The Making of a Cover

Cover Art FlattenIf you were to browse any bookstore’s shelves, you would first notice the wide array of books available for your perusal, in different genres and from a variety of authors. As you pull out book after book to inspect the cover and determine if said book is worth your time and energy, you would start to notice that books in your favorite genre have similar covers and styles. Is this just a coincidence, or are publishers keeping track of what cover styles attract readers?

I had the opportunity to talk with Amy Green, the Fiction Publicist at Bethany House, about cover trends and whether they are actually used and tracked by publishers. Part of Amy’s job involves critiquing and making suggestions about book covers in the design process, particularly with regard to how well the design will do in the marketplace.

Danyelle: What type of trends are you currently seeing in historical romance covers?

 Amy: At Bethany House cover design meetings, we don’t talk about trends in a general sense very much. We might compare our cover to another author in the genre, maybe in the ABA, or talk about a particular style or emotion that we want to take advantage of, but the idea of trends is very broad and hard to apply. It’s less about “What out there is really popular and how can we duplicate it?” and more about “Why is that particular cover working, and what can we learn from that and apply to our own designs?”

Danyelle: What type of covers seem to be the most popular with historical romance readers? 

Amy: It’s always a little hard to say, even with a relatively consistent category like historical romance. For example, we know that covers with the character’s face visible, in period dress, typically do very well. But then we’ll try something new, like Sarah Loudin Thomas’s Miracle in a Dry Season or Kate Breslin’s For Such a Time, and everyone loves the beauty and simplicity of the designs, even though they don’t fall into standard “trend” categories. We’ve found that it’s not so much types of covers as certain qualities that make a cover stand out.

One area that’s very important is communicating visually what type of story is being told. With historical novels, that means giving the reader cues to the era of the book’s setting. You should be able to tell at a glance whether this is a pioneer saga, a regency romance, or a Biblical retelling—landscape, character dress, and other details should all make that clear. The tone of a story can also be conveyed in the cover. Suspenseful stories will often hint at drama with darker lighting or intense facial expressions. Comedies should have a playful feel that makes you smile, even in small details like less “serious” fonts. And so on.

Of course, accuracy is also important. Readers will notice right away if the model on the cover doesn’t fit the character described in the book, so we try to be very careful of that. Each author gives us physical and personality descriptions of the major characters, and after the design is sent to them for approval, they will make notes like, “Her hair needs to be lighter,” or “You’ll need to have him facing the other way; he has a scar on that side of his face.” Since the covers are completed early in the writing process, sometimes authors will go back into the book and describe the exact outfit the character on the cover is wearing! That can be a lot of fun to spot.

Danyelle: How do cover trends vary by genre and how do they compare to historical romance covers?

Amy: In general, historical romances can accomplish the “wow” factor with details like beautiful period dresses and historical scenery, both of which add interest to a cover. Non-historical categories, like contemporary or suspense, have to capture reader attention in other ways: maybe through the emotion of the characters, or a unique title treatment, or a simple-but-striking design.

So, for example, when our designers thought about the upcoming Cliff Graham book, Shadow of the Mountain: Exodus, they wanted to have a gritty, action-focused feel, so they looked at movie posters for inspiration during the planning stages. With Irish Meadows, we wanted a compelling look that spoke to the depth of the story, as well as something different to set Susan Anne Mason apart as a debut author, which is why we went with the striking close-up image of one of the main characters. Each author and genre have a slightly different feel: Karen Witemeyer’s covers always have a hint of playfulness without being over-the-top, Beverly Lewis novels need to convey the Amish setting and often show the character’s emotion, and Dani Pettrey’s have to give you the instant feel that these are both suspense and romance.

What is your favorite cover trend? Would you prefer more abstract designs, or less pretty dresses? Is there something comforting about seeing similar artwork across the covers of your favorite books?

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