Guest Author H.M. Ward on Rebranding Covers

It would be easy to hate H. M. Ward. 6 New York Times bestsellers just since January 2013, 2 Amazon #1 bestsellers, and since she’s self-published, she’s earning 70%. So she must be lounging by a pool filled with money on her own private island somewhere. With her own private cabana boy, of course. Right?

Actually, it’s impossible to hate Holly, because she’s one of the nicest and most helpful authors on the web. And totally down-to-earth.

She took some precious time away from writing to do a fantastic post on rebranding covers for the forum the other day and it was so useful that I asked if I could reprint it here. She enthusiastically agreed, so glad it was helpful.



Okay, my all time fav covers are YA PNR. Angel wings, demon eyes, and fluffy skirts on kick *ss young women. *swoon* So when I go to make an NA cover my brain is like, “But it needs a dragon…” Technically, dragons make it fantasy, but dude – dragons are awesome! What romance cover wouldn’t look awesome with a dragon in the background with its wings sprawled?

So as you can see, my creative self is conflicted when I make new covers. I’ve posted some of these before, but I wanted to do it again, and include a final cover that had a branding issue. This kind of stuff is visual and I don’t know about you guys, but it helps me to actually see the difference, which usually results in a face palm.



This one was the biggest oops. I wanted the cover to reflect the artistic stuff in the book. Problem: No one could identify the genre of this book. Someone mentioned they thought it was going to be a thriller when it first came out. I was like, you’re cray cray, dude. 

What I learned: COVERS ARE STOP SIGNS. They should quickly reveal as much info about your book to the reader as possible and this did not. As soon as I changed the covers to the current version, sales shot up. By Christmas 2012 (book 1 in this series appeared last summer) the series was selling better than I’d ever hoped.

You’ll also notice that I had a pen name, which I stopped using late last year. Even though the pen name wasn’t a secret, people didn’t buy the books. It could have been the covers, or it could have been lack of fans for Ella. By last summer, I had a small, loyal fan base for HM Ward. Ella had around 5. I could have branded both names, but time is an issue so I didn’t go that route. I used the name that already had the following – mine. Smiley

Here’s another example of stupid cover mistakes. This book was a sleeper. It did nothing for 9 months and then shot up and landed on the NYT bestseller list. In Jan of this year, I changed the cover and pulled it back under my name just before running an ad. People saw it, could tell what it was, and tried it. Plus the ppl who read it when it first came out really liked it, so they pimped me out – all 5 of them! Seriously, those people are awesome and I can’t thank them enough. Don’t be stupid like I was. I had a serious cover crush on the old version and did NOT want to change it. The painting on the cover is IN the book. Short version: I was really stupid. Don’t wait 9 months to change covers or descriptions on books that aren’t preforming.



Okay, and here’s the last cover screw up I’ll show you for today. Smiley This is my next novel (no dragons Sad ) and it needed to be tied to the DAMAGED series. I did something stupid, in terms of branding. I have a series within a series. People weren’t getting it, so I’m trying to go back and brand the covers better.

This book was giving me all sorts of grief. The tone was a little off and the typefont was bugging me. Yes, I made it, but sometime I don’t see the issues until later. I think the mismatched branding was bugging me. I changed the cover last night and by this morning, the preorder ranking shot up quite a bit.



The new cover has that somber thing that DAMAGED has, plus matching fonts which should help connect the series. Now, instead, of comments like ‘LOOK! ITS SUPERMAN!’ the fans are saying ‘Awh, what’s the matter with Peter’s brother?’ which is way closer to the reaction I want.

Making my name legible was also a face palm. Ah dher.

Anyway, I have more examples of me being stupid, but the point of this post is to actually see the issues and not be afraid to change them and try something new. If you have a solid story and it isn’t selling go back to the trifecta of awesomeness: COVER, TITLE, BLURB. Those things combined make a little stool, and all three legs need to be functioning to get ppl to look at your sample. If one is off, it knocks over your whole thingamadobie. Mine have been off and that’s okay. We’re not locked into keeping a [crappy] cover (meaning it doesnt sell) b/c we’re indie. Change it as many times as it takes.

