How to Ruin Your Book Sales – It’s Not What You Think

*Note: I am addressing an important issue in the publishing world, with young adult books in particular. I’m using one of my books as an example to get people thinking. I’m not saying that this issue is the only issue involved with my book. I’m using it as an example to bring awareness. See the links/resources at the end of this post for more information and factual statistics.*

Update: In this post, I said that I wasn’t going to change the cover because of the issue discussed in this post. I have since changed my cover, but it has nothing to do with the issue. Since the writing of this post, I’ve spent a great deal of time studying covers. What I learned in regards to other issues caused my decision to start with a new cover. For instance, I had no idea that the font used on the title is a “kiss of death” for covers.

Now onto the original post, addressing an issue I feel strongly about:

Authors get all kinds of advice on book marketing: put links at the end of your book, create a website, build your brand, go free, don’t go free, and the list goes on. There is one thing no one talks about which can kill your sales in a way that nothing else will. It has nothing to do with editing, having a well designed covered, or even great reviews.

Accidental Discovery

I discovered it by accident recently. I released my latest novel, Chasing Mercy, with no idea that I had broken the unspoken rule. I was excited, sure that it would do as well the books from my Transformed series. The early readers had all loved it and within about the first week, it already had ten glowing reviews. Then….

Crickets. Almost no sales. I tried a lot of the same promotion that had helped my other books, but with minimal results. Then I decided on a KDP Select run and gave it away. Deception had gotten picked up by quite a few of the sites that promote free books and I was surprised that Chasing Mercy hadn’t been picked up. The review score was higher, the only thing that made any sense to me was that it was a new release. That had to be why it didn’t get picked up by most of the sites. Right?

The Real Problem

Would you like to take a guess at what the real problem was? Take a peek at the cover and blurb and see if you can guess:

The summer after graduation should have been the most exciting time of Mercy’s life.

Instead, on the way to an exciting overseas trip, she barely survives an accident that kills the rest of her family. As soon as she’s released from the hospital, a creepy hooded figure with black skinny jeans begins to chase her. 

At home, Mercy experiences other ghostly encounters. Kit, her neighbor who happens to run a paranormal blog, thinks that her brush with death has made her more sensitive to life on the other side. She discovers what the hooded figure is hiding and decides to try and stop him regardless of the danger.

Can You Guess?

Does the answer scream out at you? Can you figure out the huge “mistake” I made? Is it that people don’t want to read about ghosts and reapers? Maybe it just sounds too sad, the poor girl has to live without her family.

Really?

I’ll let you know the reason, and you’ll have to leave a comment and let me know if it disgusts you as much as it does me. I hate even saying this, but the reason it’s not selling is because the main character’s race. She isn’t white. Seriously.

The topic of race came up on an author group that I’m part of and after reading the experiences of other authors, I realized that race was the cause of my low sales. Prior to that I had all kinds of other ideas, such as needing to get the sequel out to boost sales. But the thought of race never once crossed my mind.

Now understand that I don’t expect everyone to jump out and buy my book. I also don’t think that people are prejudiced if they pass up my book. There are many factors that go into the decision to purchase a book or not. But the fact is  the sales of this book versus my previous two are like night and day. There is something causing the difference.

Here’s another thing to consider: Other authors report that changing their covers has caused their sales to skyrocket! 

The fact is in order for YA novels to sell with an ethnic person on the cover, it needs to be whitewashed, turned into a silhouette, or removed completely. This is why traditional publishing companies stay away from covers with diversity. See the links that I provide at the end of this post for examples and hard numbers.

Something Needs to Change

Does that bother anyone else? It should, because my friends, this is not right! I’m not upset about my sales, it’s the overall problem that has me so upset.  It’s not right that this is happening.

It needs to start with Indie authors who can choose the covers that the big publishing houses won’t touch. Next it comes to the readers, which includes authors because we’re readers too. We need to buy and leave reviews for books with diverse main characters on the cover.

If anything is going to change we all need to take steps to get the ball of change rolling. I’m not judging anyone’s choices, but I’m not going to change my cover even though it will cost me sales. She is beautiful and represents my main character well. End of story.

What will you do? You can start by checking out the posts below and then going out to support a book with a diverse cover. You can start by picking this one up for free: Surfer Girl and you can grab my book, Chasing Mercy.

If you’ve written a book with a diverse main character, share about it in the comments!

