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Covers? Sorted. Reviews? Sorted.

Quite soon, Jericho Writers is going to turn, in a small way, into a publisher. We want to source and publish really great books on writing, publishing and author-led marketing. And of course, you folks will get first dibs and the sweetest deals.

We’re going to start simply. Ages ago, I wrote a couple of books for Bloomsbury, owner of the UK’s venerable Writers & Artists brand. The books were on Getting Published and How To Write, and were nicely received by readers, and – over time – sold plenty of copies.

But since those books first came out, the world has changed rather a lot. For one thing, the text of Getting Published was creakily out of date. It really had nothing to say about e-books or about the digital revolution which was, back then, still only a looming shadow.

For another thing, that revolution utterly transformed the way books like those are purchased.

Back in the day, people bought niche non-fiction in bookshops, because there was nowhere else to buy it. So a bigger bookshop might have a section on writing, but stock selection was inevitably a bit hit and miss. The turnover of those sections was slow and a bookseller wouldn’t feel they had to stock everything. So a reader could easily turn up looking for books on publishing, and find only a fraction of what was available – and a poorly curated fraction at that, because booksellers wouldn’t have the expertise or incentive to research the niche in depth.

Amazon blew that old system up completely – a good thing.

If you want niche non-fiction, Amazon offers you everything. It allows you to compare rival texts at rival prices by rival authors. You can check book blurbs, and browse the text, and see reader reviews. For the two books I had out with Bloomsbury, my online sales as a proportion were at 85% of the total and rising. I’m surprised there were any offline sales at all, to be honest.

So for these reasons, and others, Bloomsbury and I chose to part ways. (Which is nice of Bloomsbury, by the way. They aren’t under an obligation to revert rights, so it’s kind of them to do so.) I’ve utterly overhauled the Getting Published book and given a good old facelift to the How To Write one too. We’ll launch Getting Published properly in a couple of weeks – and we’ll do that modern-style. That is, instead of a book launch process designed around physical stores, our process be designed, from the ground-up, to be online-friendly.

What does that mean?

Well, a few things, and I’ll make sure you get some really good insights into the whole process over the next few weeks.

Today I’ll tell you how we’ve approached book covers and how we’ve approached the whole business of securing reader reviews.


Book covers

In physical world, the art of the book cover is 50% “What book cover will most appeal to readers?” and 50% “What book cover will most appeal to supermarket retail buyers?”

Yes, a cover has to work in every format and through every channel, but traditional bestsellers are built via volume sales through the supermarkets, so those retail buyers are key. Since those buyers are professional, and since they’re looking at every catalogue from every big publisher, it’s hard to game the system. That’s why so many covers in a particular genre look similar. Loads of publishers home in on the same solutions to the same question.

And another thing: in physical world, you can’t change a cover if one doesn’t work. Publishers’ catalogues come out six months or more before publication. Orders are placed weeks before. By the time readers have actually encountered the book, it’s way too late to change it.

That’s not the case in online-world. Sophisticated digital publishers like APub and Bookouture will simply trial a cover. If they don’t get the sales they want and expect, they’ll change the cover overnight and re-analyse the data. A cover is as much changeable and malleable as the Amazon blurb itself, which you can change just by entering a dashboard and altering the text.

We wanted to take a similar approach. We developed five different covers from a total of three designers. I’m sure we all had views as to which cover was best, but honestly, it’s hard to know for sure. In particular, we’re not buyers for that particular book. We’re a tiny sample. Opinions vary. We could just be wrong.

So we went to Facebook and created five advertisements. Each had the exact same copy, and just asked people if they wanted a free copy of the book. The only variation was the cover image we showed in the ad.

That ad showed to a total of 8,000 people (all of whom were interested in writing and publishing – we’re able to select that audience using the tools provided by Facebook.) Of those 8,000, a total of 370 chose to get a free copy.

Crucially, though, the different cover designs did not all perform the same. The best cover performed almost exactly 50% than the ‘worst’ cover – even though that ‘worst’ cover looked amazing and was by the same designer. Honestly, I don’t think we’d have predicted that result beforehand. We just didn’t know.

And that’s it! That’s the whole technique right there. We have compelling data justifying our choice of cover, so we can launch confident that our sort of readers like that sort of look. It’s a brilliant way to handle things.

And yes: it’s a somewhat costly approach – only not really.

