Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is “Judging a book by its cover: cover trends and what you look for as an author or a reader.”
There have been excellent posts this week exploring why we buy covers, what we look for and love in covers, even being misled by covers. What I’m going to talk about is what a cover ISN’T for an author. And yes, this is something that’s hard to hear. Stop now if you’re not ready for a little tough love.
What a cover isn’t: It is not an expression of the author’s creativity.
I say this because I’ve heard more than one – usually a newer author – say that they want it to be. I recall one time that my aunt asked me to talk to a friend of hers who was a first-time author working with a small press to publish her memoir. She was super unhappy with the cover they developed and fighting with them about it. I think she fully expected me to give her ammunition in that fight. Instead, I gave her this tough love talk:
The cover of the book is not an expression of your creativity. The BOOK – what’s inside the front and back cover – is the expression of your creativity. You got all those words and pages to convey the story you want to tell. The cover is not, and should not, be an extension of that story.
Now, I’m not saying that the cover CAN’T reflect the story, but a book cover has two jobs:
- Catch the reader’s eye in a pleasing, enticing way.
- Convey genre or some sense of what kind of story it will be.
That’s it. Simple, but also very difficult. That’s plenty of work for an image and a few words to do. Those jobs don’t need to be further complicated by putting the author’s story-vision into an image. In fact, when authors try to insert that vision, they can get in the way of the primary two functions of the cover.
So, I know it’s hard. I have been there and I have had covers I hated, where the characters looked NOTHING like what I had in my head. I have had covers I loved that did nothing to sell the story inside. I’ve had horrible covers that I’m convinced tanked sales. I’ve had covers that readers rhapsodized over for no reason that made sense to me. When I work with my cover designer on the covers of my indie books, I really have to take off my author hat and put on the publisher one – and remind myself of the two rules. Tough love for myself, too!
This week at the SFF Seven we’re giving a shoutout to our favorite book-adjacent creative! (Be it cover artist, free-lance editor, web designer, etc.) I’d be remiss if I didn’t shout to the heavens about the talents of Ravven, my cover artist.
I swear, sometimes I think I wouldn’t have an indie career without her!
Ravven is just a hugely talented cover artist with the phenomenal ability to simultaneously nail genre, find exactly the image that’s in my mind, and create a brilliant work of art.
These are the two most recent covers she’s done for me, and they’re just fabulous. All the love to Ravven!
This week at the SFF Seven we’re discussing Cover Trends. We’re asking “What was, is, and will be “hot” in cover art/style for your sub-genre? If you have a say in your covers, will you chase the trend or will you stick with the image in your mind?”
There’s a lot to be said on this topic, too much for even a week of blog posts. When I’m asked for advice on covers, which is a frequent request, I tell authors to keep in mind that a cover has two jobs: to attract positive attention and convey genre. This has to be emphasized because authors – both in trad and in self-publishing – tend to get caught up in wanting the cover to adhere to the story. One first-time author who was very upset with the cover her publisher gave her and came to me for advice said “but the cover doesn’t illuminate the story.” I had to tell her that the story’s job is to illuminate the story. The cover does different work: attract the eye and convey genre.
It’s that second that’s most relevant for this week’s discussion. Because trends change and a cover that accurately conveyed genre six years ago may find itself conveying something else entirely to a current audience.
These were among the first book covers I ever commissioned and I particularly adore the cover for book one, LONEN’S WAR. It does come straight from a scene in the book – a pivotal scene that was, in part, the genesis image for the story – and the artist (Louisa Gallie) exactly nailed what I had in mind.
I will always be grateful for Louisa’s gorgeous art and I will always love this cover.
But, recently, people have been pointing out that these covers no longer convey what kind of story these books tell. The fantasy romance genre has moved on. If I want to tell readers that this IS the kind of thing they’re looking for, then I should consider updating to match current trends.
So I did!
Behold: The new cover for LONEN’S WAR!
I contracted with BZN Studio Designs to design new covers for all six books. Right now the series isn’t available, but once I have all six covers, I’ll re-launch the series with some fanfare. I’m super excited to see how they do with the new covers. I’ve heard some people (including my own assistant!) say scathingly that these look like all the other covers out there in this subgenre, and there’s truth to that.
AND THAT’S THE POINT.
The content is what makes the stories unique. The covers are doing the job they’re supposed to do. Caught your eye, did it? I hope so! And I’m hoping you also know exactly what kind of story you’ll get.