book covers

Cover Reveal and Summary: Namesake

At long last, a cover reveal!

But first!

Good things come to those who wait, but better things come to those who work. I have spent the past few months in what I affectionately call “cover hell.” Consequently, I’ve avoided places like the internet in general and my own website in particular where I might have to account to others for my dealings. I here apologize. It is a character flaw that I’m likely to embrace to my grave.

And now, to the eye candy!

Cover Reveal:

cover reveal: Namesake by Kate Stradling

 

Summary: Namesake by Kate Stradling

“Who needs magic in an age of electricity? I can flip the switch on the wall with the best of them.”

Anjeni Sigourna bears the name of a legendary goddess, but her resemblance to that honored figure ends there. Eighteen and jaded, she has cultivated sarcasm instead of the elusive magic everyone expects her to possess. Such mystic power lacks purpose in her modern world.

But when an adverse encounter with the Eternity Gate lands her in an alien realm, magic marks the boundary between life and certain death. Anjeni alone holds the keys to saving an ancient people from a savage enemy. Her bitterness notwithstanding, now she must create a legend instead of living in its shadow.

Best of Intentions

“Cover hell” consisted of a multitude of ideas with middling-to-poor execution. None of them made it past the drafting stage until I stumbled on this one, and then it went through four different builds (including a first, quick run in PSE where the program shut down when I tried to print, and I hadn’t saved so I lost everything, hahaha). A last-minute rework on that epic fireball sealed the deal this afternoon. I am in love.

(For now.)

Namesake is schedule for release in August, providing everything goes well. And by that, I mean my files are uploaded and under review. If the physical proof looks good, I’ll hit “Approve” and let you all know.

In the meantime, you can read excerpts from the book over on my critique group’s site, Novel Three: here and here.

Stay tuned!

Whispering Sweet Nothings

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Every cover sends a message, but the message intended and the message received can differ drastically. It’s the reason authors and publishers field-test their images before making a final decision. According to the Market itself, covers should have only one message: “Hey. Buy me.”

Seductive, no?

The prospective reader doesn’t receive the message in quite such succinct terms, of course. The well-crafted cover lays out its arguments more artfully:

“Don’t you love my color scheme? I see it caught your eye from across the room. My image, too, intrigues you. Go on. Pick me up. Run your fingers down my spine. Read my summary. Take me home with you and we can snuggle up together in a comfy chair for the whole evening and into the night.”

And suddenly you find yourself at the book store’s register with a hundred dollars worth of merchandise cooing at you from a plastic sack while the clerk runs your credit card and silently judges your choice of literature.

(I may or may not be speaking from personal experience.)

As powerful an impact as a book cover can have, though, the more often a particular style of cover appears, the more diluted its message becomes. The perfect color scheme gets drowned out amid thirty books sporting the same palette. Images recycled or cloned to market off the success of their forerunners might come off as desperate or canned instead. Even the artistic word-art covers so trendy right now are beginning to bleed together on the book shelves.

Some styles become so iconic of a genre that any variation is almost sacrilege. Bodice-rippers feature a beefy hero embracing his scantily-clad heroine. Regencies display a demure woman with or without her gentleman suitor. Mysteries and thrillers lean toward word art with simple motifs: silhouettes, or gunshot holes, or a story-specific object highlighted (in a pool of blood, often).

Even so, variation within the constraints of these themes is welcomed and desired. (Though perhaps not so much with bodice-rippers. I’m not sure that audience uses much of a discerning eye when it comes to covers. I’m positive the publishers don’t expect them to.) Even simple details such as typeface and title placement can mark the difference between tired-sad-overdone and crisp-vibrant-exciting.

Every variable must work in harmony to convey that all-important message.

“Hey. Buy me.”

Because, you see, that sale is the ultimate goal. The cover doesn’t care whether you actually read the book at all.

Hark! The Headless Hero!

