When to unveil your book cover

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

Book covers are the most effective tool in an author’s marketing arsenal, but I continue to be confounded by how often authors misfire with the unveiling of their covers. The mistake is understandable since, if you love your cover, you want to show it ASAP. But premature cover announcements are only one step above never showing your cover.

The key moment to unveil your book cover is

…when all online sites have your cover correctly displayed, and both the physical and digital editions are available for pre-release purchase.

That means you don’t display your cover on social media, in a newsletter, as part of your email signature, or in any other place if the key online sites don’t:

  • Display the cover.
  • Offer both the physical and digital versions.
  • Bring up the book through both of these searches:

–The author’s name–as a reader would search for you. That means, if you use a middle initial e.g., Nancy J. Smith, or a middle name, readers might not remember those details and just look for you under your first and last name. Try a variety of ways readers might remember your name.

–The book”s title.

Recently two of my clients were right to be proud of their new book covers; they were attractive, evocative and elicited an emotional response from the viewer. When I saw the authors’ Facebook announcements of their covers, being the hovering agent that I am, I immediately went to Amazon to look for the covers to be sure they were properly displayed. I typed in each author’s name and…no new book showed up.

So, being the hovering agent that I am, I suggested to each client that she might have shown off that new cover prematurely. Each of them assured me that wasn’t the case and sent me an Amazon link. When I clicked on the link, yup, the book popped up. But for one of them, I had to use the book’s title to find it, and for the other, the cover wasn’t displayed yet, and the Kindle version wasn’t available.No book description was up or any other element we expect to see on an Amazon page.

So, let’s see how premature cover announcements play out. Here’s a little story:

Once upon a time you, a fan of both of my clients, see these two covers unveiled on Facebook and want to buy both of them. For the first book, you hop over to Amazon, but by the time you get there, you can’t remember the book’s title. So you type in the author’s name–all her other titles pop up, but not the new one. So…you give up.

But, aha, you still have my other client’s book to buy. You type in the title because you remember it, and…Up pops an almost empty page. No image (you so longed to see that lovely cover again, which beckoned you to buy the book in the first place), but you move past that disappointment and look for the Kindle version because that’s your favorite way to read a good novel. Only the physical version is available.

So, disappointed, you close down Amazon and assuage your sadness by returning to Facebook. Or, since you’re already on Amazon, you shop around and buy some other authors’ books.

A month or so later, you once again come across the images of those great covers when you receive my clients’ newsletters or they mention the books on Facebook. You study each image and think, Didn’t I already read that?

Unhappy end of story.

Action point: Never, ever show your cover online until you know that, regardless how a reader searches for the book, a fully developed page, with the physical and digital versions, readily appears.

How do you keep track of books you hear about and want to buy–via lists, online shopping carts, etc.?

Can you recall a time you tried to buy a book and couldn’t because it wasn’t available or was too hard to order?

TWEETABLES

What is the best time to unveil your new book’s cover? Click to tweet.

A common mistake authors make in showing their new covers. Click to tweet.

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58 Comments

  • Great post, Janet. I didn’t realize all the ramifications of doing a cover reveal too early. You show yet again, a great reason to have an agent on your team. I wouldn’t have thought through this the way you just showed us. Thank you for that.

  • Janet, this is so true. I’d been seeing a book cover everywhere–for what felt like six to nine months. Then I saw a post or status that said it had just released and I felt so surprised because the book seemed like old news by then. I never would have thought you could release it too early, but I get it now. :)

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Withholding the cover until it can be ordered is called “embargoing.” You embargo the cover so when it’s revealed it can have the biggest impact and lead to a nice buying fest.

  • Food for thought, Janet – thanks!

    I do have a question, concerning author names – what is the take these days on using a non de plume?

    With the requirement for social media exposure, it seems a bit awkward to be ‘someone else’ by name, since much of the early exposure is built through people with whom one has at least a passing previous acquaintance.

    On the other hand, with a name like mine, it’s a tempting road to take. Both parts of the last name have proven challenging for others to spell, and the sole benefit seems to be being remembered as the guy with the long name.

    I generally keep track of books using wishlists on Amazon or Alibris; the hard to order issue doesn’t really come up because I rarely order new releases. (Problems occur sometimes with older or limited-release titles from the 90s or so…and there it’s usually price that’s the problem, rather than availability.)

