A tricky business, covers.
The cover is one of the most important tools a publisher has to actually sell a book – with the majority of books where your publicity and marketing budgets are going to be tiny, much the most important. If a bookseller really likes a cover they might stock it much more prominently. If they hate it they might refuse to stock it at all. A great cover won’t necessarily make you a smash hit, but it’ll certainly go a long way towards it, and a bad cover can without doubt sink a book, so it’s vital that, whatever else, a cover have solid commercial concerns at it’s heart.
From that point of view you’re trying to kill many, many birds with one stone, often birds flying in opposite directions. You want to attract a core audience that you feel will be best suited to the book, but at the same time you don’t want to repel other readers. You want the style and content of the cover to reflect the content of the book and the style of the author, though of course exactly what that means is entirely subjective. You want to some extent to give people something familiar, some visual touchstones that make them think, ‘ah, I’ve read this sort of thing before and this is the sort of thing I like,’ but at the same time you want there to be something unique about it that makes it stand out from the crowd and make readers think, ‘ah, this is special and striking and better than the fifteen other books it’s shelved alongside.’ Then you also, in an ideal world, are looking for some kind of visual recipe that establishes a strong brand for the book, series, and author, so that someone who loved author X’s last can, on scanning a table of new releases, suddenly say at a glance, ‘ah! There’s author X’s latest! I must have it immediately in hardcover!’ You’re aiming for something that is intrinsic to a larger strategy about an author’s, and perhaps even a whole imprint’s, readership and positioning. Then there’s the added complication of late that a cover has to work digitally as well as in physical form. Covers will float about on the internet as a form of viral promotion, will sit in the top left corner of an amazon page, have to look good at any size, at any distance, strike from afar but intrigue more close up.
Then consider that most covers will involve input from art directors, editors, artists, designers, marketing and publicity folk, senior publishers, agents, booksellers, not to mention those meddling bloody authors, all of whom may well have very different notions about what makes a cover work.
Starting to see why it’s a tricky business?
And why publishers are constantly tinkering with their approach and trying new treatments out in the hopes of improving and updating the profiles of their authors and tapping new veins of readership. They say it’s when they stop recovering your books that you have to worry…
Now to the meat of the issue – Orbit have decided to re-release the undisputed fantasy masterworks Best Served Cold and The Heroes in trade paperback, and taken a radically different approach with the covers, and it’s one that I actually really like, but having done this a few times before I don’t doubt a lot of you won’t, and my curses and screams of tough shit upon you all. Stand amazed:
Not to mention:
In your face. I take absolutely all the credit I can possibly get for these, of course, but of equally course, I don’t deserve any of it, for they are the brain child and indeed work of the Art Director at Orbit, Lauren Panepinto and my US editor Devi Pillai, with Photographer Michael Frost and Illustrator/Propmaster Gene Mollica. The treatment was basically for something reminiscent of modern sports photography – high contrast, high detail, high drama, fast shutter speed, frozen action. A filmic approach, you might say, and I think they’ve totally nailed it. Lauren’s post on the development, including a few steps in the process, can be found over on the Orbit blog. Going back to our earlier discussion (alright, my monologue) about what a good cover needs to do, the reasons I like these:
They’re extremely bold and striking images which take no prisoners. I can see them appealing to a committed reader of epic fantasy or of historical fiction or for that matter a more general reader of action-based books. There’s nothing naff about them. The content isn’t modern, but the way it’s presented very much is, and the lettering makes no compromises, it says, these might be books about then, but they’re very much for the now. So I think they achieve that tricky balance of hitting a core and a wider audience, and also of telling you very clearly and accurately the type of read you’re getting while still setting out a really striking and individual visual style. I can see this as an approach working across a whole series. A brand, if you will. And one that connects my books to the right type of readers. Shit loads of them, preferably. It’s a cohesive and coherent approach, and I also like the fact that it’s radically different to the UK approach – no doubt it gives the books a different flavour.
In summary they look like tough, edgy, very modern, kickass action fantasy for the discerning man or woman of today. Which of course is what they are. My advice?
Buy several. I’m told the Trade Paperback of The Heroes will be available from October 2011, Best Served Cold from July 2012, but I shall keep y’all posted.
Now tell me I’m right about how great they are in the comments section.
Or, alright, moan about how Monza should have three scratches on her cheek instead of two…