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As far as I’m concerned, the torso-only cover image serves two purposes. First, it absolves the designer from matching the model’s identifying features to any descriptors within the book. This can be a plus, as some readers (*coughyourstrulycoughcough*) don’t like their mental imagery of characters to get muddled up by a photograph or illustration. The torso-only approach, along with the cute-feet-in-cute-shoes variation, can set the tone of the book while leaving the reader free to imagine faces as they please.

This approach highlights extravagant clothing and accessories. It can invoke a sense of mystery and intrigue, depending on the pose, the lighting, the color palette, etc. “Who is this attractive person? If only you could see their face! Read within to learn more!”

Because, let’s be honest, these types of covers never have “unattractive” body-types on them.

Which brings us to the second purpose: the torso-only cover objectifies. It’s Person-as-Object in visual form.

Often, there’s no character representation on that cover. It’s not even really a model. It’s just a body, a physical object displayed for your ogling pleasure. There’s no human expression, no depth of soul conveyed in this type of imagery. It’s a piece of meat. You might as well put a horse flank in its place.

And, in this instance, the men get shorter shrift. A faceless female model acts as an avatar for the reader: “Step into this body and experience her life!” Rarely does the torso-only man on a cover fill that role. Instead, shirtless chests and six-pack abs advertise salacious details within. You can’t see the guy’s face? So what? He’s an object, the promise of a story that will titillate and arouse. He doesn’t need a face.

And you certainly don’t need to see it.

Because, to this cover, you’re an object too. The reader is an animal acting on primal instinct, forking out money for that promise of fleeting sensual fulfillment.

Kind of depressing when it’s put in those terms.

Picture, though, this style of cover used with non-idealistic body types: a fat man in a wife-beater; a granny in her nightgown; a war-torn amputee. Picture the cute-feet cover style with the calloused feet of a tribal nomad instead. Suddenly, the cover becomes compelling.

In their essence these body-parts covers create a visual synecdoche: the part represents the whole. The idealistic images, so overdone these days, might reduce their subject to a trite cliché, but that doesn’t mean the style has no merit whatsoever.

And really, I shouldn’t complain. After all, the headless beefcake on the cover gives his message loud and clear: “Kate, you don’t want to read what’s between these pages.”

Much better to be forewarned than broadsided mid-story. And for that, I thank you, Shirtless Torso.

 

Paging Mr. DeMille

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It’s cute! It’s quirky! It’s extreme-closeup cover art!

Sometimes you only get the eyes. Sometimes only the nose, cheekbones, and lips. Sometimes a profile, or only one eye, or a comfy, cozy mug held up to obscure the lower half of the face.

In a quest for visual variety, cover artists keep this particular style around for those off-beat romantic comedies where the heroine is your average quirky it-girl. Expect awkward moments and hijinks aplenty during your reading adventures.

If the cover model is smiling, that is. A serious expression might be the cue for a different genre altogether.

This style of cover can be extremely effective outside the romance genre. For a thriller or mystery it creates intrigue; for sci-fi or fantasy, it can spark the imagination; for memoirs, it invokes honesty and frankness. The trick is not so much in the closeup as it is in the details revealed.

Fine-line wrinkles? Bloodshot eyes? Fangs? Scales? Yellow irises? Stark, blue veins?

It’s amazing the ambiance that such simple elements can produce in the mind of an inquisitive reader.

Add a second model in that extreme closeup, and you establish intimacy, tension, or a dozen other possible relationship cues.

And, typically, you make me really uncomfortable. I don’t like stumbling across other people getting that close to one another, even if it is only in a picture. Movies at least give you the buildup to that moment (one hopes), but cover art is like “BAM! Two people on the verge of making out! Guess how this book ends!”

Go on. Guess.

I get that readers go into books with a particular set of expectations firmly in place. I love a happy ending as much as anyone else. But when you’ve got a massive relationship spoiler indicated on the book’s cover, I kind of lose any incentive I might have had to read the book.

But, each to their own. Some people like spoilers. Some people read the last page of the book first to make sure it ends right. Some people like that giggly, intimate couple on the cover, two characters so absorbed in one another that they’ll never realize there’s a third voyeuristic party staring at them from beyond the fourth wall.

