Important Parts of Covers

On a previous blog I commented on studying the best seller list  of fiction and non-fiction novels for 2009 and wondered why some of the titles in the fiction novel list included the words “A Novel”.

My thought process at the time wondered why there was “dirty data” and why the data was not cleaned up to Third Normal Form. These thoughts relate to my programming days, where data had to be cleaned for storage in a database. In other words, redundant data was a waste of storage space.

From entering the ebook side of publishing, I now understand why publishers include the words “A Novel”.

It is all to do with first impressions of the image on the web sites.  The image has to capture what the story (in this case, novel) is selling.

So, to not misrepresent the product, publishers included the words “A Novel” in the title.

One example is The Dirty Parts of the Bible cover. I am watching how it performs as an ebook and hope Sam does really well with it.

Note the image relates to the title. Note the size of each word in the title and the case (uppercase). Note the size and case of the author text. Note the other field. The text is sloped.

Back to why publishers include the words “A Novel” in ebooks.

You can not look at the spine and realise the length in ebooks like in printed books.

In ebook sites, price is not a guarantee for quantity. Some short stories or flash fiction are selling for $0.99, but so are some much longer novels.

Writers of ebooks are not limited by the dictates of publishers. They can write and sell flash fiction, short stories, fiction (long short stories), novellas, and novels.

If a reader decides to invest time to download and read a story, expecting a 90,000 word or longer story, suddenly find that it is only a few thousand words, they are disappointed. They could be so upset they write a review with zero stars. It happened to me. And the short story was free.

First, I wondered why they did not read the file length, but have realised there are a lot of readers that do not understand what file length represents.

So, I have rethought creating book covers.

I need an image that suggests either the theme or an item or relates to the title of the story.

I need a short concise title that relates to the story in a font that is large enough to be read in the small graphics on the site, and still is easy to read when the graphic is clicked for a larger view.

I need the author name in a font that is large enough to be read in the small graphic.

I need a text field for length, such as “A Novel” or “A Short Story” etc, that can be read in the small graphic, but does not need to be the same size as the title or author name.

I need another text field for further clarification, such as “By Bestselling Author”, or “Book II in Some Series”, or even a short review.

I now wonder how long it will be before I start seeing covers include the number of pages or number of words in the Length field, such as “A 30 page Short Story”, or “A 10,000 word Sifi Story” or some such.

So, after I finished formatting my short story, Fire Starter, for Amazon, I looked at the cover and added a Length text field.

What do you think? Clear and concise? Or should I change the Length field to “A 6000 word SiFi Short Story”?

If you read SiFi short stories would you need this information to help you make a selection?

Or do you only download the sample and read that to decide if you want the whole story, not caring about the length?

I know in this case the story is free and it doesn’t matter so much, but I am collecting information for future sales.


15 comments so far

  1. LisaM on

    Hello again!

    This is just a quick comment to say that “SiFi” should be “SciFi”, I believe.

    I’ve created an account on Smashwords myself with a view to publishing a few short stories on it at some stage this year (I have to give myself the year to get up and running due to important life changes) so I’m reading your posts with great interest! 🙂

    • djmills on

      Thanks for the tip. Well done on your decision to go with Smashwords, and email me if you have problems with the upload and approval. Happy to help.

  2. LisaM on

    Me again, just saw the questions at the end of your post.

    To help me make up my mind about whether I want to read something or not, I like to know the genre so I generally look at all the information about the ebook, word length, genre, etc. The fact that you’ve got SciFi on the cover is probably a good thing for people who don’t read the pertinent information elsewhere.

    I also read the sample to see if the writer’s style is something I consider worth reading. With self-publishing there’s always the risk that a writer hasn’t gotten beta-readers involved in the process, hasn’t edited, hasn’t revised and reworked the novel. I don’t want to read something like that!

    I’ve found that I’m less likely to download a novel to read simply because I don’t like reading from a computer screen. I will, however, happily download short stories because there’s less wear and tear on my eyes to finish it.

    All the best! 🙂

    • djmills on

      Thanks for the info. Good to know. And I agree. If the free sample reads well, I am happy to pay for the story. 🙂 As for reading on the pc, I am used to it, having spend the last 15 years writing code and reading line by line on the screen. But, I prefer to download as PDF file because I can see the full page. I can’t stand reading on my palm pilot where there are only 5-6 words per line. 🙂

  3. Shayne on

    “Back to why publishers include the words “A Novel” in ebooks.”

    Publishers have been doing this for years**, and I don’t think it has nearly as much to do with ebooks as it has to do with the title of the book in question. Specifically, it has to do with the title’s ability to accurately convey what the book is about and the type of book that it is. In almost all cases where ‘A Novel’ is added to the title, you’ll notice that from the title alone you can’t tell the story is fiction, and, based solely on the title and cover, you would probably assume it wasn’t.

    In every case I can remember – and there are a lot of cases, because I worked in a book store for six years – it was because the title and cover made the book look like it was non-fiction.

