid to try something new. 
In speaking to Lisa Medley about her “Reaper Series,” I found out that the hooded reaper was not her original cover.  While there is nothing wrong with the original cover, the second one is more visually interesting.  See the original cover and the reprint cover below.
                            
Another conversation with author Erin S. Riley, author of the “Sons of Odin Series,” revealed that she too had a second chance to change her original cover.  The first cover was made from a photo that she took on her phone.  While the first photo is fine, it doesn’t convey much about the story.  Her second cover, however, makes a bold statement about the book.  The new cover clearly states that there will be romance and hot Vikings.  Her two pending covers continue the theme of the new cover and promises more romance.  Below are the original cover and the new cover.

              
    


At the end of the day, the decision is yours on how best to create your cover, but be honest with yourself regarding your talents versus your expectations.  Be willing to listen to feedback, criticism, and praise.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  The best covers are ones that readers remember.  Even if they are simple, they need to express some aspect of your story.