    • Paula says:

      Hmmm. Andrew Budesser? And buy the domain “Andrew Budweiser” and have it redirect to your homepage? ;)

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Andrew, your name is even more complicated because it’s hyphenated. Will I find your books under “B” or “S” at a bookstore or library? Might be either.
      I generally don’t recommend a nom de plume because of all the work a writer does to build name recognition online. That becomes lost. But in your case, I’m pausing and seeing some good reasons to use a last name that’s a takeoff of your surname so your social media friends would recognize it as being you. The bad news is that would require you to switch your followers over to your social media sites that use your pen name. Regardless which way you go, it’s not simple. (Sort of like life.)

  • So logical, Janet. Thanks for the advice!

    If I receive an email about a book I want to buy, I’ll often keep it in a To Buy folder on Gmail. I also keep a To Read list in the notes app on my iPad. However, I’m sad to say I’m much like the reader in your scenario. If I can’t get a book when I hear about it, that book often gets pushed aside by so many other great reads.

    Cliched but true: So many books. So little time.

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Your buying habits are typical, Meghan. If I want to buy a book, I’ll pull out my iPad and order it. If I can’t order it, I might add it to my shopping cart or, if the release date is pretty far out, not buy it at all.

    • I’m with Meghan. If I see a book I like, I save it to my Amazon wish list until I’m ready for a new book. That doesn’t mean I’ll buy it from Amazon–sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t–but it sure beats trying to remember the names of books weeks or months down the road.

  • Janet, I’d just suggest that another key place to have the cover art up early is Goodreads. That way, even if you reveal the cover 1-2 mos ahead of time (what I try to do to create buzz), you can be sure to link readers to it on Goodreads so they can add it to their To-Read List. If I’m not mistaken, I think Goodreads will update readers when that book releases (I’ve received updates like that).

    For me, sneak peeks of cover art truly helped create an excitement I wouldn’t have had, had I revealed it just a couple weeks before release. Goodreads was the key for me, since Amazon won’t let you post things (at least as a self=publisher) until you’ve hit PUBLISH.

    • I was going to mention Goodreads too. That’s where I keep track of my “to-read” list using their bookshelf feature.

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Heather, when you self-publish, the decision about when to reveal your cover is very different from traditional publishing, where the author has a final cover several months before the book releases or is available to buy. And a traditional publisher can start to build an author’s Amazon page for the book months before it can be bought, which is what enticed my two clients to prematurely show off their new covers. My clients could find the book when they searched on Amazon because they searched via title. It’s all about whether the book is available to be bought. Which leads me to the question, do you think you lose sales rather than build momentum by generating excitement that can’t be expressed through buying your book? I don’t know the answer, I’m just asking the crucial question.

      • Hm. I’d say in my experience I didn’t lose sales–in fact, I gained traction pre-publication. But I think it was such a joint effort between my followers and myself as we geared up for the release. I have such an interactive and supportive group of followers (now readers!).

        I do plan to give a sneak peek of my not-quite-finished mystery cover to newsletter subscribers, as well, just to give them a flavor of the book and the direction we’re going with cover art. I also like early readers to be able to have the cover art with the books, so they can see the overall picture. I’m HOPING that will happen this time (it’s basically an ARC).

        That’s interesting about trad. pubs–I’ve noticed that they have the Amazon covers up sooner (and often, they have reviews before the book is officially released, at least in the histfic list I’m on). For me, as indie, it makes sense not to get my book up or publish it earlier than my launch date, so my books can get the maximum spike on the Amazon lists on launch day. But every indie does it different ways. Some launch softcovers first, some don’t set a firm launch date…it’s entirely up to each author. For me, a set launch and early cover reveal works best.

      • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

        Heather, I appreciate your filling us in on how cover reveals work for you. That helps each of us to have a wider view of possibilities depending on our publishing situation. Especially if your goal is to hold back purchases until your launch date so you can get as much synergy as possible in the Amazon rankings, that makes perfect sense.
        I don’t know for sure, but it seems several of my clients have said no reviews can be posted on Amazon before the book’s release date so I’m not sure how some have managed to circumnavigate that policy.

