Wednesday, 13 November 2013

... A book by its cover

Recent events have made me face up to the fact that I am very very opinionated about book covers. They strongly affect whether I bother to read the blurb or to risk buying the book, and that's a crying shame, because so often books are horribly let down by their covers. I've been there myself:

You can tell it's a swords-n-sandals epic of vast deserts, clashing armies, and the ancient temples of dark gods, can't you?
Book covers should tell the reader something about what lies within, and they should be enticing. That is their job. If they're not doing that, we might as well have plain covers with nice fonts.

To be honest, that works just fine.

So I thought I'd write about what I, as a reader, like and dislike about book covers ... though I'm mostly going to stick to heterosexual romance/crossover genres just to keep it focused. It's entirely about my personal taste. And I want to make it clear that none of the examples I'm going to cite in any way reflect on the text content of the story within!

So here's what I hate.
  • I hate anything that looks like it was photographed or painted back in the 1970s:

Would you believe this was published in 2012? Sorry Madelynne, but I think this is the worst cover I've seen in a decade.

  • I hate bloated guys with hairless chests.

"Gym Bunny ... standing naked in a tunnel. Huh?"

FFS, grown men have body-hair! Fact! Baby-bald chests look preened at best, and downright stupid at worst. Over-muscled cover models look similarly artificial - and I don't want to read about guys who spend all their life in the gym in order to maintain a narcissistic ideal. I like muscle, but it needs to look like it belongs on a human being, not a bullock.

"Oh god no. I actually feel embarrassed looking at this."

  • I hate (almost) anything with faces on.
"Oh god, he looks like Starsky."

I'm going to have to explain that. The problem with romance and erotic romance, in particular, is that people depicted on the cover are implicitly understood by the reader (though, Christ knows, not by the publisher) to REPRESENT THE CHARACTERS IN THE STORY. As a reader you're being told: "these are the people you will root for, and feel for, and fall in love with." Now, if I take one look at the cover models and think "Not my type," or "Ewwwww!" then no matter how likely I am to enjoy the written story, I have already been put off investing emotionally or financially in the book. End of.

"He might be okay in ten years time. Ugh: she won't..."
Since my primary romantic alignment is to men, I'm fussier about male faces than female. But what attacts me may not attract the next reader.
So if you are going to show faces - show partial faces. Leave room for the imagination!

So what do I like?

  • It turns out that I like arty, but not painted. Digitally manipulated is best.
  • I like books where it looks like the publisher and art editor gave a shit, and didn't just pull a stock photo out of a drawer.
  • I like symbolic covers that leave room for the reader's imagination.
  • I like eyes, and body-parts, but not whole faces.
  • Unless you're really good, less is more.

Enough complaining! Here are some (mostly) genre cover pics I love!

Seriously: great cover. Haven't read the books.

Text and marginal art, no central image. Terrific.
Simple, evocative.
Hopefully Madelynne will have forgiven me by now.

Again - no face!
Technically a YA zombie novel with romantic elements...

These two are examples of a genre-standard design type: the layered montage. Yet somehow - and almost uniquely - Tabitha Rayne has managed to get a look that's classy and expensive, and could pass for a mainstream historical novel. I can even forgive the faces.

And it's not actually romance, but ... I love this too:


Jules said...

What did you think of the second edition cover of Divine Torment?
It has faces and a musclely bloke, but was at least indicative of the setting!

amhartnett said...

The old Black Lace covers were always puzzlingly out of context, but I found that always added to the taboo of owning a dirty book that could only be bought on the naughty shelf lol.

I love the new minimalist covers that are all the rage. Love love LOVE them.

Vida said...

You're liking the monochrome and red and the historic-y brown washed arty ones, so?

I just don't know. I like production values, these days - I love Cleis's typeface and the matte dark toned X-cite books. I like the strong identity of the Cleis anthos and I love the old fashioned sweetness of the Secret Library collection, they're pretty and classy. Alison's Dark Secret Love books look great to me, the Black Lace version's big fat red 50 Shades tie is not good though. Sad. Please, let's move on from the 50Shadesalikes, they're no compliment to the reader.

I totally agree about the bloated male boobs and 70s looking couples. It's a strange one.

Madelynne Ellis said...

At least Anything But Vanilla got a make-over, and I'm please to see you like the cover for Blood Moon since I actually commissioned that artwork.

Janine Ashbless said...

I wasn't proud or fond of it, but I thought it was a step forward, in that at least it showed it was a fantasy novel. The models didn't look ANYTHING like my characters, and I wince that she's wearing a chainmail coif without any padding (we know what happens with that, don't we?). But it was better than the previous edition, so I was grateful for what I got.

Janine Ashbless said...

Awesome font though.

Janine Ashbless said...

Yes Madelynne - the makeover for ABV was a huge improvement! I know we have no control over these things in most circumstances, we just cross our fingers and hope for the best. Blood Moon is great - shows what happens when the author has input :-)

Janine Ashbless said...

I actually liked the "50 Shades" covers, Vida. Sorry! Minimalist - and they didn't *look* like "just another trashy wank book". I suspect the subtlty of the covers helped a lot with marketing them to a wider audience.

The problem is, every erotica publisher has now copied that style, so it has become a design cliche all of its own. C'est la vie.

Janine Ashbless said...

"Dark Secret Love" is an excellent cover I think - again, just an abstracted pair of hands in chains, no leering models.