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Covering books?

I blogged last fall about a WFC panel on book covers because I happened to notice a GalleyCat item on some abstract covers for British editions of several spec fic books. GalleyCat waxed enthusiastic over how good the abstract covers looked, but I cited the WFC panelist Lou Anders of Pyr, who commented on how a too-abstract cover might hinder more than help a work as far as science fiction fans were concerned. A lively round of comments ensured.

GalleyCat appears to be interested in science fiction book covers because they have another item on the subject, this time a comparison of British and American versions of the covers for Charles Stross's Halting State and Ken McLeod's The Execution Channel. In the case of the McLeod book, GalleyCat finds a parallel between the near-future "accessible" science fiction of the story and the more-thriller-than-science-fiction covers in both the US and the UK. The Stross book, on the other hand, got a much more impish, gaming-oriented cover in the UK but a "digitized high-fantasy look" in the US, where the publisher seemed more interested in matching the tone of Stross' other books.

What is it about book covers that fascinates us so that we're compelled to analyze them? Perhaps it's because we realize it is so often the cover that makes us pick the book up in the first place.

Not a fun thought for a writer, but still likely to be true,

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Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
scottedelman
Mar. 25th, 2008 12:53 am (UTC)
I'd seen that article, and thought of it again when I saw the cover today for the new release of Harry Harrison's Make Room! Make Room!

I tend to agree with what the article said. If you can create a cover that tells a science fiction audience that the book is SF without alienating the non-SF audience who'd like the book if the symbols weren't made so explicit and if the packaging was more modern, the theory is that you'd get the best of both worlds. The trouble is that it doesn't always work.

They're having the same debate in the romance world as well, by the way.
karen_w_newton
Mar. 25th, 2008 11:35 am (UTC)
Wow! That's a neat cover! I'll have to see if I can find any romance examples.

Edited at 2008-03-25 11:36 am (UTC)
(Anonymous)
Mar. 25th, 2008 02:25 pm (UTC)
"If you can create a cover that tells a science fiction audience that the book is SF without alienating the non-SF audience who'd like the book if the symbols weren't made so explicit and if the packaging was more modern, the theory is that you'd get the best of both worlds."

I agree with that whole-heartedly, and I think that's what Stephan Martiniere achieves with his two covers for Ian McDonald's RIVER OF GODS and BRASYL.

I also like both covers for HALTING STATE and I'm not sure the US one reads as "fantasy." When I first saw it, it struck me as being a departure from genre covers, even compared to Stross' work at other houses. I like the UK cover as well, though at first glance I think it looks almost like a non-fiction book (not necessarily a bad thing given the content). I agree it is an effective cover.

I think the problem arises when you shoot so far afield for that cross-over audience that you go too far and lose the home team. Or produce something generic and bland that fails to represent the book at all. I'm not saying either of these books does that. But, speaking not as an editor but as a fan and collector, I know that I am very big on "the book as artifact" and disappointed when I'm asked to shell out $25 for something that is packaged like the latest James Patterson or John Grisham. And I do believe that in a long tail economy, we need to be careful about sacrificing what makes SF&F unique.
-- Lou Anders
karen_w_newton
Mar. 25th, 2008 02:28 pm (UTC)
I find it reassuring that a speculative fiction editor is familiar with the long tail economy concept. It argues well for the state of our genre.
(Anonymous)
Mar. 25th, 2008 04:17 pm (UTC)
Are you kidding. I read an arc of that book a year before it came out! -- Lou
karen_w_newton
Mar. 25th, 2008 05:06 pm (UTC)
Hah! Well, you are a publishing industry insider (although I think an "arc" of a "long tail" is a funny concept!)
(Anonymous)
Mar. 25th, 2008 10:37 pm (UTC)
Well, I think everybody in publishing should read it. I snagged one for myself and one for my boss and for my publicist. I don't know if they read it, but they paid attention, and the publicist later got on Anderson's radar. I was also big on Malcolm Gladwell's TIPPING POINT when that was the thing. Both books informed a lot of my thinking on how to get readers and writers together.
karen_w_newton
Mar. 25th, 2008 11:00 pm (UTC)
I am all for getting readers and writers together!
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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