  • Lori Benton says:

    Published authors: anyone ever have observant readers announce your new book cover before you could do so? I’ve seen this happen in years past, though I’ve managed to catch my own covers revealed on Amazon and various other online sites before readers alerted me to them, and released the news myself with a high res image on my blog. Online news travels fast. :)

    • I was going to say the exact same thing, Lori. I’ve had readers or blogs post a cover without my knowledge. Then when I get around to the big reveal, it’s old news. Readers also add upcoming books to Goodreads and you end up with multiple (and sometimes inaccurate) listings. I don’t know if there’s a good solution to this problem.

      • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

        Lori and Karen, I guess your fans see your cover on Amazon or Goodreads? Hm, I wasn’t aware of that challenge. Has this happened before the book can be purchased?
        If so, it seems the answer is to coordinate your announcement with the day your publisher makes the book available to buy on Amazon. Marketing should be made aware of the problem and work in sync with the author.

      • Sarah Sundin says:

        I’ve had a similar issue on Goodreads. As soon as I shared that I’d signed a contract for a new series, someone posted the three new titles on Goodreads. Mind you, these are working titles only – and a good two years before they’ll release. What’s funny is someone posted a review – for a book I hadn’t even written yet! Oh well :)

      • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

        Sarah, your comments and others’ show just how complicated it is to control the reveal. I guess it’s not safe to mention working titles, and all you can do is tell a teeny bit of what the story is about. Scheesh, how instant world certainly makes it challenging to market! But,hey, I hope that review was positive!

      • This happens every time to me. The cover and blurb go out on a blog before it’s posted on Amazon. Usually some fan tags me and shares it. I’m grateful for the enthusiasm, but usually I still haven’t got final word from my editor that the cover has been finalized. Thankfully, Amazon and Goodreads are rarely far behind.

      • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

        Regina, it’s hard not to reprimand the person, isn’t it? I, who long to control the world, have to remind myself that the enthusiasm may be misguided, but it still is enthusiasm. I wonder if you could write the person and thank her for the good word, but would she mind re-sharing when the book is available to be bought, and then give her the release date.

    • Yes I have! I have also had readers start pages for my as-yet-unreleased books on Goodreads that I have no control over. It makes things difficult for the author when that book has been released and needs to be added to the author’s Goodreads page.

      • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

        Kathleen, one of my clients had her name listed incorrectly on Goodreads for an upcoming release. I researched and found where she could submit that correction and therefore could put up correct information about the book. But she initially was blocked from taking down the incorrect info. Welcome to our very confusing online world, right, Kathleen?

  • Good to remember, Janet. Thanks for sharing!

  • Sarah Sundin says:

    Lori Benton hits on a common “problem.” Even if we wait to reveal our cover, as soon as it pops up on Amazon, people are pinning and blogging about it. Obviously, there’s no way around that :) But I do appreciate the tips – we can avoid making our own big announcement until the time is right – even if it’s old news in the book community by then.

    • Sarah Thomas says:

      Should have read all the comments before adding my own. This happened to me, too.

      • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

        Since this seems to be a common problem, I believe we all need to communicate that to our publishers and ask if there’s some way to truly have a “reveal” day, with the cover not being up until the book can be purchased in both the physical and digital formats. Having the word leak out doesn’t help the author or the publishing house. This is just another way in which our publishing world is changing, and we all need to adjust accordingly.

  • I was going to say the same thing as Lori! :) But good to know, whenever that day may come for me… Thanks, Janet!

  • Wow! I honestly had never thought of this, Janet. It’s happened to me a couple of times as a reader that an author’s book isn’t available online yet but has been announced, but I never put two and two together. I do, however, try to discourage clients from using a virtual book tour to promote an upcoming release unless it is part of a series and there are previous books to purchase to entice the reader.

    For my own reading, I have an on-going list at Amazon and I update GoodReads with books I want to read regularly. At this point, I’ll be reading until I’m 100. :)

    Thanks for this great tip to start the week.

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Cheryl, ha, I’ll be in the rocking chair next to you with my own massive list of books to read.

      I think even having other books in the series that a potential reader could buy wouldn’t be as effective as the most recent book being available for purchase. I might not readily find those other books in the series, even if they’re clearly labeled in online stores or even if you tell me I can buy other books in the series. It’s just another place for a misstep between my intention to buy and actually buying the book.

