Covers, covers, covers. What’s in a book cover, particularly in this day and technological age when covers are likely thumbnail digital images? Apparently they still matter to the extend that publishers are re-releasing books with revamped covers.
Just recently Spec Faith carried the news announcement that Enclave Publishing has given the first two books in Morgan Bussey’s fantasy trilogy, Sons of Truth, new covers. Then this weekend Ashlee Willis contacted me about the new cover for her fantasy, The Word Changers. She now has an entirely different (and very gorgeous) cover—a sharp contrast, in my opinion, to the original.
But I hardly consider myself a good judge. My reading developed in an era that didn’t put a lot into book covers. Take, for example, the covers on my copies of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy—rather plain. Consequently, I went for most of my reading life not really looking at covers and certainly not judging whether or not I wanted to read a book based on its cover.
When I started writing full time, I had the opportunity to talk to other writers who told me how much they paid attention to covers. I thought it was simply a matter of preference until I heard feedback on Karen Hancock’s first book in her Guardian-King tetralogy, The Light Of Eidon. In fact, the feedback might have been on the first three books. At any rate, this group of readers/bloggers (part of a tour, as I recall) agreed that the covers had dissuaded them from reading the books sooner, that they appeared to be more like romance covers than fantasy covers, and therefore didn’t appeal, especially to male readers (even though the protagonist is a man).
I heard similar feedback about Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s first six books in the Tales Of Goldstone Wood series. Of course, her protagonists are most often women, but men figure prominently in the stories. And although there might be romance in some, they are by no means romance stories. They are solidly and irrevocably fantasies.
Clearly some readers are making reading decisions based on covers. I’ll admit, I’ve started taking more notice of them. I don’t have a practiced eye, but I generally can spot what appears to be a cover created by an amateur. I don’t know enough about the process of designing them to know why one looks professional and the other looks like a low-budget production, but I do know the cover influences my expectations of the book.
On the other hand, I can think of several books that received great covers from their publishers. I mean, great! I ordered one from a bookstore, and when I went to pick it up, the clerk gasped. Actually gasped. Then said, I didn’t know there were any Christian fantasies.
The sad thing is, the stories didn’t always match the great covers. Some were too predictable or the characters weren’t well drawn. Some opened too slowly and didn’t hook readers enough to keep reading. In those instances, the gorgeous covers caught readers attention and many bought the books. But they didn’t buy the next one or the next, even though the covers were equally well done, because the story let them down.
All that to say, covers are important, but they can’t make up for a deficient story. They are like first contact. If it goes well there will be a return visit and perhaps a cultural exchange, then a treaty and eventually admission into the Federation.
Covers are also like job applications. If they communicate what the reader is looking for, then a back-cover-copy interview is in order, then perhaps a chapter-preview second interview, resulting in “hiring” the book. Sitting down to read it is like job-probation. As long as it’s fulfilling expectations, readers will keep going, but if there’s any loafing on the job, there might be a second chance, but probably not a third. That book will get its shiny, well-designed cover sat down on the shelf, never to see the light of day again.
So what are your thoughts about book covers? What makes them particularly enticing to you? Do you think Christian publishers are purposefully trying to make their speculative covers more appealing to women? Do men read fantasy even if the cover seems slanted toward women?
If you’re interested, Steve Laube is running a poll today on book covers