Saturday, January 23, 2010


Novel covers are a fascinating hybrid of artistic and advertising impulses. They are the visual lifeblood of the publishing industry, and in the genres of science fiction and fantasy, they can quite easily determine the popularity of a text. Frankly, nobody cares what the cover is going to be on a classic literary text, like Frazier's Golden Bough, or El cantar de mio Cid. But the cover of a new series by an previously unpublished fiction writer, and even a semi-established fiction writer, can make or break a series. Ultimately, if a browsing customer doesn't decide to pick up your book by virtue of its interesting cover, you have lost a sale. Publishers need sales. Everyone needs sales, because everyone needs to ensure their own financial survival, at all levels of the industry.

My experience in the urban fantasy genre is that covers require tank-tops. Women need to be in tank-tops, possibly with a jacket thrown hastily over one shoulder, definitely wearing a shoulder-holster of some kind. She might have an animal next to her, she might be hugging a wall, or she might be holding an amulet. But the elements are all there: gothic scenery, gloomy lighting, a firearm of some kind, and bare flesh.

What's amazing is that artists working for various publishers have found creative ways to project this idea while also adding an element of the unexpected. Everyone has limited digital and financial resources to work with, and a crushing schedule to deal with, but despite it all, fascinating covers are still produced. Take mine, for example, above.

Tess looks interesting, not mindless. She isn't wearing high-heels. She has a pretty sweet police badge lanyard around her neck. And the crime-scene tape is eye-drawing. It takes the CSI image, which is an advertising text, and extends it. Whatever's behind Tess seems pretty scary, at least to me. And trust me, it is scary. But the touch of the windows is perfect, especially because of the medieval subject matter. I think Tim Lantz did a great job.

Will this cover make more people pick up my book? I guess I'm not supposed to care about these things, I'm just supposed to "enjoy creating," or whatever they call the daimonic inspiration of writing in any genre. But I also want to be published, and the visual representation of my stories is essentially what ensures that.

Still, to me, the fantasy and science fiction aisle in a bookstore has always been the most beautiful aisle. I go there first, not to Artwork or Philosophy. I browse all the new covers like a twelve-year-old version of myself stuck inside an endless Purdy's chocolate store. Some are so pretty. Others make me cringe. Damn you, Patricia Briggs, why does Mercy just keep getting hotter with each successive cover?

I can be distracted in a bookstore this way for hours. My boyfriend is more distracted by the games section, since he sincerely wants me to play Settlers of Katan with him. Will I break? I feel like being drunk is what will ultimately decide things, but I look forward to it.


Tez Miller said...

Ah, tank tops...I wear them a lot less than UF heroines do. Then again, they never seem to require hair removal ;-) I remind myself that it's fiction, and perhaps wish fulfillment on the part of the author, and thus not like real life... ;-)

I like your covers because they're colourful with some shiny. But I'm young and dim, so my opinion may not be the majority ;-)

On another note, I'm still convinced that your father is Stan Smith - him being an American Dad and all ;-) Good morning, USA...

But you're way cooler than Steve ;-)

Dr. said...

I do indeed have an American dad, although nothing like Stan. And Steve is pretty cool. "Lavate los manos!"