Had a discussion about book covers yesterday after getting some constructive criticism on mine. As an indie author – covers were the last thing on my mind. Until seven or eight months ago, I seriously never intended to self-publish.
But as an artist, over the years I used to think a lot about covers. Covers on published books attracted me all the time, although it was blurbs and first paragraph reads which dictated whether or not I bought a book. I realised that as well as covers, I’d never really thought about blurbs either. For me, the important thing was getting my interiors up to scratch, spellchecked and edited. Rarely when I do a drawing or painting does it come up to my own expectations, and sometimes themes in the books require more than a flower, a puddle of blood, or a cleavage…
My favourite book covers of all time always contained real art, especially fantasy art – science fiction book covers in particular featuring spaceships, alien landscapes and adventurers. Some of the best artwork on covers appeared in the 1980’s, mostly on historical romance covers, oozing classical portrait talent and dripping with Fabio.
I could look at just the covers for hours, purely for the artist’s skill – I would study Boris Vallejo and attempt to imitate every line in pencil form. Nowadays, sadly, those style of covers are considered ‘cheesy’ and it’s all about graphic design and branding, creating a cover more simplistic and iconic, like a Coca-Cola label. I can recognise many of those ‘designer’ covers, but could tell you nothing about the story between the covers, or the genre, or the author – but with realist fantasy art, it was easy to understand what the genre and story was – especially if it was science fiction, romance, a pulp detective novel, or an early Ian Fleming.
In a way, these ‘brand’ covers tap into a form of label marketing which goes along with clothing, soft drinks, and fragrances. You don’t have to know what it stands for, what the story is. It’s an accessory, a lifestyle choice. The reader who buys Alexander McCall Smith might also wear Alexander McQueen (ahem, if they’re lucky). The same goes for movie posters – but luckily, movie posters haven’t moved on as far as book covers. The most iconic artist posters include Star Wars and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, and the films represented didn’t disappoint. You saw the poster, and the film lived up to it.
In Death & The City, the protagonist Lara has issues with personality and the way people market themselves, and their motives, and likens it to book covers. You see a big title and it represents a catchy blockbuster title, or a big author name and it represents a celebrity author. Pathway at dusk equals mystery. Pastel colours equals chick lit. Fangs and cleavage equals vampire horror. She compares the way one of her subjects of investigation was drawn unawares into prostitution by saying: Like she’d unwittingly bought a book about the sex trade, based on a misleading cover claiming to be a supernatural spy detective novel.
So I was aware of this ability for covers to be ‘misleading’ when designing my own, and also didn’t want to misrepresent myself as a publishing-house-style author while I’m currently an indie – no quotes from reviews on the covers or in the introduction, although I’ve had hundreds of comments from friends and peers, none that would qualify with the job description ‘Guardian Books’ or ‘TV Book Club’ – so I left them out.
Although I only have MS Paint to cobble them together, luckily Lulu.com on the hardcovers had an online formatter in which you simply upload images of the right quality – had a fun time searching for some I could use – until I can get the right images and artwork out of my head and onto paper, I’m happy with what I’ve done and feel that although amateur, it’s not misrepresenting anything.
But going by my taste in art, I have a feeling my own ideas brought to life won’t have any place in the contemporary market. 🙂