  • Angela Mills says:

    I keep a list on my phone for books I hear about, some in my “saved for later” cart on Amazon, some on a kindle wish list, some in a folder on my kindle of samples I want to finish, and a few on my amazon wish list. It just kind of depends on where I am when I first hear about a book. Unless a book is from a favorite author, or part of a series I’m reading, then I usually have to wait awhile before I buy it. Too many books, not enough money :)

  • But what would be the ramifications of a publisher putting the book up at Amazon as a pre-order? The book isn’t released yet when you find out about it, but you can pre-order it so that way it grabs the buyer. I know you can’t do it as a self-pubber, but publishers can do this. Do you think that hurts or helps putting it up as a pre-order?

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Dorothy, pre-ordering online gives excited readers an outlet for their enthusiasm. When they find out about the book, they can pop that baby into their shopping cart and head to checkout–and that’s the ultimate goal for the author and publisher. So even though the reader can’t get her hands on the book immediately, she’s made a commitment to purchase it, and it will be delivered to her when it releases.

  • Great advice, Janet. Thank you!

  • Sarah Thomas says:

    Ah, but what about when someone ELSE finds and reveals your cover? Mine was revealed as part of a collage of books being released by Bethany House for Summer 2014 and a reviewer very kindly included it in a blog post. And then other friends shared on Pinterest. So I jumped on the bandwagon and made hay while the sun shone. Thankfully, it WAS good to go on Amazon, but other sellers were behind that particular curve.

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      I think the best a publisher can do is control what’s up on an online shop, but even that, as you mention, isn’t totally under the publisher’s control. Each site makes changes to a page when it fits into their schedule, not the author’s or publisher’s. The publisher can press for updates to be made, but the ultimate decision isn’t in their hands. All the author and publisher can do is coordinate their efforts so the author announces the cover when the buy buttons are activated. Since Amazon is the major online retailer, you did the right thing to announce the book’s availability when your fans ran ahead of you.

    • I put your book on my to-be-read Pinterest board Sarah. :-)

  • Dinozzo does all my book-keeping and data base management.

    He’s a real whiz at it . He went to Canine College and graduated at the top of his pack.

    Please e-mail him for any and all details.

  • Lisa Bogart says:

    “Hovering agent that I am…” Also reads as “Savvy business woman.”
    Thanks as always for sharing your expertise with us!

  • Sherry Kyle says:

    Ahh, the cover reveal. It’s so hard to hold that back because it’s been a long time coming, but I see your point. We live in a world of instant gratification and readers want the book yesterday. I have a historical romance (my first novel in this genre) releasing in October and I’m going to be patient and release the cover when people can actually order it in both print and e-book formats. Thanks for the advice!

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Sherry, I’m glad this post is helpful to you. From what other authors are commenting, it’s not always as easy as I portrayed it–for either the publisher or the author–to hold the cover back. But if it’s your control to do so, it will be worth it in sales.

  • Peter DeHaan says:

    Janet, I’ve been on the reader end of some of these issues. And, yes, it was disappointing and detracted from my excitement for the author’s book.

    In one case, the author’s print version was available on Amazon two months before the Kindle version. For two months the author promoted the print book, while I not-too-patiently waited for the Kindle version. But I lost interest before the Kindle version came out. (The saga does have a happy ending, as I did buy the Kindle version about six months later when the author ran a special promotion.)

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Peter, your example speaks to the importance of both versions being available simultaneously, if at all possible. That way no marketing efforts are lost on the reader who is waiting–patiently or impatiently–for the version they want to read the book in.

  • Hmmm. There’s much to weigh and consider here. Unveiling cover art at the appropriate time for sales is crucial, but so is maintaining the author’s online reputation as the first authority when it comes to their upcoming releases.

    In the news business, the first to break the story is often considered the authority on it. News stations now post about their news on Twitter BEFORE they have the full story put together, to protect themselves from being “scooped”, to maintain their reputation as the key source for the news, and to maintain some control over what is shared.

    In the writing world, when it comes to cover art and synopses, if the author holds back on their post, and another source (blogger, Pinner, etc) shares it, that blogger may be seen as the authority for news about that author’s projects, rather than the author themselves.

    I believe authors need to lead the narrative about their work. Their readers need to see the author’s web site and social profiles as the first authority for their projects.

    In our hyper-digital world, that requires aggressive action on the part of authors (and their online brand managers) because tech departments for publishing houses post cover art for authors online, often before the marketing or editorial teams are aware they’re live.

    Then bloggers and pinners are in turn sharing those images with their many followers.

    Then readers write the authors, saying, “So and so blogger says you have a new book coming out, but I can’t find the cover art and synopsis on your site”.