Examine what works and what doesn’t. Change things one at a time to see what the issue is. I totally thought it was my books last year. I was slamming my head into the wall b/c I wrote SEVEN new romance titles, all of which were sucking up the charts and doing nothing. It’s amazing how tweaking a few things can change EVERYTHING.

I’ve had 6 titles on the New York Times bestseller list (since Jan), and sold over 1.5 million books. It’s like, SHUT UP! I know! And if I kept my artsy covers it would have never happened.

I’m supposed to be in the writing cave… gots to go. Hope this helps someone see the things that took me nearly a year to figure out. Smiley


23 responses to “Guest Author H.M. Ward on Rebranding Covers”

  1. Shea Berkley says:

    Thank you for coming on the blog today. Your comments and examples are really eye opening. I agree 100% about changing the first two covers. I get the reason behind the change. I find the last cover example very interesting. The tone is more somber in the revised one, but not drastically. I do like the typeface better in the second one and that you toned down the colors and pulled back on the photo. Everything you did was so subtle, but it looks better, yet, it really isn’t all that different than the first. Very interesting. Did sales jump up when you changed it or just the cover comments?


    • HM Ward says:

      @Shea – Yes there was a jump in sales, even with the subtle changes. It’s the difference between nailing a bulls eye and hitting the white. There are a lot of ‘almost rights’ in there. 🙂


  2. Rita Henuber says:

    COVERS ARE STOP SIGNS. Great image. I suggest authors also review the cover in the thumbnail size used on sale sites. Many times title and author name can’t be read.
    Thanks for sharing with us.


  3. June Love says:

    Very informative post. I love that you showed us the before and after. It makes it easier to “get it”, you know? Covers make all the difference…especially if you’re trying a new author.

    Thanks for allowing Amanda to share your post with us.


  4. Excellent post! I lurk on the KBoards, and I seek out HM Ward’s posts in particular. So smart. But I missed this one in my RWA Nationals daze.

    I’ve always thought romance covers were too similar, and I thought I’d want to do something different for my own. But as I’m preparing my first book for publication this fall, I’ve realized that no, I won’t do that. Because that would be dumb. As HM Ward says, a cover brands your book. I discovered that if I strayed too far from the norm, my book no longer looked like light contemporary romance. Nice enough covers design-wise looked *wrong*.

    Thanks for posting this, Amanda! (And thank you for posting it to the KBoards in the first place, Holly.) The third cover is particularly fascinating, in that such relatively minor changes can have such a big impact. I wish I could take a class in cover design, with examples like this one to help guide my decision making process.


  5. What a great post! And the covers as visuals SO helped me to understand! Love the idea of a cover as stop sign AND the image of the three-legged stool. Don’t know what direction my writing career is going to take this year, but this information is going in that great book “Stuff You Need to Know” notebook!


  6. Great article – thanks Holly! I made the same mistake with the cover of my NA novel: the original cover had a ballerina’s feet and legs (as opposed to the kissing couple I ended up with). I loved the image, but it didn’t immediately tell the reader what genre the book was, and that’s crucial. Thanks to the advice of some other authors, I went with the couple and it’s been a success (not an HM Ward-type success, but respectable). I strongly suspect it would have been a different story with the original.


  7. Laurie Evans says:

    Very informative. Thanks for the visuals.


  8. Thanks for sharing, Holly. This is so great. Going to review my stuff and remember the “Trifecta of Awesomeness”!


  9. Linda Barlow says:

    Terrific post, with great examples that make it all clear. Will tweet it out. I can totally see why it was hard to change some of those covers, but I also get why the new ones worked better. Really eye-opening stuff. Thanks!


  10. Kim Law says:

    Thanks for posting that here, Amanda. Great article! And those were some awesomely great artistic first covers. But yeah, not what the cover needs to say, huh? Good to see it laid out so plainly.


  11. Terry Spear says:

    I love seeing the covers and the changes. I loved your original covers, beautiful, but totally agree with why you changed them. A romance with a hot couple or at least a hot guy, sells. 🙂


  12. Elisa Beatty says:

    Amazing!!! It’s really true that your more “artsy” covers are more interesting (they draw my eye more), but I’d have had no idea what genre they were, so I’d be less likely to actually buy them.

    Food for thought for sure!!


  13. Great blog. I kept hearing this over and over last week at conference. I’ve spent all of this week reworking some of my covers.


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