How to Match Your Cover to Your Genre

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You don’t need complicated formulas to figure this out.

Indie authors are an amazing bunch. We’re here to help each other and cheer each other on. And if you’re lucky, another author will tell you when you’ve gone seriously astray.

Recently I participated in a free five-day online workshop presented by Bryan Cohen to learn how to do Amazon ads. I had yet to dip my toe into those waters, so I thought it was worth checking out. And it was, if only because I learned a painful truth by doing it.

I decided to use Rivers Run, the first book in my newest series, as my test case. For practice, the ad copy we were using was the simplest possible – just the book cover and its blurb.

Unlike Facebook, Amazon doesn’t charge you for showing your ad to prospective buyers. You’re only charged when you get a click-through to your book’s Amazon page. While a lot of other people in the workshop’s Facebook group talked excitedly about the clicks their books were getting, I received zero clicks. Amazon had shown my ad to hundreds of people who were buying books in my genre, but nobody who saw it had bothered to click on it.

I posted in the group about my lack of success, and a friend told me my problem as he saw it: My cover was terrible. Oh, it’s pretty enough. But I’d been marketing the book as urban fantasy, and the cover screamed women’s fiction. The image was all wrong. The font was all wrong. Even the title was all wrong. There was nothing there to entice a reader of urban fantasy to click through and buy my book.book cover lynne cantwell EK1 - Rivers Run (002)

I couldn’t be mad at him – he was right. And I knew that books two and three, which I’d already published, had the same problems. I was working on book four at the time, and I realized it was going to sink just like the others if I didn’t do something.

So I set about figuring out how to fix it. Thankfully, my friend suggested a fix. I’m passing it along to you, in case you’re wondering whether your own book cover is up to snuff.

1. Go to Google and search for “Amazon Top 100” in your book’s genre. That will bring up the current list of bestsellers in the genre you’re aiming for.

2. Study the cover images of those books. What elements do they have in common? Is there a particular color palette that’s popular right now? Bestsellers in urban fantasy, I learned, are using saturated colors – hot pink, deep purple, deep blue. (The background of my cover was black. Not very exciting.) What about the cover content? Are there people? Are they looking straight at you? How are they dressed? What expression are they wearing?

This exercise was helpful in more ways than one. The cliché urban fantasy cover is the naked male torso. The headless guy always has a six-pack and often sports a tattoo or six. I hate those covers, and anyway my series doesn’t have any characters with six-pack abs – my main male character is half-gnome and wears a green knit cap. This is when it began to dawn on me that maybe my series wasn’t urban fantasy. Maybe it was contemporary fantasy. Or maybe humorous fantasy? I re-ran my Google search and hit pay dirt. The top 100 paid in humorous fantasy included Good Omens and some of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files books – much closer to my series. And the covers of the top 100 free books had nary a naked torso.

3. While you’re looking at the images on the bestselling covers, look at the fonts. The font on my cover was very plain. The bestsellers, um, weren’t. When I went searching at Font Squirrel for a replacement, I realized a whole bunch of those bestselling covers were using Cinzel. Guess which font is going to be on my updated covers?

4. Finally, the title. See if there are certain words or concepts that keep turning up. For fantasy of any type, for example, the title ought to have a touch of magic to it. Even better if you can work the word “magic” into your title. And there’s nothing magical about Rivers Run. So River Magic it is.book cover lynne cantwell EK1 River Magic 2 (002)

Here’s hoping the new cover draws some sales.

[Don’t forget to check out our Book Cover Resource page that has links to free fonts, royalty-free images, and more. And our Book Cover Comparison page shows the difference that genre-specific fonts and images make on your covers.]

Author: Lynne Cantwell

Lynne Cantwell grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan. She worked as a broadcast journalist for many years; she has written for CNN, the late lamented Mutual/NBC Radio News, and a bunch of radio and TV news outlets you have probably never heard of, including a defunct wire service called Zapnews. But she began as a fantasy writer (in the second grade), and is back at it today. She currently lives near Washington, DC. Learn more about Lynne at her blog and at her Amazon author page.

18 thoughts on “How to Match Your Cover to Your Genre”

  1. I had a similar problem with my Howard County Mystery covers, particularly the first book. Last year, I got an artist from 99Designs.com to redraw them all. We made them more appropriate to the genre and also created a look for the series that would help tie the books together. I think it’s helped at least a little.

    One thing to note. If I recall correctly, changing the title requires a new ISBN, yes?

    1. Good for you for doing that — and for finding a cover artist you mesh with. That’s huge.

      Re the ISBN: I’m going to unpublish the current books (which never sold well anyway – gee, I wonder why?) and relaunch the whole series. So yes, I’ll need new ASINs from Amazon, which are free, and new ISBNs for the print books.

  2. This is so important. After all, what’s the first thing prospective readers see? It’s always been a struggle for, as my books don’t fit neatly into a category. For the most recent one I originally looked for a more traditional Fantasy cover. It just didn’t give the vibe I wanted. While it hasn’t made me rich, the cover I finally went with has received many positive comments. I’m so glad I switched.

  3. A fascinating backward application of the usual, “Book doesn’t sell, change the cover.” Here we go again; I read something on IU, then I have to go back and look at all my books to see where I went wrong 🙂

  4. My genre is science fiction. An irritating number of Amazon’s top 100 feature headless naked male torsos. Science Fiction! Maybe it’s not what’s between the covers that sells books, but the promise of something else between the covers ? Sigh…

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