    That, to me, is equally bad for the author-reader relationship.

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Kelli, and your solution to this muddle is…?

      • Janet,
        LOL! I’ve been pondering that very question.

        I would suggest these 6 steps:

        1.) Post the cover as soon as it’s live on the Publisher’s site (or Amazon, if it’s there first).

        2.) Busy authors who are juggling too much to take time out to check their publisher’s site could put Rel on retainer to watch for their art, because truly, Rel is incredibly talented at this. She has kept many authors from being behind-the-cart with her wonderful little “hey, did you know your cover is live?” e-mails.)

        3.) Post the cover to the author’s web site first, with any pre-order links that are available. (Amazon often has pre-order links live before Christianbook or Barnes & Noble.)

        4.) If NO pre-order links are available, below the cover, add a countdown widget, a link to add the book to a to-be-read list on Goodreads, and a sign-up form* that says “Excited about the book? Want a quick reminder e-mail when this book is available for pre-order? Add your e-mail here and I’ll send you a note when order links are live!”

        *This should be a one-time only e-mail, and these people shouldn’t be added by default to the author’s subscriber list.

        5.) Remember to send the promised e-mail. Include a link to a sample chapter in this e-mail (if available), and also a link that allows these one-time-notice folk to subscribe to a full author newsletter if they want it.

        6.) Share the cover art on social networks by linking to this page on the author’s site.

      • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

        Kelli, brilliant, as only you can be. I love this plan! Thank you a gazillion times.

  • Laura Jackson says:

    I’ve never thought about this. Great advice!

  • Rel Mollet says:

    Great post, Janet!

    I’m going to give voice here to the many passionate and enthusiastic book bloggers who delight in discovering new books from favourite and new authors, alike, and will post and generate buzz for authors and publishing houses, as a result.

    I’m most likely the ‘culprit’ that Sarah Thomas referred to above. I’ve been blogging about Christian fiction on my review blog since 2006 and cover art preview posts are amongst the most popular on my blog and generate the most comments. Many times an author has contacted me to say my blog post has been the first time they have seen their finished cover – oh, how I feel for them! As Kelli said above, I believe the author should be in control of releasing their cover. Here’s the thing – I only ever post previews once the cover art, synopses, and purchase (pre-order) links are available on Amazon and/or the publisher’s website. It seems to me that by that point it’s not unreasonable to assume the publishing house has also provided their author with a final cover art copy and they’ve had the opportunity to promote it. That isn’t always the case. I’m now in the habit of contacting authors I’ve worked with for some time, to check if they know their cover is up at Amazon, and to enable them to announce it first.

    I have had a publisher ask if I had a secret contact who was providing me with the information! Awkwardly for that publisher, I had accessed the cover art and synopses from their own website. It was clear that their marketing team and IT/Tech team were not communicating. I know that publisher has now changed its processes to resolve that.
    This is not unique to one publisher, I might add. It happens more often than you think. I’ve also been contacted on a number of occasions by panicked authors as the synopsis that has been posted to Amazon, which I have relied on, is incorrect, contains plot spoilers, and more. I think, Regina and Janet, you would find that most serious book bloggers are all about supporting an author and their books so never feel anxious about contacting a blogger to request they hold off or amend an incorrect post.

    Lastly, and I know I’ve gone on a bit, I don’t think a cover becomes old news just because others have posted about it. Readers are fascinated by cover art and the process behind it. If you have a special story behind the creation of the cover (eg. Becky Wade’s models are real life couples, Ronie Kendig’s Raptor 6 model is a serving soldier), or a titbit about the background building/scenery, keep that for your own cover reveal and you will always find readers excited about it!

    • I agree, Rel. I know readers LOVE when you show all the gorgeous covers coming down the pike. I honestly believe it builds TONS of buzz.

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Rel, thank you so much for chiming in with the blogger’s POV on revealing covers. I appreciate the wonderful help you are to authors, and thanks for mentioning that authors should feel free to contact you if you use information that isn’t correct. I’m sure writers rise up and bless you.

  • Kimberly Rae says:

    Thank you for this post! I was planning to post the cover of my upcoming summer release as soon as possible to promote it before publication. I had no idea that was a bad idea! Will change gears and follow your advice. I appreciate this blog–it is so helpful.
    Kimberly Rae
    Know your Worth, Change the World

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