The Facebook ads themselves cost about £100 / $130. We stopped running the experiment at that point because the answer was already clear. And yes, we needed various different cover designs – but designers always offer you several anyway. I’m sure we spent less overall than a Big 5 publisher would spend on a regular cover.

That’s cover design run in a modern, data-led, online-first way. We’ll do versions of that experiment many more times before we’re done.

And now – 

Review teams

Reviews obviously matter on Amazon. Partly, people want to know what other people have thought of a book, but also people just don’t like to be the first dummy to hit the Buy It Now button – just like you don’t want to turn up early to a party.

Additionally, traffic to a book page on Amazon is typically at its highest around launch. Amazon works much harder to promote new books than old stock, so visibility generally spikes at launch and drops away after that.

So you want your reviews to show very soon after launch.

That’s a really big deal that will affect your launch sales, but also your book’s future trajectory – as higher levels of early sales will keep you selling for a long time after and will give Amazon’s databots a much clearer idea of who your audience is.

Right. So you want reviews and you want them promptly after launch. But how do you achieve that – and achieve it in a non-spammy, ethical way?

Answer: you go to your mailing list – that’s you – and say: “Would you like an advance review copy of my book, for free?”

If people want the book - in ebook format - , they have to agree to post an (honest, genuine, sincere) review of it on Amazon within 48 hours of the book launching. There’s nothing spammy there. You may get some negative reviews as well as some positive ones. You’re asking people to write their genuine thoughts, not just automatic 5-star praise.

Those reviews can populate quickly. The last time I brought a Fiona Griffiths book out, I had 50-80 reviews posted in a matter of days. Those reviews comforted newcomers to the series that it had legs and merit and have supported sales ever since.

Yes: you do need a mailing list before this technique works with ease. But yes: there are ways you can do something similar even from a standing start.

But since this email is already too long (gosh, what a surprise), I’ll leave it there for now.

If you would like a free advance review copy of Getting Published, by me, please see info in the PSes below. It’s first come, first served, and we have 100 books on offer only. I’d love it if you chose to help.

Oh yes: and the book’s quite good too. It’s Getting Published completely rewritten for the market of 2020 and beyond. I hope you love it. More on all this shortly.


If you want a free Advance Review Copy of Getting Published, by me, then do as follows:

  • Email publishing@jerichowriters.com
  • Put ARC PLEASE in the subject line
  • In your message, tell us which Amazon store you mostly use – Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
  • We will give ARCs to the first 100 people who contact us – 50 for those using the US Amazon store and 50 for those using the UK one
  • Please be aware that the review copy will be an EBOOK. We don’t have physical copies to give away, though physical copies will be available for sale at launch.
  • If you are asking us for a review copy, you do need to leave an honest review within 48 hours of the book’s publication, please. We’ll contact you around the time of publication to nudge you.
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Comments (10)
  • Thanks, folks! We're probably going to package up some of these emails into book form as well. A good loo book for writers! You lot who actually subscribe to the newsletters won't need the book though ...

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    • Harry, you could print an aphorism, shout line or pointer on every sheet.

      Shit don't tell
      Elevator Piss
      Unique Squatting Point
      Psychic Dysentery

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    • Hi Harry, fascinating post. A couple of questions.

      1. Re cover testing - I completely get the reason for running the test, but isn't it going to be prohibitively expensive for authors to pay for 5 or so covers to be produced so they can run such a test?

      2. Re reviews - I may not understand the model clearly, but I was under the impression that to post a review on Amazon you had to have made a 'verified purchase'? How do ARC's class as verified purchases for this process to work?

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      • I'm wondering if we will get to see all five cover designs at some point… It would be informative to be able to try to decipher what aspect triggered the greater uptake.

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        • This is a great idea.

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        • A little research - checking if the new book is yet mentioned on Amazon - showed me why Bloomsbury chose to revert rights to Harry. The editor of their Writers' & Artists' Yearbook has written - and they have published - a new W&A Getting Published book; reversion of rights is, almost certainly, a strategy to avoid diluting their own editor's earnings.

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          • I was also under the same impression as Andrew Copeman (above comment) that you can't post reviews on Amazon unless you have purchased on Amazon.

            Also, Amazon requires a minimum annual purchase from buyers before they will post their review. A pretty distasteful policy if you ask me, but it precludes a lot of people from writing reviews. :-( 

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