Have you ever noticed that book covers in a particular genre are very similar? For instance:
Why do they look alike? Because the point of a book cover is to attract readers who will like it. For the most part, book covers are not an art, as many people perceive them, but rather a marketing tool – an extended advertisement if you will, and so there are certain “formulas” to it depending on your genre. They instantly tell the reader what to expect, usually because they look similar to every other cover that has an even remotely similar story, as in the video above.For instance, let’s say you read a book with a tattooed lady’s back on the cover.You like it the book. Now you see a new book with a similar cover. Instantly, maybe without you even knowing it, you have associated this new book with the previous one you liked. It’s just a marketing trick like so many others.
But, if not applied properly that trick can back fire. When you associate that tattooed lady with the previous book, you don’t just associate that you liked it, but also elements of it that you liked. For instance if it had a lot of fight scenes you’re probably to going to expect this new book to have a lot of fight scenes. If it had a strong romance you’re going to expect the new book to have the same. In other words, whoever thinks of the new design first and manages to brand it – the first book that came out with a tattooed woman’s back – is the one that will forever subtly set the tone for all the following books using that cover.
This holds true for all genres, but since I write primarily vampire novels I’m going to use them as the example for the rest of the post.
If we go to Amazon and do a search for “vampire”, we see that there are only six styles of covers for them, and each cover tells us what to “expect” and attracts a certain audience. (Of course, covers are not always used correctly, so there are always exceptions, many of which lead to unhappy customers – for instance: http://www.dark-readers.com/2012/05/my-opinion-on-ya-book-covers-looking.html – check out the post and the comments. )
1. Hunky man/Sexy scene. This cover demonstrates that the focus of the story is on the hunky male and/or the sex between him and his counterpart. It caters to those readers who find hunky men attractive, most notably women, and tends to turn away straight male readers. If I buy this book I expect lots of sex. I expect the hero to be called “beautiful” and “sensual” at least ten times. There might be some violence. If the hero is alone on the cover, I expect violent scenes to end with the female trembling from fear or shock and being rescued by the hunky hero so that they can go have sex. If the couple are pictured together she may be a bit tougher, but they will still leave the battle and have hot, steamy sex. If there are two men, we automatically expect a steamy M/M plot. There’s a good chance that the book will be either from his POV or switch back and forth between him and the woman. Either way, I wouldn’t be surprised if the hero has at least one monologue where he feels regret and angst and tells himself that he should “stay away” from his significant other.
2. Kick ass/sexy/sad woman. This kind of cover says that the woman is the main component in the story. Though this cover is more friendly to a male audience, it still attracts primarily women. If the female pictured is “kick ass” woman I expect the heroine to be super tough and not need a man, the kind who deftly outwits all the men who cross her path and always comes out on top. I also expect violence since she is probably some kind of hunter/assassin/killer. If it is a sexy woman then I still expect her to “need no man” but she will be having hot, tumultuous sex with at least one, and possibly two or more. I expect very light violence, with the main focus being on her sensuality or her burgeoning relationship. If she’s in modern clothes I expect it to be clicky and feminist ala Sex in the City, but if she has more historical attire then the hero will “tame” her. If the woman looks sad or lost then I expect the book to focus on her emotional journey as she overcomes some terrible tragedy. There may or may not be sex in this story. Violence will be light.
3. The totally cliché vampire element. Dark castles. Bats. A man/woman with fangs. A goblet of blood. This cover is more male friendly and it shows that the main element of the story IS the vampires – everything else comes second. I would expect something heavy, historical and/or traditional ala Dracula with a lot of horror elements. Someone will use old fashioned/obsolete words. There is a good chance of violence and it will probably be bloody, though the descriptions may or may not be gruesome. There will probably not be explicit sex (if the fanged woman is pictured alone, see #2. If she is posed with a man in a sensual scene, see #1). There is also a good chance that it is told from a male POV and someone is probably wearing a cape.
4. Cutesy art work. This cover says “Chic-lit” and makes me think of the Ya Ya Sisterhood and stuff like that. Cute, modern, edgy and feminine. I expect the vampires to be worried about fitting into their skinny jeans, or cleverly outwitting their boyfriends. They will drink margaritas and have girls night. Needless to say, these covers are more likely to attract women.
5. Totally random object/scene. Think Twilight, or Fifty Shades. Though the artists will cite symbolic bull, this cover tells you nothing. Their goal is to catch your eye with their simplicity. It is the color scheme and font choices that will tell you whether it is a “masculine” or “feminine” book. If it has a funky font I expect a YA novel with light violence and some romance, probably a girl who is discovering her “abilities”. A serif font leads me to expect a more serious story, possibly with a male protagonist who has deep regret over something. Sex and violence are both possibilities. A sans serif font will tell me that the protagonist (be they male or female) is tough, there is plenty of violence, and it’s probably going to be fast paced and contemporary. A script/cursive style font says it is a romance and more than likely the protagonist is a female. There is probably sex involved, violence is doubtful. If it’s super curly or cutesy then see #6.
6. Completely out there. This cover says “I may have vampires, but I’m different”, which makes me expect different. In fact I will expect it to lean heavily towards another genre, depending on the style, such as fantasy, sci-fi etc. That there would be lots of violence would not surprise me at all. The same with sex. There may even be deeper themes involved. I’m not going to lie when I say that these are the covers I am most attracted to.
When you run across these kind of covers, what do they say to you? Do they make you expect the same things they make me expect, or do you perceive them differently? What patterns have you noticed in other genres?