Over the past few months, I’ve been fiddling around with ebook covers for my story, “Don Whitman’s Masterpiece”. I was curious how cover style affects popularity. The story is free on Amazon, so I figured the cover was the main “selling” point. Obviously, reviews help, too, but I only changed covers after getting the two reviews I still have, so they’ve been a useful constant.
It’s blue. The text is a pale yellow. The title is somewhat obscured because the design suggests the story is Masterpiece by Don Whitman rather than Don Whitman’s Masterpiece by Norman Crane. That’s by choice, but it’s not a particularly good choice for selling stuff. I only added my own name to the cover because Smashwords forced me to: a cover has to have the author and title to be accepted. The bulk of the cover belongs to a photo-and-picture manipulation that I still like. I’d taken an archival photo of a New Mexican town and blended it into an old illustration of a cave. It fits the story better than any subsequent cover.
The story hit the Amazon free charts for horror and paranormal ebooks and rose into the top thirty for both. Then downloads sagged, and I figured I’d make a new cover using a more conventional approach: big text, bold colours, readability even at thumbnail size. I wanted the story’s title and my name filling as much of the cover as possible. I even wanted me to be more visible, because that’s supposedly the reason for going free: to hook people on yourself. Anyway, this was the result. I was never satisfied with it. My opinion has worsened over time. I think it’s an ugly cover with no style. But it’s aggressive and it put me back into the top thirties for both genres. Indeed, I started getting even more downloads than before! I doubt that was a coincidence because I didn’t do anything other than change the cover. More importantly, with this cover my downloads and chart rank have remained steady. That would mean it’s been a great success. But it’s so damn ugly and generic I didn’t want to look at it, so I made a third version.
Hello, new cover. For the second cover, I’d used a photo of an eyeball I’d found on Flickr using an advanced search for commercially-usable Creative Commons images. Here, I went back to using the public domain, but art rather than photographs or illustrations. I used two paintings for the background, overlaid it with semi-transparent text, and decided on a crazy, shattered effect for the title. I still don’t love it. It needs tweaking, but at least it’s miles better than the eyeball cover. The question now is if it’ll maintain that cover’s success.