*squirms*

Sometimes I like to imagine the camera panning back to take in the surrounding scenery: a beach somewhere, maybe, with these two makey-outy people all wrapped up in one another while a mother shields her innocent child’s eyes and a creepy old man leers and a dog cocks its head to one side in utter confusion.

But I’m cynical like that.

The extreme closeup captures a glimpse of honest emotion, a candid moment, an intimate atmosphere. It invites the reader, “Come. Discover the secrets within my pages.”

Whether you accept that invitation is up to you.

.

.

.

(Guess that makes me the wary “stranger-danger” type, eh?)

When the Book-Cover Stars Align

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Every genre has its aesthetic. Book covers act not only as visual cues for the characters and story within, but they can also preview the mood of the narrative. Women on book covers, in particular, set pretty specific expectations.

A woman smoldering in the arms of a submissive, attractive man lands the book in the realms of horror or erotica. If she’s wide-eyed, she’s the victim in a thriller. A powerful stance indicates dystopia or adventure, particularly if she’s also holding a weapon and surrounded by a lot of light flares. Classical literature leans toward classical paintings. Modern literature tends more toward word art rather than pictures. (The lack of a woman on a cover communicates expectations too, in other words.)

The patterns inherent to each genre serve as a strength or a stumbling block. Art is more than just buzzwords and trendy aesthetics, and if the cover design fails to reach beyond these points, it can fall miserably flat. One of the dangers of pre-fab covers is that, because they’re formatted without any source material in mind, they can lack the extra ambiance that makes a great cover special. Generic art does no one any favors.

But that’s not to say the ambiance can’t be tweaked into place.

One of my favorite features to look for on book covers is the color palette. (I bet you thought I was going to say “the hot, shirtless guy” instead, right? Haha.)

Just as the color of walls in a room affect our moods, so also do the colors on a book cover. A well-blended palette brings me joy. Mismatched tones create internal discord. Monochrome can be comforting, powerful, or just plain boring. Busy patterns can spark interest or translate to visual static on the brain.

Perfect color palettes are a thing of beauty.

Or maybe I’ve spent far too many hours of my life playing Blendoku.

(There’s really no “maybe” on that. It’s flippin’ addictive.)

When the book-cover stars align—perfect image, perfect font and word placement, perfect color palette—the result can be breathtaking.

Every author wants to wrap their masterpiece in pretty paper. Still, all the sparkly trimmings in the world won’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, as the saying goes. For all of my high talk of aesthetics, for all the market power a cover can bring, in the end it’s only window dressing. Covers may come and covers may go, but the words within endure.

And so, as far as books are concerned, image is not everything after all.

(But it sure is a lovely detail.)

This Book Has Got You Covered

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If you’ve ever wondered what a stick figure looks like from behind, wonder no more.

I don’t really know what Average is complaining about. With cover trends nowadays, the female protagonist is lucky even to make an appearance. Romance covers in particular are trending toward the beefy-man-dominates-the-spread aesthetic, but the marginalization of women in visual media isn’t exclusive to that particular genre.

It’s almost laughable how often women are portrayed in wistful, submissive, vulnerable states on book covers. Usually, those who do have a “powerful” pose are back-facing, looking over their shoulder at the audience, or else pointedly focusing their intensity off to one side—so as not to confront the reader directly.

Because, you know, that would be bad.

Compare that to the dynamic, aggressive, authoritative stances that men usually take, and the meta-narrative gets pretty depressing. But sexism in the visual arts is nothing new.

And for the romance genre at least, it makes sense to minimize the woman on the cover. She’s not a real character. She’s an avatar for the reader to imprint upon, and the best way to establish that imprint is to ignore her facial features and identifying attributes. Is she blonde or brunette? We can’t tell, because she’s standing in the shadows. Any tattoos? Probably not, but the man can have as many as he wants. That’s hot.

(Do I need to add a sarcasm tag to that last sentence? You know my voice well enough by now, right?)

