Monday, August 6, 2012

Book Covers are Important

Callihoo Publishing enjoys hearing from people in the science fiction community, no matter their areas of interest or expertise.  Remember, writers, it's the people who read your stories who are paying you.  So pay attention to their opinions!  Callihoo Publishing's guest blogger today is Mike Morgan, who is an illustrator and avid science fiction reader.

I'm here today to talk to you about the possibly unappreciated art of the cover to your book/short story/novella/fanfic.  I say possibly unappreciated because I know there are some writers out there who painstakingly choose who works with them to create the covers of their books.  For every one of those writers there are a dozen more who don't fully appreciate what a book cover can do for their audience and what it could mean for their sales.

Time was, in the long, long ago, before time, pulp writers had to match their stories to illustrations provided to them by their publishers.  Can you imagine having to do that day in and day out?  You should.  Sometimes it is a great way to draw inspiration, and it's surprising to find how many different stories can come out of a single picture.  These days, however, it's the opposite of the pulp era.  Covers are designed (well, good covers) with elements of the story in mind, or with an overall concept that can become iconic.  I am going to highlight to you what I, as an illustrator, find important.

First off, Twilight.  I don't like the movies, the story or the implications contained in the dang series.  But here's the rub: it is not a bad cover.  This illustration allows your imagination to fill in more of the blanks, the many many blanks, that are provided in the story.  There are no overt references to vampires or the undead or teen angst in this cover. Hands giving an apple, a promise of a gift.  It's symbolic, no doubt, and that is a dangerous path, certainly not one that everyone should take.  Had the cover designer decided to showcase something from the story, say an emaciated sparkly stalker, it's possible that the Twilight series would have been an entirely different phenomenon.  Maybe people wouldn't have cared about this story and we wouldn't be facing down an immortal Kristen Stewart today.

Take a look at and let me know when you are back.  Done?  Okay.  The lesson there can probably be broken down into a few "Don't" bullet points.
   ·    Excessive use of photoshop.
   ·    Disconnected imagery.
   ·    Way too busy to get the point across.
   ·    Illustration doesn't match the book in any way.
Romance novels seem to be guilty of the first point, but their cover art does a fine job of telling you in no uncertain terms what the story is about.  A lot of 70s sci-fi stories are guilty of the second, third, and fourth points, so you have no stinking idea what the cover is trying to convey.  As a reader, casual or die hard, those details can make a big difference.  A person can be easily turned away by a cover that is just chaos or by something that looks just the same as the dozen or so books surrounding it.

There is a lesson here:  pay attention to the important visual or emotional elements in your book.  If you are going to have a cover created, have a clear idea of what the heart of your story is.  That way when an artist or designer is working on your cover you can tell them what fits and what doesn't. Don't be afraid of such elements as bared chests if you are making a pure cheese-ball romance, or swords or magic for fantasy, but try to make sure that each cover is relevant to the heart of your story.

Something else to keep in mind:  don't bog down your designer with minute details, like a character's collection of sunglasses, or so-and-so wouldn't have that expression on her face.  Let your designer stretch their creative legs a bit in your world.  Take their input to heart, but always keep your target in sight.  Between the two of you, there is a much better chance of finding what works for your story. If it doesn't come off as iconic and is just all right, that's okay.  If the story sells, that means people like your story for your story, and that is the goal.

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Mike Morgan is an occasional dabbler in finer arts but prefers to create webcomics.  To date he has sold one drawing for the whopping sum of twenty dollars, but hopes one day to double or even triple that amount.  He can be found on Twitter @KiltyAsCharged


  1. I so agree with you, Mike! Here's another website that showcases awful covers: Looking at some of these just proves to me that one can't be too careful in choosing your cover art/illustrator. If it looks like your grade-school child drew your cover art, you're doing your story no favors (although I suppose grade-school art could be used in some cases if done skillfully--the key word here being "skillfully").