Cover Design For Novels, by Giles Kristian (guest article)
Ebooks are okay but they don’t have pretty covers. Not proper covers anyway. What’s wrong with that? You ask. After all, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. The jacket of that there hardback is simply some amalgamation of ideas from some graphic designer (with a helping of opinion thrown in from marketing) who probably hasn’t even read the book. It’s nothing more than the shiny lure at the end of the line meant to hook us and make us part with our hard earned cash. It’s the culmination of countless hours of market research and data collection (probably), designed to catch our eye and entice our imaginations. How sneaky is that? It’s what’s on the inside that’s important. The story. The craft. The words. Well if that were true we wouldn’t comb our hair (I don’t as it happens) wear make-up (ahem) or bother what clothes we throw on to leave the house.
Rightly or wrongly, we find ourselves manipulated by book covers. They are bewitching. I can stand for so long in a bookshop just looking at covers that people begin to wonder if I’m all there. It’s not always that I’m searching for my own books. I’m intrigued by the process. I love trying to figure out why a designer or publisher took the cover in this or that direction. Fortunately, I am exceedingly happy with the cover of my latest book, Brothers’ Fury. The colour pallet is different enough to catch the eye and despite the somewhat ‘boy’s own’ action look (it’s a man swinging a sword) I think the colours, tone, letter styling and blue silver foil give the whole thing a classy edge. However, when I showed the previous book, The Bleeding Land, to a good friend (who is with another publisher) she said she did not like it. Not at all. This might have hurt my feelings rather more had I not already discussed my own concerns with my publisher about it.
You see, the cover of The Bleeding Land is pretty brutal-looking. Again there is a sword but there’s also blood and lots of it. Added to this, my agent commented that the chap on the front looks like a homicidal maniac. I admit that part of me (the same part that used to read Conan comics) jumped for joy at this. Another, more sensible and perhaps market savvy part of me worried that the overtly violent scene did the story something of a disservice. Yes the tale of the Rivers, a family divided by civil war, is at times gruesome. These were violent days. But wasn’t The Bleeding Land also a tale of brothers and sisters, mothers, daughters and sons? There was a family saga in there and none of that could be gleaned from the cover. More importantly perhaps, wouldn’t all that blood put off a great number of women who might otherwise enjoy the tale? Erm… women buy most of the books, don’t they?
‘The first thing we must do,’ they said, ‘is appeal to your core market. Everything else is secondary.’
‘Could we perhaps have Bess (the heroine of the tale) on the cover somewhere? In a dress? Thumb size?’
Still, side by side, the first two in the new series look very handsome indeed. At least to my eyes. Who knows if that lure has hooked readers in who otherwise may have walked past? All I can tell you is that we authors are quite sensitive about our covers, for all that we probably pretend we don’t really care. As much as I respected my friend’s right to dislike mine (yes it still hurts), I stopped short of asking why. Perhaps I just didn’t want to hear it.
Giles Kristian’s author website: www.gileskristian.com
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