    When it comes to adding anything to a cover that you wouldn’t see on a traditionally published book, I think it’s likely a bad idea. People very definitely do judge a book by its cover; because of that, and because indie publishing has a bad rep thanks to the lack of a proper vetting process, I’d suggest that you want your cover to look as close to a traditionally published cover as you can get it. The covers on HP Mallory’s novels ( are a good example of good self-designed indie covers. On first glance a person would likely think they were traditionally published, thanks to the quality art, professional looking layout, and series branding. Adding anything else to a cover would make it look cluttered, IMO. Even if the story in question is a short story, it shouldn’t be necessary to add that to the cover – having it in the book description should be good enough, and if one daft reader missed that info, that should be his problem. 🙂

    **At least as far back as 2000 – that’s when I started noticing, because that’s when I started at the book store.

    • djmills on

      Yes, HP Mallory uses title, author, genre and series text fields. LE Modesitt, Jr uses author, review, and title fields, or author, bestselling, title and series fields on his covers. There are many more authors, both pbooks and ebooks that use either genre, review, bestseller or series fields.

      Your words “accurately convey what the book is about” expresses exactly what my blog was about, and is good to use when explaining covers.

  4. Angela/Curiocat on

    Hey, Diane.

    While I agree with Shayne about covers when I look at what you added to the cover of Fire Starter I don’t think it looks clunky or out of place either. I actually kind of liked it because it told me, without having to hunt for it, what I wanted to know. It’s an attractive cover. I would say at least have the genre on there but you can add that it’s a novel or short story, too. I would not have word length on the cover but in the description. As you know DWS has the info on his covers like that but when I looked at his wife’s, KKR, she did not. I guess its individual taste. Barbara Hambly is one of my fav fantasy authors who is now offering short stories. She goes completely against everything being discussed about self pub and charges $5 for her short stories and offers no cover at all. I still buy cause I’m a fan but it goes to show what works for some doesn’t for others and vice versa.

    • djmills on

      Yes, everyone creates cover differently, but I was studying published books, (I have over 1000 on my shelves) and realised they put a lot of info on the cover, including the publishing house logo. Once it was only on the spine. Now, I am noticing ebooks are following the trend of the pbooks.

      As for the word count, I agree with you, either in the short blurb or in the length field on the site, not on the cover.

      I have never heard of Barbara Hambly but will do a search later. She obviously has a following that will purchase her short stories without bothering with covers, or maybe she is still learning and has not learned about creating them yet.

      Oh, I volunteer to beta read your short stories if you are looking for anyone. 🙂 You can email me when you are ready.

      • Angela/Curiocat on

        Thanks Diane I’ll do that. Certainly, I’ll return the favor if you like. Do you have my email?

      • djmills on

        Yes, the one you use in this blog. 🙂

  5. Shayne on

    Angela said: “She goes completely against everything being discussed about self pub and charges $5 for her short stories and offers no cover at all.”

    It should probably be noted that she’s selling those short stories on her own personal website – she wouldn’t be able to post them up on a site like Kindle or Smashwords without a cover – so she’s selling strictly to the fans she already has, and isn’t competing against a bookstore full of writers for sales.

    • Angela/Curiocat on

      Good point, Shayne. That is absolutely correct. Barbara Hambly is strictly selling to her fan base from her website. I get the impression she is one of those writers who leaves the “business” of writing up to her agent. With her body of work it’s a shame she says she is hurting financially. She did recently state that an ebook publisher has bought her old fantasy titles so I hope this eases her financial worries along with the short stories she writes and sells. Very talented author and she deserves whatever success she has.

      • djmills on

        I heard Mecedes Lackey and a few other writers are also selling ebooks on their web sites. They also have their fan base so financially it is better for them, as they do not lose a percentage of each sale to the distributer, eg. Amazon, Smashwords, etc.

        As with any business, you can employ staff to take on some of the workload, but as the owner, you have to manage the staff, or they can skim of some of the money. If the author elects to leave the business side to her agent, she is increasing her risk of problems.

        I am happy to learn from mistakes (mine and others) and improve, day by day. 🙂

    • djmills on

      I have heard many stories about the bad contracts authors signed over the years because it was the “norm”. If she continues with ebooks, learns to pay for covers or create them herself, and gets them on the web sites, she will build a bigger fan list and hopefully do well financially. Good on her for trying. 🙂

      We can all learn from the successes and failures of other authors as we learn the business of writing if we choose to. Ultimately it is up to each writer to choose which path to take, and as far as I am concerned it is a business, with risks, like any other business.

      • Shayne on

        I didn’t mean to imply that she couldn’t post the stories up on Kindle or Smashwords if she wanted to — just that if she did want to put them on those sites, they’d have to have a cover first, since that’s one of the formatting requirements.

        Once the rights from some of her print books come back to her, she’d probably do well to put them up, too.

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