What you see above is what the cover of The Lamiastriga would have been had I continued with my initial plan to self-publish it. I’ve never been very good at explaining anything to anyone but my concept for the book was simple enough to articulate without leaving any space for doubt: just the title and nothing else.
The actual cover is, of course, a lot nicer. I was a bit skeptic about it at first but smarter people than me convinced me it’s the right one. And all it has are two symbols. That’s it. I like book covers like I like my life: simple. A recent thread on Twitter and this hilarious guide on book covers, however, confirmed what I’d been suspecting for a while: not everyone likes their covers simple. At least not in the way I understand the word. And there are genre conventions here as in everything else.
Naked male torsos and romance/erotica obviously go together like bread and butter (see guide). Much as I don’t like to say it, an erotica novel without a half-naked man on the cover is a suspicious erotica novel that might not even be erotica at all. If the man is fully clothed, it’s probably just boring romance with no explicit sex in it.
This is clearly a solid genre convention and writers stick to it. Which is why I explicitly stated “No faces/bodies/silhouettes” for my own cover. An unusual bout of rationality, I admit.
Speaking of bodies, I couldn’t help but notice during my last visit to Kobo that fantasy and horror book covers are all full of them. They’re not as consistently naked as the ones in erotica and romance but they are consistently armed because, of course, if it’s fantasy, it’s got to have bloodshed. And magic, too. Staffs and swords are, I suppose, a must in fantasy book covers. Epic fantasy, that is. The urban subgenre is more flexible in this respect. As in all others but that’s the topic of another conversation.
This goes on, by the way. Face, faces everywhere. I almost started missing torsos while I browsed these. One might even conclude that faces go with fantasy and horror as well as half-naked men go with romance and erotica. It’s kind of weird but conventions are conventions. Torso is for erotica, face is for fantasy.
In mystery and thrillers, it’s all about the font. The font says the book is a thriller or a mystery and the author is taking their job seriously. I like fonts like that, the kind that scream the title of the book at you from the cover and scream and scream until you give up and buy the book. Clever or what?
This reminds me of a bit in Douglas Adams’ second Dirk Gently book when a character explains her suspicion that some authors sell books simply because their names look good on a cover. Longer first short and snappy second. Like, you know, Stephen KING. Or John GRISHAM. And, you know, Irina SLAV. It makes sense, really, and a pretty sensible sense, at that. It also works for initials plus last name.
In mysteries there’s also another convention if the author is a woman: cartoony covers. I see a cover like that, I immediately know it will likely be a cosy mystery with a witty lead character. Whoever started this trend was a smart person. I actually have to admit the only books I’ve bought based on their cover are this sort of books, the ones with the cartoony covers. I will never grow up, I know.
In sci-fi, I thought, with my narrow mind, that cover conventions should be pretty straightforward with spaceships and digital stuff galore. But it turns out sci-fi covers are pretty varied. That may be because there is so much in this genre you can write about, from zombie outbreaks (never saw them as sci-fi but they must be) to space whatevers (not my area at all).
It’s a bit frustrating sci-fi gets bundled with fantasy when the two are this different and spmetimes even the covers don’t help you tell one from the other but here’s a tip: you can always spot the fantasy by the font. It’s always curlier than the fonts of sci-fi books.
Interestingly enough, there is romance — or maybe it’s erotica — masquerading as sci-fi, too. Of course, the kissing faces — and the torsos, of course — on the cover of that particular book unmask it immediately but at least the font is right. And the palette is very sci-fi-y, to, which makes this a hybrid cover. Hybrid covers probably deserve their own blog post from someone more knowing than me.
So, in a world of all sorts of book covers, the other day, someone posted a bundle of books with no cover art on Twitter. They were packed in brown paper and had a note with the blurb stuck on the front. That was all. I was instantly won.
Like most people with an ounce of sense I don’t judge books by their covers but this doesn’t mean I don’t suffer when I see an ugly one. My Bulgarian-language copy of Good Omens has the cover of Wyrd Sisters with Josh Kirby’s art, enlarged and blurred almost beyond recognition. It’s the worst cover ever in the history of covers, beating even the third-rate collages that dominated the 90s down here.
There are whole lists with horrible book covers circulating social media and since they keep coming the lists will multiply. So I find that idea with the brown paper brilliant. One less thing for the authors to worry about (It was hell to come up with cover art ideas. Hell.) and also one less thing for readers to worry about. Bonus: a chance to think before you buy the book… It’s not going to happen, is it?
Author’s note: A big thanks to CH Clepitt for the inspiration. And the torsos, obviously.