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Monday, 28 January 2013

Judging a book by its cover...

Of course we all know the old axiom, don’t judge a book by its cover, and we all know that there is an entire industry dedicated to making people do exactly this.
At this point in commercial fiction publishing, I think it’s fair to say they the industry has ether intentionally or by accident created a certain expectation of what cover art should look like, and perhaps more importantly what it should look like for each genre.

People primarily lift a book up of the shelf for one of two reasons, ether because of the author’s name, or because of the cover design.
I believe there are certain characteristics that now say ‘Romance Novell,’ ‘Thriller,’ “Scienc Fiction,’ ‘Fantasy,’ and ‘Horror.’
Yes, of course any potential reader/customer may be able to tell the genre by the book’s name, or by the picture illustration used, but it’s deeper than this...

Look at all the crime/thriller novels, for example. They do have a certain ‘look,’ or template that is different from the average romance of SciFi-Fantasy book. And, perversely, if a beginner writer or self e-publisher wants their book to ‘stand out from the crowd’ they also have to get a cover design that ‘fits in nicely’ with this self same throng. Because if they don’t the conditioned book buying public may subconsciously pass their work by based solely on the unspoken notion that it ‘doesn’t fit’ what they are looking for.

Unless you really know what you are doing I wouldn’t advise anyone to design their own cover for any serious attempt at self publishing. I’ve seen some fairly bad attempts, as well as some very good designs, in the past. Ss I’m not saying it can’t be done. I’m just saying you have to be careful, and I’m not just talking about using unprofessionally drawn cartoon covers, or picking a stock photo and slapping some default text over it (some of the less reputable publishers are guilty of going the second route) but on making the correct style choice for that you want your cover to say about your content.

I’ve heard people get the same advice over and over again...
Use a picture or illustration that focuses on the theme of your book.
Use a design that feature one or more of your characters.
Make sure it depicts a scene from your book.
But most of all keep it a simple and bold image.
Most of this all always sounds a bit contradictory to me, and how many times can you say you’ve seen a cover that truly ticks all these boxes?

I used a painting type cover for my little self-publishing experiment, and while some people said they quite liked the picture, most said it didn’t make them think of a fairytale come fantasy type story, even though it could be said to tick all of the above boxes. Some readers said they assumed it was a more literary, introspective work based on the cover. Why? Well because the cover looked ‘arty’ their words not mine.
For the type of story it was most people seemed to expect a more cartoony type of cover. And this is the type of market imposed characteristics I’m talking about. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, it must have evolved from somewhere, so maybe the situation we have today is just a reflection of peoples’ inherent ideas of what is and isn’t filling for certain types of fiction. Most crime books have stark, gritty photographic pictures on their cover, most romance books have warm, fuzzy illustrations, which can never be to cartoony in design.
Sci-Fi and Fantasy on the other hand, can be cartoony, or have more life-like illustrations, and in some, rarer, cases these may even have photographs: although these do all tend to be of non real-world situations.

This current covers culture situation is, of course, designed to sell books and not to make life easy for the beginner novelist... then not much is geared up to do that, or ever has been.
So am I saying this situation is good or bad?
Well, yes, I suppose I am!

I think I’m just saying that you probably do have a preconceived perception of a book by what cover art, style, and layout you see on the shelf, even though you don’t realise it.
And if you are releasing a book yourself you really should do some research into what others have done, then make up your own mind, or, let a publisher do it for you and trust their deal if you are looking to go the traditional publishing route. Most reputable publishers know what sells, it’s their business to.

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