Think people don’t judge books by their covers? Think again. Despite the shift to digital, your book cover still matters – it’s the first thing potential readers see when browsing an Amazon search results page, skimming their Facebook feed, or reading their BookBub daily deals email.
A great cover design can have a major impact on your sales numbers. For example, romance writer R.L. Mathewson went from selling five or six copies per day of her novel, Playing for Keeps, to over 1,000 per day by updating her cover design.
Like everything else in publishing, cover designs are incredibly subjective, and best practices differ by genre. Elements like the image, font face, featured characters, and colors all impact the emotional reaction potential readers might have.
With so much at stake, why hedge your bets on one design without testing it first? Use data to choose your cover design by testing two variations against each other before release day. This strategy can help both independent authors and big publishing houses increase sales.
How should you design your two variations?
If you’re releasing a new book, you’ll need to create two variations at once. But what should you change in each design?
Option 1: Test drastically different designs
You can make your two designs dramatically different. This may be more expensive if you’re outsourcing your cover design.
Option 2: Test incrementally different designs
You can also focus on just one variable of your design to test:
- Font face
- Font size (of the title and/or author name)
- Color scheme
- Characters included (for example: male vs. female or proper attire vs. scantily clad)
If you’re refreshing the design of a book in your backlist, you can test your new cover against the original before re-releasing it. This diminishes the risk of decreasing sales if your new cover resonates less with potential readers than the original cover.
How can you test for your cover design?
There are different methods for testing your design:
- Qualitative: Poll your audience to find out which of two covers they like better. This is a subjective approach because respondents see both variations.
- Quantitative: Split A/B test your design with equal segments of your audience. Results are based on raw data (e.g., the number of clicks) and performance results.
Ideally you’ll use both polling and A/B testing as part of your testing strategy. Let’s dive into some of these testing methods.
Option 1: Use polling software like PickFu
PickFu makes it incredibly easy for authors to test their book covers and titles. You can get results quickly since PickFu has an established testing audience, and survey respondents need to say why they made the selection they did — this way, you’ll know they didn’t arbitrarily choose one design over the other.
Here’s an example of cover design test for A Shock to Your System:
Here are some of the reasons why 76% of respondents chose version A:
PickFu isn’t free — you can purchase polls a la carte for $20, and you’ll get 50 max responses per poll. Or you can pay $49 (three polls) or $99 (seven polls) per month, depending on how many responses you want per poll.
Option 2: Run a poll on your website or blog
You can also run a simple poll by using free tools like PlayBuzz. PlayBuzz lets you embed your poll directly on your website or on a blog post, and there’s no limit to the amount of responses you can get. However, you have to rely on your own network to get responses. This is a plus if you have an established audience because you’ll get responses from the people most likely to purchase your book. However, it could take longer to get results. Fortunately, PlayBuzz makes it easy to share your poll on social media sites so you get more traction.
Respondents can also see the results of your poll immediately after voting, which is fun. There are plenty of other free or inexpensive polling and survey tools out there, including SurveyMonkey and FanPop.
Option 3: Run a Facebook ad campaign
While Google Adwords is a great way to test book titles, Facebook ads are a great way to split A/B test your cover design because you can include an image. You can also get results for as little as $30.
Creating an ad on Facebook is pretty simple. Choose the ad objective “Send people to your website.” If your book has already been released, use your Amazon page as your landing page. If it hasn’t been released, create a page on your website where visitors can sign up for a notification when your book is available to order.
Next, choose the demographics to target. For example, if you’re a Young Adult author, you can target females aged 15–19 who speak English and have specified “reading” as an interest.
Finally, upload multiple images. The recommended image size is 1200 x 628 pixels. If you upload a standard portrait book cover image, only a portion of your cover will appear in the ad.
Note: These are test ads created to show you what these would look like!
Each image will become its own ad where you can track clicks separately. The variation with the most clicks will be your winner.
Option 4: Run an A/B Test Email Campaign
Do you have a list of people who have signed up to receive email updates from you, or subscribers to your author blog? If so, send them a split A/B test email to promote your book. If your book has been released, link to your Amazon page. If not, link to a page where people can opt in to get notified when the book is released.
The emails should be identical except for the cover image – variation A should include one cover design, and variation B should include the other. The variation with the highest click-through rate will be your winner.
Here are some reasonably priced email service providers that make it easy to run split A/B test email campaigns:
Option 5: Display different versions on bookstore displays
Berkley, a Penguin imprint, created dueling covers for the novel Virgin. They printed two different books with unique ISBN numbers. One of the covers was edgier than the other, and instead of speculating which design people would respond to, they let data decide.
While the edgier version of a woman appealed more to men and some booksellers, Penguin’s Facebook audience reacted better to the subdued rose V design. One bookseller even opted to purchase both variations, and let the customers decide.
Of course, you can get creative with how you test your cover design. What are some tactics you’ve used to test your cover design, or ideas you have to share? Let us know in the comments below!
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