THE BLOG

Killer Covers Can Boost Book Sales

02/11/2015 12:51 pm ET | Updated Apr 10, 2015

Every day you'll find a handful of blogs, maybe more, telling you about the joys of going indie. You have more control over timing, editing, copy-editing, design, distribution, everything. You have the chance to make more money, and you also don't have to worry about giving up rights.

But that's when you're starting out fresh. What you don't read as much about is authors like me whose careers were based in traditional publishing, who then got the rights back to books that were in limbo and launched them on Amazon and B&N. These were mainly five Nick Hoffman mystery novels, set in the mythical State University of Michigan, a snake pit that would put the Borgias to shame, according to The New York Times Book Review.

I started the series at St. Martin's Press, then moved when Walker offered more money. Two books later, Walker's publisher fired the mysteries editor, which made orphans of his authors. But I quickly found a home for the series with Perseverance, a wonderful indie press in California which did the next two Nick Hoffman books as paperback originals.

I was writing the series as a break from more serious work in other genres, and if I'd had to write one a year, had to be funny and mysterious on command, it would have killed me. But even without that kind of pressure, I ran out of ideas. Then I started noticing strange news stories across the country about out-of-control SWAT teams running and tiny police forces in towns with minimal crime rates buying military-grade hardware, even armored personal carriers, from the Pentagon. The War on Terror had morphed into the War on Us.

Because the University of Wisconsin Press had done such a bang-up job on my memoir My Germany--which got me three different tours, two in Germany--I gave them Assault With a Deadly Lie, and the cover they came up with knocked me out.

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It easily outshone the covers I'd had designed for the the mysteries from St. Martin's, Walker, and Perseverance I'd gotten ebook rights to. They were dissimilar in type font, cover art style, and feel because I had worked with two different artists. It couldn't be avoided. So with all the kudos I was getting from readers for the new book's cover, I decided the older ones needed a makeover by one artist who could give them a "series" look that somehow echoed the new book. I found a design company, DDD, that specialized in what I wanted, and I loved what I saw on their site. Here's the first of five books they did for me (and the first book of mine to be reviewed in The New York Times Book Review):

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It captures the feel of the latest book, offering a different, exciting take on the design idea. In the week after mounting this "new-look" book and the four others, sales doubled for all five. That's thanks to my taking advice from publishing professionals and doing the research to find the right designer. Ultimately, though, it's really due to to having taken control long ago of these books, something I never would have thought of doing as a young author. And so each of these books has been reborn. (Again)

Lev Raphael is the author of 25 books in genres from memoir to mystery to Jane Austen mash-up. You can read about them here.