Check out these posts on the topic:

Color Distribution of YA Covers 2011

Diversity in 2012 YA Bestsellers

It Matters If You’re Black or White: The Racism of YA Book Covers

The Hunger Games hit by racism row as movie fans tweet vile slurs over casting of black teen actress as heroine Rue

Resources for Diverse Lit and Media – great resource for authors and also readers looking for books to support

 

48 thoughts on “How to Ruin Your Book Sales – It’s Not What You Think

  1. Sonia
    Twitter:

    Girl, we still have a long way to go. I didn’t notice anything. I starred at your book cover for over 2 minutes looking for something to jump out at me, still nothing. I love books and it is not the person on the book that would make me buy. Its the story, the plot that excites me. I wonder if Twilight had a black character on the cover if that would have changed things? Who knows, but after this post, I am starting to wonder. That is sad stacy that it even exists in the book world, but I don’t know about it.
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    1. Stacy Claflin
      Twitter:
      Post author

      Hi Sonia,
      It really is sad that this exists today. It’s interesting that you mention Twilight because I read that Jacob was one of the first characters in a popular YA book to be native american. I suppose that’s one reason that the big publishing houses are so big on the simple covers with no people on them. The Hunger Games is a great example.
      Thanks for sharing!
      Stacy
      Stacy Claflin invites you to read… Forgotten Cover RevealMy Profile

      Reply
  2. H. D. Thomson

    Oh, wow. I would never have figured that out unless you had mentioned it! That is soooo sad. I remember Cheerios had problems with an interracial family just a while ago and they had to pull the comment section on their site regarding the commercial. I just never think there’s people out there like that because of the color blind people I hang out with.
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  3. Emma White
    Twitter:

    OK I spotted it straight away but I think I had read something similar about the race topic a few weeks ago and thats what made me spot the so called mistake.
    The question is if you were not of white skin would this bother you more because your own race would be the one being judged?
    I believe your doing the right thing by leaving your cover as it is.
    Another thought – what made your leading star be of the chosen race? (odd question but as a writer im interested)
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    1. Stacy Claflin
      Twitter:
      Post author

      Great question, Emma! I noticed in my Transformed series that I didn’t have any ethnic characters and since I was already planning on writing Chasing Mercy, I decided to make the main character East Indian. When I was in high school my “second family” was East Indian and I loved them and I have a lot of fond memories with them, so I decided to go with their race for my character.
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  4. Mark
    Twitter:

    To be devil’s advocate for a second, the potential reader need not be a racist to pass up your book by cover alone. Without doing research, they might assume the author is the same race as the main character, and perhaps they have read from a very ethnic genre and don’t desire to do so again. In that case it would be mistaken genre.

    Here’s a question. If the cover was one way but the story was another, would it anger readers? Would it make a difference if there was a disclaimer at the beginning of the book describing why that particular cover was chosen?
    Mark invites you to read… If you like #historical fiction, this is a great read. GUIAMO by @ancumer #fantasyMy Profile

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    1. Stacy Claflin
      Twitter:
      Post author

      Hi Mark,
      Thanks for stopping by. I’m definitely not saying that someone is racist for not choosing my book – or any other book with an ethnic cover model. There are many reasons that one would choose or not choose a book.

      My point is that I’m shocked at how much of an issue race is with book covers and sales. The fact is approximately 90% of YA book covers have white cover models. Also, the big publishers won’t publish covers that aren’t whitewashed because the sales risk is too high. Those are really sad facts and I would like to see changes soon. I was disappointed when I read authors sharing how much their sales went up after they gave their story a new cover with an ambiguous cover model.

      I’m not sure what a disclaimer would do. I would think that between the cover and the blurb, enough information would be given to the potential reader.
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      Reply
  5. Courtney

    Really great tips here for some indie writers I know. I have never read any of your books before but I am glad I came across your blog. Just bought Deception (The Transformed) and will leave a review when I am done. Looking forward to it!

    Reply
  6. Marj

    A beautiful dark girl, a young chap minus any character in his face, a blurb that would not appeal to me – are you sure that it’s because of the girl’s race that it is not seeling? There can be so many different reasons.
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    1. Stacy Claflin
      Twitter:
      Post author

      There are certainly a variety of reasons that a reader will decide for or against a book. I’m only using my book as an example of what is a trend. My books are not for everyone, I wouldn’t expect someone uninterested in YA books to have any interest in mine.

      Regardless of the actual affect on my book, it’s a clear trend regarding covers in the YA genre. If you check out the links I posted at the end of the article, you’ll see hard numbers. Also the authors in my group stated significant sales jumps when they removed the diverse cover model. That says something.
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      Reply
  7. Staci Troilo
    Twitter:

    I never noticed the issue until you pointed it out. I’m surprised that in 2013 that’s an issue. It’s food for thought. I haven’t had the pleasure of designing a cover yet (the cover art for my first novel-a mystery-was designed by the publisher, and my second novel-a romance series-isn’t under contract yet). If I ever have a say on the cover art, I think I’ll be much more concerned about having an appropriate image than I will be about race of the cover models.

