Book covers artists and authors have a problem. On the one hand, they want the cover of their book to be compelling and unique. On the other hand, most authors are writing to genre. And if you’re writing to genre and don’t target your cover to that genre, you will not get sales. Catch 22.
Think Romance cover. What comes to mind? Modern will have shirtless guy, probably a girl on the cover too, maybe sunny scenery. Historical will be lush flowers and painterly look, low cut dresses and the famous unbuttoned-shirt-with-mullet look for the guys. Sci-Fi will have space ships, fantasy will have trees. Urban fantasy cityscapes and probably a woman with her back turned (though that’s falling out of fashion a bit). Teen and YA novels are lucky; they encompass a whole range of styles.
The thing is, we judge a book by its cover, and one of the first things we judge is “what kind of book is this?” A few years ago, I picked up a book at random from the Sci-fi section and Barnes & Noble. I had never heard of the author, Lilith Saintcrow. But the cover drew me, and I like UF so I tried it. I picked Working for the Devil based 100% on the cover. I was not disappointed. I totally fell in love with the book, bought the next couple in the series the moment they came out and anxiously awaited the last one. What was super cool about this particular cover is that it captured Dante perfectly including her cheek tattoo and katana, and gave me a good image of Japhrimel as well. The cover was obviously custom made specifically for this book. Then Ms. Saintcrow switched to Orbit as her publisher. And her last novel came out with a completely different cover. Working for the Devil has been reissued in this new cover style. Is it a bad cover? No, it’s well designed and attention grabbing. Does it help the reader identify the genre? No. It does not. It looks like a cop procedural or a mystery/thriller. Nothing about this cover says Urban Fantasy to me. It could easily be shelved in mystery. It doesn’t match my mental picture of Dante, and it has her with a gun, not a sword. In the book it is Japh who has the guns. It’s a generic cover. It could go on any of a million books.
Now in this case, by the time the covers changed I had already bought into the author and was searching out her work, so I bought it anyway. But ebook publishers, especially new authors, need to be really careful about making sure their covers match the genre. Once your name is well known you can start taking some innovative risks for your covers. But people buy based on cover *and* genre. Frankly, I would not have picked up and purchased that second cover on a whim, because to me it does not look like an Urban Fantasy. So be sure your cover speaks very clearly to your audience about its niche. As a designer, I’d love to be able to design outside the box and create something really different for authors. But I won’t be doing it for authors trying to get established, because it’s a sure way to lower their sales.