I suppose we’re meant to live through every protagonist of every book we read. For whatever reason, I’ve always kept a firm fourth wall between myself and any fictional characters. I might love them, but I don’t want to be them. I never claimed Mr. Darcy or Mr. Rochester or any of the dozens of other uncontested literary heartthrobs that so easily climb atop a reader’s idealistic pedestal. Darcy belonged to Elizabeth, Rochester belonged to Jane, and me inserting myself into those equations would have ruined everything.

(Now, whether I wanted to find someone akin to Darcy, Rochester, et al. is another story. But such men don’t exist beyond the pages of literature, because they’re the fantasies of what women want men to be rather than true records of humanity. And we can chalk up my disappointment on that count as yet another reason I’ll die alone.)

When the models on a book cover don’t match the character descriptions within the book, I get annoyed. When they’re too obscured to provide any reference for me at all, doubly so. But of course, I don’t even like people on book covers. I’d much rather get my visual cues from the written words within.

And I realize I’m probably in the minority.

Even so, the passive portrayal of women on book covers is something I lament. Show me a woman of intelligence, bravery, steadiness, intensity, and I will gravitate toward that book. I’m tired of reading about passive doormats who are led around from one calamity to the next as they’re acted upon by both the hero and the villain of the story. I certainly don’t want that aesthetic reflected on the cover.

When Presentation Is Everything

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People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

I know this. So before I launch into an analysis of book cover trends, I here acknowledge that my own covers qualify for the High School Art Student’s Midterm Project Award, insofar as grading scales are concerned.

Which brings me to another old saying: Don’t judge a book by its cover.

In today’s world, this is rubbish. We all judge books by their covers. In fact, book covers affect sales to such an extent that online services like PickFu offer quick A/B feedback on this very endeavor. Heck, PlayJudgey has made it a game.

Gone are the days of monochrome-canvas-wrapped board with gold-embossed titles. Covers are a work of art unto themselves, and creators wisely use them to their advantage.

(Unless you’re me. I do what I want and reap the consequences.)

There is a growing trend in writing communities, however, that seems to place more emphasis on the cover than the content within. It’s not just the focus-group inquiries mentioned above. It’s a whole industry of pre-fab covers, where authors can claim the designs they love for books they haven’t even dreamed up yet.

Now, I’m all about finding inspiration in diverse places. The practice of acquiring book covers before a book is even minutely plotted, though, seems about as useful to me as seeing something shiny in a store window and then bringing it home with nowhere to put it.

Admittedly, where pretty things are concerned, “useful” often falls by the wayside. There’s a danger in snapping up that shiny bauble, though: design is a fickle pet. As with any form of art, it changes and transforms over time, its features tied to the era in which they came together. A great cover today might look outdated within a few years, depending on where design trends go.

Peruse any used book store for titles 8 – 15 years old and you’ll see what I mean. It almost makes a girl wish that cover art came with an expiration date as warning: “Best used before 26 Aug 2020” or the like.

In my case, the perception I have at the start of my novel draft is so vastly different when I’ve finished. After immersing myself in characters, plot twists, settings, and themes, I look back on my initial perception with that foreign-but-familiar sense of nostalgia: the me at the start knew nothing compared to the me at the end. Creation is an act of growth and change.

But that’s my overly analytical brain at work. The Market doesn’t care about an author’s growth process. It doesn’t even care whether the book is well-written. Slap a pretty cover on that sucker and stick it up for the world to admire. The prettier it is, the more copies you’ll sell.

And therein lies my struggle. My primary ambition is to write a good book.

(Sorry.)

The process is different for other authors, of course. Some have their aesthetics in place from the start and stay true to that vision. Kudos to them. Others find brilliance in the cover and transfer it to words on the page. Again, they have my admiration.

If we really take book covers as a work of art unto themselves, like any work of art, they deserve to stand as tribute and inspiration to creativity. Perhaps they even deserve merit independent of the work they aim to represent. Interesting thought, that.

The book world is full of gorgeous covers. What are some of your favorites?