I love comic books. As a little kid you couldn’t drag me into a book store or library. But tell me we’re going to the comic book store–Mega City Comics was my local haunt–and I dashed inside! You see, reading never appealed to me. Even with comic books, I never read the words in the speech/thought bubbles or the captions. All I cared about was the art. I’ve said this before, when I “read” my comics I always constructed my own stories from what was going on in the panels.
Today I’m still guilty of good art drawing my in more than the words. Sound odd? Let me explain. Half the time (probably more than that) when I decide to read a book it’s not because of author name recognition or the stirring plot description on the back cover. What draws me in is stellar cover art. I’ve also been turned off books because of lack luster art.
It took me three years to finally pick up Martin’s “A Game of Thrones”. I’d heard of the book series, specifically when Lev Grossman proclaimed Martin the “American Tolkien” in a Time article (click here). So I went out, bought the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series and then shoved the paperback on the shelf for four years or so. When finally I picked up the book again, I was hooked and could not put down that first book and those volumes that came after it. But what initially kept me from dipping my toe to see if the waters were warm? Simple. The cover.
The cover didn’t strike me as anything special. It didn’t wow me. It was dull, drab, and “meh”. What was between the front and back covers was far from boring, it was (and still is) an amazing read, I’ve read all the books several times since. But walking through brick and mortar store I would never have given the novel a second look if not for the Times article.
Another example. For years I had seen the book stores the Night Angel books by Brent Weeks. Fantastic series. Problem is, the paperback covers are similar to so many other choices on the shelves. Mysterious dude, hood up, back to the on looker, and somewhat brooding. There are hundreds of similar covers. So for years I ignored the books, my mistake (incidentally the French covers are heads above better and more appealing). A lot of covers fall in to this trap. Let me make a list of some of the commonalities I see in the market:
- Hooded mystery dude
- Shirtless blonde beefcake straight from a bad Thor B-movie ripoff
- Sexy, sultry babe coercing you into thinking this book is a good time
- The damaged young girl/guy glancing over his/her shoulder, tear drop ready to drip down the rosey cheek
- Some inanimate, everyday object like a mask, a high heeled shoe, take your pick
You get the idea. Photo-realistic job with beautiful models equipped with pouting lips and come hither eyes.
Covers are the first impression for readers. The art has to pop. It must attract. In many ways it has to be fun and engaging. I don’t pretend to be a marketing expert, it’s the part about being a writer I hate most. However, I do know me. And I know I jump at wanting to read a book based on the cover, first, then I read the description and decide from there. The cover sticks with me, it calls back to me when I’m thinking of what book I should read next from my to-read pile.
I’m not sure where I saw the cover but Jay Kristoff’s “Stormdancer” appeared out of nowhere. Stormy red sky. Japanese girl with a samurai sword ready to cut her enemies to ribbons. Flying griffin soaring out from the background, talons poised to rip at your eyes! The cover was beautifully drawn, not an airbrushed-looking photo job. No matter what “Stormdancer” was about, I was immediately interested. So happens “Stormdancer” was awesome, I said so (click here). Take a look at the cover artist’s site (click here). The artist’s name is Jason Chan and he does fantastic work, he’s even worked in the comic book industry.
Some of the more striking artwork with regards to covers is from the children’s and middle grader books. The American covers for the Harry Potter books are well done, fun, and dare I say it, spellbinding. There is always a lot of mystery, adventure, and fantasy invoked in the art by Mary GrandPre.
Indie book cover art is more often than not lackluster. Mostly because the majority of indie authors are working with a limit budget and cannot afford artists like Chan or GrandPre. My own covers for the Our Monsters books are probably not worthy of a gold star but I would like to think I’ve at least set the covers apart by keeping the art simple, creating graphic art instead of using photos of everyday objects or people. Hopefully readers find the Monster covers fun and interesting; in the end I know what I like and I’m pleased with the silhouette look I went with.
When it comes down to cover art for novels I say keep things simple, be original, but most of all, the art should bring out the fun and adventure in the book, it should connect to the soul of the story and writer who took time to pen the world between the front and back covers.
What are your favorite book covers?
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