    I hope your numbers pick up. Chasing Mercy was quite entertaining, and I’m looking forward to the sequel.
    Staci Troilo invites you to read… Times Change — Embracing New TraditionsMy Profile

    Reply
    1. Stacy Claflin
      Twitter:
      Post author

      Staci,
      I’m surprised too. An author friend of mine is a member of the YA librarian organization and she says they have discussed this issue a lot. Some people are in denial about it, but it’s a very real issue. It sounds like there is some progress, but it’s slow.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
      Stacy
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      Reply
  8. Susan Helene Gottfried
    Twitter:

    I’ve been seeing more covers from the big houses featuring more ethnic cover models, so change is beginning. I don’t know if you were around a few years ago, when there was a big backlash from an author because the publisher had put a white model on the cover, yet the character was distinctly not white. That was the tipping point.

    As with everything in publishing — at least on the end affected by the big houses — change is slow. Keep on fighting the good fight and, yeah. Don’t change the cover.
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  9. Michael Tyler

    Stacy, let’s get real. Your heroine has nothing outstanding about her character in this photo. Look at her. Not too many females will be interested in her looking so flatlined. Look at your other covers. They have a homogenized LA/Hollywood fem fatal glitz going on. Subjecting it to nationality for you doesn’t hold water. Yes, you may have researched your stats, but again, you haven’t played the all acceptance.

    So, try it. Get a glammed version of this gal on the cover and then look at it all go WOW.

    Just something I do. That’s it. As an International Media Stylist, that’s my opinion. Try it. Good luck.

    Reply
  10. Gord
    Twitter:

    I did notice that the Mercy is not white, immediately dismissed it as a possible reason for the suffering sales, and continued looking for other details on the cover and in the synopsis.. If that IS the real reason why sales suffered I am flabbergasted. Maybe it is time to discriminate against the discriminators. It is the only way to break the continuing pattern of ignorance that I am naive to think we all got over in the 90s.

    Reply
  11. Candace
    Twitter:

    I don’t know… it’s hard for me to believe that there are THAT many people in the world who wouldn’t buy it because of that. Actually, I would think that it would be something different that would HELP sales. I’m not sure I’m convinced, but I do think that indie authors should make a point of bringing diversity to their books because they can, and publishers aren’t taking as many of them.

    I have an author I’ve been working with who has several books out and different series. One series never did take off. She has a white female on the front and the cover is stunning but apparently people aren’t drawn to it because it doesn’t tell us anything about the story. So I guess I would think it’s more of something like that.

    Personally I don’t like to see faces on covers because I like to imagine the characters myself. When I can see them clearly then I picture those people and they don’t always ‘fit’ right for me. I am getting more used to it, but I still prefer to not see faces so clearly. However, that doesn’t keep me from buying a book if it sounds good.

    BTW, I think your cover is great (other than the whole picturing the people since I see them so well, thing) and I especially love the background part of it all.
    Candace invites you to read… Review: Becoming IndigoMy Profile

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    1. Stacy Claflin
      Twitter:
      Post author

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Candace. I can see your point about wanting to imagine characters yourself. I personally don’t mind, as I grew up reading books like the Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley Twins which always had faces on the cover.

      There are definitely different reasons why a book or series might not take off and it can be difficult to narrow down what the main issue is.

      Thanks again for stopping by!
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      Reply
  12. Rachel Creager Ireland
    Twitter:

    I noticed the race, then thought, surely not . . . but I do think it is probably the issue. People might not be thinking, “I only want to read about white girls!” but it might be one of several, often unconscious, factors that could be just enough to tip their choice another way.
    Kudos for not changing the cover. Making people of color invisible in media has detrimental effects on all of us, whether we are aware of it or not.
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  13. Le-Anne

    Do you have proof that it is the fact that the girl is not white that is the cause behind your book not selling?

    Couldn’t it be the oversaturated paranormal market? The quality of your writing, the quality of the story? The quality of the blurb? The reader’s experiences with your previous books? With previous books similar to this?

    Could it be the low quality of the cover design? Let’s face it, this is obviously a self-published book. You can tell from the cover that no one really spent a long time on the design, that the two characters were just slapped on the front. They don’t look like they belong on the cover, they look like they were copied and pasted from stock images with no regard to theme, tone, coloring (of the pictures, not their races). The man on the cover is a completely nondescript Edward Cullen lookalike. The quality of the font and the coloring of that is rather low, too.

    I’m not saying that the woman’s race has nothing to do with your poor sales. There is a history of racism in publishing, and we all know that POC get the shaft when it comes to representation in the media. But before calling people racists for not buying what you’re selling, look at what YOU could be doing differently.

    Reply
    1. Stacy Claflin
      Twitter:
      Post author

      As I stated in the post, there are many factors that go into the decision of whether or not to purchase a book. I don’t expect everyone to be interested in my books. They’re not for everyone, but I can compare the sales of this book to my other books within the same genre.

