Trends in Cover Art

Tuesday’s child, PJ Sharon, here. Business first. Please join me next Tuesday in welcoming guest blogger, CC James, author of the YA series, DEMON TRACKERS. Her first book, THE ANOINTED is out now and the second book, BANSHEE’S CRY will be coming in August. She will be sharing her writing secrets for creating compelling characters.

This leads me to today’s post.

Since I’m writing contemporary YA romance these days, and designing my own book covers, I’m curious about what attracts readers to pick up a certain book. In my quest for answers, I’ve had a chance to study lots of covers. I’ve noticed some interesting trends.

It used to be that no one would show faces on their covers because it was thought that readers wanted to use their imaginations to create an image of their hero and heroine. More than likely, it also has something to do with paying licensing fees and finding cover models that fit the description of the characters.

Recently, however, I see more and more books with either graphically designed images of actual people, or model photos used for cover art. This is especially true with YA books. There are still plenty of books that show only body parts—shots from the neck down, or half faced people that leave you to imagine their eyes once you’ve read that the heroes’ are “piercingly blue”.  Or in the case of the dreamy Demon Tracker–a lovely shade of green that is indescribable in mere words. I might not be normal (this is often up for debate), but I find that when I’m reading, I like to refer back to the cover to see if the image on the front reflects the character on the page. This personal preference is one reason I chose this photo for the cover of HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES. This girl’s face and the expression in her eyes summed up Jordie and what she’s going through. The picture, in my opinion gives you insight into the story, the character, and leaves you with a question.

 Most traditionally published authors have little control over their book covers and the people who design them haven’t likely read the book, so in my experience, it’s a hit or miss as to whether the cover art meets my expectation of what the character might look like. Does this mean that I won’t buy a book with a faceless, hot body on the cover? Umm…no. I’m only human after all.

But with all of the competition to get a reader’s attention, I think the use of bold colors, striking images and catchy titles is more important than ever. There was a day when the bare chested man with the Fabio hair and the six-pack abs was shocking and seductive enough to have romance novels flying off the shelves—and don’t get me wrong; sexy still sells. But if all the covers have those bare chests and swooning females, the effect somehow gets lost in a sea of flesh.They all start to look the same. I believe readers want something different today. Hot and sexy is great, but when I pick up a book, I want to get to know the characters. I want to feel like they are my best friend for those 300 pages. This is especially true for YA, which I think is why we are seeing more faces on covers. Where would Harry Potter be without Daniel Radcliff and those little round glasses?

How about you? Faces or no faces?

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9 thoughts on “Trends in Cover Art”

  1. PJ – Cover art is what gets me to pick up a book and glance at the back to determine if I want to buy it. I’m guilty! I judge books by their cover – at least initially. When I designed the cover for The Cordovan Vault with the artist, I walked around the section of B&N to see what everyone else was doing. At first we were working with a very complicated picture with many elements, but when I saw that 80% of the books in the genre had that type of cover, we changed course radically and went with the simple design that will be a template for the rest of the series. Your book’s got to stand out and in a good way!

  2. I’m one of those people who like to imagine what characters look like. Even if there is a picture on the cover I still see them as the writer had written them instead of the picture on the cover. You’re right most historical romance covers look the same and at this point I stop looking at the cover and instead grab a book that title grabs me. I am also a super loyal reader and once an author had me hooked with a well written story I will keep coming back to them.

  3. I tend to notice color before I notice image on a book cover. If the colors are pleasing to me, I’m more likely to pick up the book and read the blurb. As for faces… that’s a tough one. I like to form my own image of the characters but, having said that, if I knew the cover images had been chosen by the author and not by the marketing department, I would love it. It would give me further insight to the author’s intent for the story. That’s exciting for me. The cover you chose for your book is fantastic. The girls face and expression show so much. I already care about her and want to hear her story. Cover images, I suppose, are as subjective as the stories themselves.

    Great post.

  4. Hmm. I really had to think about this question. And I realized it depends on where I’m shopping. If I’m in a bookstore, it’s the cover. Eye catching artwork or photos will stop me every time. And if the title is catchy or clever, then I’ll look too. When I’m shopping with my Nook, the title is more important since that is what I see first. Then I look at the cover as I’m reading the overview. I don’t mind images of the hero or heroine. Like Jamie, I base my mental image on the author’s words rather than the art department’s image. If I already read the author’s work, I don’t really care about the cover that much (when it comes to making a buying decision).

  5. I agree with Casey. If I’m buying a physical book, I gravitate toward covers unless it’s an author I’m familiar with. Then I gravitate toward the author. I’m not fond of the decapitated look in cover art. I know why it’s done, but it feels unfinished — unless it’s a story about warfare in the Dark Ages, zombies, or Amazonian headhunters! If I’m buying for my Nook, the cover is completely unimportant to me, even if I’m shopping in color through the Barnes and Noble website (on my computer, not through the Nook). I buy then based on the write-up, title, and author. Interesting question!

  6. Obviously an Indie-pubbed book with a face on it will reflect the character better than traditional publishing. The author knows the look they are looking for and won’t settle for anything less. I, as the reader, would trust their judgement.

    It’s when the art dept. of the publishing companies are so far off that I wonder how it got approved in the first place. If they’re not going to read it, then I would hope they would keep the covers fague.

    Interesting, Casey about the ebook titles…boosts the importance of the whole title element …

  7. For whatever reason, I don’t like a book cover that is a photograph of a human being. I don’t mind if they’re rendered as a drawing, but I don’t like a photograph.

    As an aside, I’ve noticed a trend with Urban Fantasy novel covers in which the cover model seems to be very similar in appearance to the author of the book. You know, she looks like the author would if she were a model. I do like Urban Fantasy covers, by the way.

  8. Ha! I came over just to see the conversation about covers and there’s mine ~~ that was fun to see.

    I’m all over the board with the kind of covers that draw me in, though lately I’d have to say I’m smitten with a particular artist’s cover art. The entire picture, whether a face or a figure, exudes a feeling ~ and it’s emotion whether from striking eyes or a tilt of a hand or the bent posture of a body that pulls me in. Here’s a link so you can see what I’m talking about: http://www.phatpuppyart.com

  9. A knock-out cover will make me pick it up to check it out. But it is the recommendation, or brief on the back cover, or the an author I like to read that talks. Faceless or obscure faces are intriguing in art, how the cover is designed, the use of negative/positive space, color values and distribution, those are important in putting a cover together, but none will sell the book if the marketing is kaput. However, if you are promoting oneself, it is important to show the eyes as in the book jacket interior, or the back page. There are some professions showing the eyes is critical. Book-cover, i do not think so!

    Who is that with the amazing website http://www.phatpuppyart.com? Now those make good cover art.

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