So, last week we talked about what the function of a cover is and what it is not.
To summarize: what it is not is an accurate representation of your book. Sure, it sort of kind of represents the contents, but the scene on the cover doesn’t need to be a scene that appears in the book. Nor does the character need to look like your character. Because before they read it, nobody cares, and after they read it, what matters is how good your book is.
Your cover is basically a billboard to sell your book.
So what does matter about your cover? Well, signaling genre does.If you’re looking for fantasy or science fiction, a book that looks like a regency romance might come up on the search, but you’re probably not even going to read the title, let alone the description to see if the person actually is writing science fiction or fantasy. No. You’ll glance, then go to the next book.
So, how do you signal, say, science fiction?
Fashions in book covers and such change pretty much every year or so, from the most favored font, to the favorite color.
However, one thing is important. Before you even look, you know the science fiction book should have something on the cover: planets, or spaceships, or something, to give the impression that it is in fact science fiction.
The first thing to ask yourself about your science fiction book cover is: how do I convey this is science fiction?
Do not mis-advertise. If your book contains no spaceships, don’t put one in the cover. If it has nothing to do with space, do not have planets and stars in the background.
DO however, try to convey the idea of futurism.
So, today let’s go with science fiction (the week after next we’ll do cozy mysteries. Yes, there’s reasons. They’re very different from sf covers. Yes, we’ll get to fantasy and romance and such, too.)
The first thing you do is go to Amazon and look at their bestseller list.
Ignore the perennial classics or the hyper pushed books (who in NYC thinks that Handmaid’s Tale is the book of the hour? Never mind) because those will always sell, no matter what. Instead concentrate on new (or new to you) books.
In science fiction too, even if you specifically choose science fiction, you’re going to find both science fiction and fantasy because some people have a shaky hold on what science fiction means. Ignore those, for now.
The first thing you notice about science fiction covers is that they are NOT drawn. They might be paintings, or renders, but the aim is to make them realistic. This is not true for all genres.
And then the second thing you notice is that there are a lot of hyperpushed and perennial sellers, and frankly I’m getting sick and tired of dystopian. Not withstanding which we can cull a few covers.
Looking at the cover with no context try to guess what type of science fiction they are and whether indie or traditional. (Answers after.)
Okay, reveal below. I’ll add that these covers are not at all like the bestseller covers for sf that I saw when last I looked a year ago. There is a reason for that. SF has many subgenres and these are almost all things I don’t write in/the people I do covers for don’t write in.
Ready? Winter World is a coming Ice Age story, with a thriller feel. Indie, but the writer does what he can to obscure that.
The One is WEIRD. I would not expect this to be science fiction. And it turns out it mostly is not. I’d guess the reason it’s one of the bestsellers is that it’s published by Harlequin and my guess is it’s also tagged Romance, which sells magnitudes better than Science Fiction. I’d honestly assume mystery from that cover, and not recent mystery either.
Cyberstorm is also dystopian/after the disaster fiction with an edge of thriller. Dystopian. Masterfully marketed. – indie
Alone is mostly thriller also, with sf elements. – indie
Harden is a thriller/military SF in the future but not in space.- indie
So, what have we learned from this expedition? That thriller near-future sf dominates the bestselling lists. We kind of knew that, anyway, because thrillers are to males what romance is to females: the favored and go-to genre.
We also learned that you can get away with a background and a silhouette, which is the easiest thing to do (yes, I’ll show you how later). And that fonts can be very fancy. (We’ll cover fonts later.) Oh, also that indie is the way to go for these.
Now, for the covers I’m mostly likely to do, for myself and others: Space opera.
Also not drawn. And mostly some kind of spaceship.
And because it’s a subgenre I often find my friends doing, let’s skip some (they’re ALL spaceships, pretty much.) and go to military:
Now, Humorous science fiction, note it’s drawn (which always seems to indicate “humorous” or “light”)
And something that MIGHT be time travel/alternate universe:
For this set how is science fiction signaled? Well, spaceships, futuristic armor, robot and futuristic buildings.
At a glance, all in this second set will “read” science fiction.
Confused? Don’t be.
Give me suggestions for a futuristic thriller, space opera, mil sf, humorous sf and time travel. I’ll assemble the covers before your very eyes, explaining my choices, which should make it easier to understand.
Drop suggestions in comments. Yes, it can be your book. No, you’re not bound to use it if you hate it (I’m going to do them on the fly and from found elements, not rendering each. That’s the last post in this series, and I’ll use covers I’m doing anyway.) so it might not be to your liking. Yes, if you like it you can use it. No, if you don’t give me suggestions, I don’t skip it, I just make up something.
So, next week “Assembling covers.”