      If you take that information combined with the information provided in the links at the end of the post, it is a plausible correlation. Nothing conclusive of course. Oh, and for the record, I never called anyone racist.
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      Reply
  14. Anastacia
    Twitter:

    i had no idea until you pointed it out, but honeslty how do you know for sure that that is what it is? I didn’t particularly like your summary (sorry) & I definitely wasn’t compelled to buy your book. And that was before you pointed out the race of your main character. I agree with others who mention the cover design – it looks really obviously amateurish to me. I LOVE indie books & prefer to read indie, but I’ve seen a lot of truly amazing cover art from indies.
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  15. AJ

    There are definitely people who won’t buy books with people of color on the covers, but your cover has the additional problem of being poorly put together. The characters have a very cut-and-paste look to them, the lighting doesn’t match up on them, and the font you used for the title is one that I’ve seen a thousand times on terrible ebooks and zero times on good ones. Just something else to consider.

    Reply
      1. Janet

        I don’t doubt that it’s a real issue – but others things have been mentioned as possible reasons for the lack of sales. And your posts have not been addressing a problem in publishing – they’ve been blaming racism for the lack of sales.

        Reply
  16. Reiko

    I’m agreeing with the people who say that there are probably more issues than race alone, but if I may point something out: ALL of her covers (at least the ones on the side) look badly-made. Presumably, the level of writing is the same in all of them as well. Why are those books selling but not this one?

    Reply
  17. Lexxie

    I don’t understand why you think the cover-model on your book is at fault if your book isn’t selling. I just went over to amazon, and it doesn’t seem like this particular book is doing worse than your other books. I read a lot of paranormal YA, but I’m not sure I would pick up this one. The blurb is not very enticing, and there is nothing there to lure me in and want to read more.
    I have read several books where the MC was not white, and the cover model wasn’t white either, and I know some of those are best-sellers!
    I still think it’s important to have more books with characters who are not white, and the white-wash of cover models is frustrating. This has started to change though.
    Good luck with your books 🙂

    Reply
  18. Kenra Daniels
    Twitter:

    First, I have to say I don’t read or write YA and haven’t kept up with that market at all, and since I’m unfamiliar with your work I don’t feel comfortable offering up pronouncements of its quality or lack there-of.

    In addition to all the other factors that go into deciding whether to purchase a book, I think the race of the cover models has a very real, and often subconscious, effect on sales. In general, people tend to spend the majority of their time around others of their own ethnicity, and also tend to be most comfortable with people of the same ethnicity. Rather that making a deliberate choice not to buy your book because of the ethnic model, I would suggest that a significant percentage of the readers who pass do so subconsciously because the cover doesn’t reflect the ethnicity of their chosen social peers, the people they are most comfortable with.

    One of the things we must do as authors is to touch our readers’ emotions and subconscious minds. We know that readers like to put themselves in the shoes of the main characters, to live through them and experience the world as they do. Since our cover is the first contact we often have with potential readers, a cover model from a different cultural group than the majority of our readers gives an immediate signal that the book isn’t about that reader. She will have to work harder to put herself in the place of the character and may not feel quite comfortable there. And so the potential reader passes on the book and buys one with a cover model that looks like her family and friends.

    I’m making my point rather poorly and don’t mean to imply that the subconscious factor weighs in ahead of other factors, but I do believe it plays a significant role.

    Thanks for an eye opening and thought provoking post.
    Kenra
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    Reply
  19. Nicole Hewitt

    Wow! This is really sad – especially since most people are NOT overtly racist, but this is still something that subconsciously happens. The numbers just don’t lie. Good for you for not changing your cover. Things can only change if the industry makes a concerted effort to do something about it. I would think that if people are exposed more to these diverse covers, it will become less of an issue. As part of an interracial family through adoption, my eyes have been opened more and more to the need for diversity in so many places – this is just one of them!
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  20. Mar

    Weird…I thought it was because the blurb pretty much gave the entire plot! I see nothing but a beautiful young lady on the cover. Good model choice. But I guess most of Americans are white, so they want to see white faces?

    Reply
  21. Kari

    Wow. I can honestly say that I stared at the book and blurb for a long time without the faintest clue, and I am SHOCKED that ethnicity has made a difference like that. I was reading the ‘It matters if You’re Black or White’ article, and even though I have never heard of whitewashing, the covers made me realize that I have read books like that. I knew the main character was a different ethnicity, but the cover didn’t make it clear.

    I’m so sick of our judgements, and they are influenced every day by media. For instance, there is a racist girl on Big Brother this year, and in my opinion she should be kicked off not JUST because she’s an idiot, but because she is sending the wrong message to young and old people alike: Be racist and get famous AND that it is cool to be like that.

    Your right, the girl on your cover is beautiful, and admire your even more for sticking to your cover because it represents the story, and not changing it because that would reflect more sales.
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