Friday, September 15, 2006

Judging Books by their Covers, Part III

I'm pleased to see more discussion of cover art in the bloggosphere, first over on the Penguin Blog (and not Penguin blog) where there is a discussion of what goes into crafting hardcover and paperback book jackets, and now on the Eos blog, Eos Books: The Next Chapter, where Diana Gill says:

"Personally, I'd love for everyone to understand that the cover is to sell the book. To the reader, yes, but first and foremost to the buyer at the store and/or chain level--if they don't like the cover, it stands a much smaller chance of being seen by anyone else. So the cover is designed primarily to appeal to the buyer. After that, we want it to grab the readers' attention. And their hands. And particularly their wallets. That being said, we do want a gorgeous cover that will also reflect the book. Sometimes they succeed; sometimes, unfortunately, they don't."

She then goes on to a frank discussion of how the "girls-in-bikinis-riding-spaceships-and-dragons" sold despite the groans and complaints, which may be an uncomfortable truth at the heart of our genre. (Do core readers want science fiction and fantasy that looks like science fiction and fantasy?) Meanwhile, she uploads several interesting covers, including this gorgeous cover for A Canticle for Leibowitz, one of my recent favorites from John Picacio. (In fact, I bought the book again just for that cover - so, since I already had the earlier Bantam edition, that's at least one case where a title moved on cover art alone).

Meanwhile, I'm eager for opinions on our latest Stephan Martiniere illustration, this for Kay Kenyon's Bright of the Sky, and uploaded over on the Pyr blog. I opinion there that it may be my favorite Pyr cover to date, but five minutes after I posted the UPS man came with my copies of our just-in-from-the-printer The Blood Debt, Books of the Cataclysm: Two by Sean Williams. This one has the stupendous cover of hang gliders and dirigibles flying over a city on the edge of a huge canyon. By Greg Bridges, I've been eagerly awaiting seeing it on a hardcover since I read the original Australian mass market. So now I have a tie for favorite Pyr cover of all time. (The careful reader of this blog may note that every cover is my favorite cover. But today, it is genuinely, sincerely these two.)

Update: John Picacio wrote to let me know that I -and Diana Gill - were both using an earlier version of his Canticle cover. I've replaced it with the correct, final version. Meanwhile in the comments section of this post, William Lexner lets us know of an interesting discussion between folks holding diametrically opposed opinions of what makes for good cover art over on this George R.R. Martin forum. Since I've never read Martin (a glaring hole in my fantasy education, I know), it feels disenginuous to join just to post in my own self-interest, but I'd be very curious to see how those in the debate felt the Pyr covers ranked in their estimation, since I think we shoot for a healthy middle ground between genre elements and sophisticated treatments. So thanks to anyone who wants to steer them this way.

Update 2: Just posted the cover for the Spanish edition of Mike Resnick's New Dreams for Old over on the Pyr blog. We didn't have anything to do with this license. I just think it's fun to see how the Spanish edition artist has obviously springboarded off our Martiniere cover.

Update 3: Jose Garcia has just posted his interview with artist Brian W. Dow over on Meme Therapy. Along with the interview are covers to four Pyr titles: Genetopia by Keith Brooke, Hurricane Moon by Alexis Glynn Latner (forthcoming), The Prodigal Troll by Charles Coleman Finlay, and Tides by Scott Mackay. This is the debut for Hurricane Moon, which has never been seen anywhere before, and is a full wrap-around of an alien landscape, with space shuttles that Brian actually built from scratch.

19 comments:

Blaze Guard Jeff said...

I do like the new Sean Williams, but the Bright of the Sky cover is MARVELOUS. Yes the cover has definitely sold me on the book. - Jeff Doten

Dianora said...

The Greg Bridges is a beautiful painting; the Martiniere, however, makes for a more commercial cover. ...and you should take that as you will. :)

Lou Anders said...

I think Bridges third cover, which will debut in our catalog in a few, is the most commercial of his Cataclysm covers so far, but I love dirigibles and exotic cities. As to the Martiniere, I've had it for a month now and I still open it and stare almost every day.

