Now that we’ve explored all the main genres and some off shoots, let’s take a look at them all together.
Can you pick out which covers belong to which genres (hint: Paranormal Romance in the upper left, Mystery in the bottom right)? Can you see how some blend two genres together? (Hint: Deeply Odd, a blend of horror and mystery). The inner circle…can you tell that it’s vastly different from the outer one, and why? (Hint: Non Fiction and children’s lit look vastly different from everything else).
No doubt as you peruse these covers, some of them jump out at you and make you think “oooh, I’d like to read that.” Others probably leave you cold. If that’s happening, then the covers are doing exactly what they’re supposed to do…help you, the reader, make a decision based on a non spoken promise. Hopefully the story within lives up to that promise.
I hope this little guide has helped clarify what to look for as you navigate the publishing stream. Keep in mind, these are guidelines, not rules. And of course things change. 50 Shades of Gray broke every design rule for the genre, but it certainly didn’t stop them from selling. Far from it, the covers with one striking image that didn’t shout “sex” probably helped, rather than hurt. If you’re going to do something against the flow, it’s always helpful to know where the stream is actually flowing. And know exactly why you’re breaking the rule.
For example, on the cover for my debut novel Stronger Than Magic, I’ve chosen to bridge a gap between new adult and adult urban fantasy. Notice, I don’t show a girl on the cover, which is the norm for urban fantasy. I show a dramatic scene, and a symbol. Hopefully it promises drama, magic (from the symbol and the title) and a hint that it’s urban or modern, not high fantasy. And hopefully at the end of the day it does what it’s supposed to do: entice a potential reader to explore a bit further.
Remember, the cover is, first and foremost, a marketing piece. If you find that marketing tool is not working, try re-packaging the story with a new cover. Study the genre the story falls into. Steal like an artist: borrow from what works, and make it your own.
Melinda VanLone serves as DIY MFA’s official shutterbug. Melinda earned an MA in publishing from Syracuse University, which she applied toward years as a graphic artist/designer, a skill she uses today at www.bookcovercorner.com.
In addition to book cover design and photography, Melinda writes urban fantasy and blogs on her website melindavan.com. As an air force brat, she’s lived briefly in places all across the country, but currently resides in Rockville, MD with her wonderfully supportive husband and furbaby. When she’s not playing with imaginary friends in her fantasy worlds you can find her playing World of Warcraft, wandering through the streets with her camera, or hovered over coffee in Starbucks.