Some of the coolest book covers I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen quite a few – have been on science fiction, fantasy, romance, and horror releases. But it’s risky business – if a cover is too avant garde, will potential readers bypass that book for something more familiar?
Although there certainly is wisdom in the old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover,” the fact of the matter is that readers do judge books by their cover art and design. The long and short of it is that cover art is monumentally important and can mean the difference between a bestseller and a commercial flop. I’ve spent the majority of my life in the book industry – as a bookstore manager, a published and self-published author, and a book reviewer – and I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times: a mediocre novel with eye-catching cover art sells like hot cakes while an extraordinary book with a forgettable or wildly unconventional cover comes and goes unnoticed.
The question “what exactly is good cover art?” varies depending on who you’re talking to. I’m personally drawn to cover art that takes chances and consciously goes against current design trends. Marketing experts would most likely disagree – familiar images, recognizable motifs that instantly define what a book is about seem to successfully compel readers to pick books up.
And I’ve said before and I’ll say it again: a book that is never picked up will never sell.
I suppose there is a sense of comfort in these clichéd symbols. Readers instantly know what they’re getting.
Shirtless hunk = romance
Tattooed heroine wielding a weapon = paranormal fantasy
But my all-time favorite over-used image has to be the hooded cloak. So many fantasy novels have featured a hooded figure on the cover! Don’t get me wrong: the image of a hooded character – be it a wizard or witch or assassin or wanderer – can be stunningly portrayed but after seeing countless hooded characters on covers over the last few decades, it gets a little old…
Here are some of my favorites, just off the top of my (hooded) head:
I love the idea of the hooded character as focal cover art – it’s a powerful, mysterious, and downright cool symbol – but it has become a bit passé. Maybe dressing a wizard or assassin in a nice hunter green V-neck sweater or charcoal-colored turtleneck with a sensible pair of khakis would be a nice change of pace for the next fantasy book cover...
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can follow him on Twitter at @paulgoatallen and get all the latest Barnes & Noble book news from @BNBuzz.