William Lexner said...

I'm another who purchased a copy of A Canticle For Liebowitz just for the Picacio art.

And there's an interesting conversation on this very topic going on over here.

http://asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php?showtopic=12015

Irene Gallo said...

What's so sad about the Penguin blog post is that there is no mention of working with original imagery, , only stock photos. It doesn't even seem to enter their mind that they can get so much more out of the process if they collaborate with other creatives.

Blaze Guard Jeff said...

Yea, I noticed that right away - the bane of illustrators stock photo be. It makes that part of the blog rather irrelevant to science fiction and fantasy novels. - Jeff

Lou Anders said...

William - fascinating discussion in light of my recent question. Interesting to me they are so diametrically opposed and can't see a middle ground between illustrations which embrace genre elements and illustrations which "embarrass."

Irene, Jeff - yeah, very sad. I like the other Penguin blog better.

Neth said...

Well, I fall firmly into the camp of 'embarrassment' when it comes to many 'tradition' SFF covers. However, what I've seen recently with many of the covers from several publishing companies gives me hope for cover art that can embrace genre without embarrassment (as Lou aludes to). For the record, I think Pyr is currently the leading edge of this. Both the new covers you speak of are great, but my money is still on River of Gods as the best cover art for Pyr book.

Lou Anders said...

Thanks Neth. You know, the best thing about my job is that I get one to two gorgeous books arriving at my front door every month. Yeah, RIVER is tremendous, though I don't think we got the spine quite right (though I love what we did with the back cover).

And I just bought Night Shade's THE DEMON AND THE CITY, which I've raved about here before.

Louise Marley said...

I'm a huge Picacio fan, of course, but this Canticle for Leibowitz painting is just thrilling. I, too, will buy a copy just for the cover.

As an author who got badly hurt by an ugly cover, this discussion, and Diana Gill's comments, are of particular interest. Naturally, my response is egocentric, but it does seem to me the one who suffers most, in the end, is the author. The line between a successful book and its opposite is a knife edge these days.

Lou, do keep us up to date on how these covers work for Pyr. It would be a revelation to the business if it turns out gorgeous covers have a serious effect on sales. I hope, I hope, I hope.

Lou Anders said...

Well, anecdotal accounts from independent bookstores heard at WorldCon suggest that Joel Shepherd's CROSSOVER is flying off the shelves due to the Stephan Martiniere cover. And I am suprised by the number of reviews that go out of their way to mention our cover art, something you don't see a lot of in reviews (though should see more of).

Irene Gallo said...

It’s often hard to quantify exactly how much of an effect a cover has on a book, even though everyone knows it _doe_ have a lot of effect. Every once in a while, there _are_ times when it can be quantified. I was having lunch with Dan Dos Santos today and he mentioned that the publisher of one of his covers shared the sales history of one of the books he worked on with him. The series had been selling at steady low-ish numbers. Dan got the 3 book in the series and suddenly the numbers doubled. Same author, presumably the same marketing and publicity plans, different cover.

Lou Anders said...

Dan Dos Santos does interesting work. I really like his cover for Patricia Brigg's Moon Called. Not the sort of thing I read, but I notice that cover every time I'm in a bookstore.

Irene Gallo said...

That's an awesome one! I think he traded the painting with Jon Foster. They both did well in that trade.

Lou Anders said...

I'm sorry I'm not following you. What do you mean by traded the painting?

Irene Gallo said...

I just mean that they traded the actual paintings. Dan has one great looking Foster painting in his livingroom...while Jon has that awesome Dos Santos in his.

Lou Anders said...

Oh, I wondered if they'd somehow traded assignments, or each sketched a preliminary for the other one to paint or something. Neither seemed very workable in a professional context, though I'd love to see the latter demonstrated at some live art exhibit now I think of it.

Irene Gallo said...

We actually did that at the Society once. The day after the Spectrum exhibit we had 6 artists painting and swaping them back and forth as they went. In most cases it creates a big mess...but a REALLY fun mess. And it did produce a few gems.

Lou Anders said...

I half-expected you'd have done this already - would have loved to have seen the results.