Into bookshops, of course.
Scandinavian bookstores to be exact, some of which are worth the investment of several hours. Although all these shops have sections where English books are stacked and shelved in their dozens, I found myself drawn to the local language books. Here I confirmed that, for better or worse for us authors, potential readers DO judge a book by its cover.
The conventions of genre in imagery help us to distinguish crime from fantasy from romance from historical fiction from military memoirs from poetry, and so on. Classics with new, interesting covers (like those in the header image) live on the strength of their titles and authors. Newer fiction must usually play by the rules, although that doesn’t necessarily mean playing in the same well-worn rut.
For example, I like this new fantasy cover for the prolific (and wonderful) Brandon Sanderson‘s The Final Empire (first published 2006). This cover clearly references the genre but presents a more up to date, fresh, arty take on it. You could think that its first imprint was at least ten years later.
In a watercoloured, simplified way, all the genre markers appear. Fantasy city: check. Mysterious being: check. Spooky question to set up the fantasy premise: check. Weird misty atmosphere: check. Potential to adapt for the later books in the series: check. And is there a suspicion of snow on those towers … Jon Snow? GOT readers say: ‘my kind of book’, as do Harry Potter and LOTR folk. Probably, as do fantasy readers in general.
And here’s a novel clearly set in or around the time of the First World War. Clearly. It also features the poppy on the spine, so you know the genre even when it’s facing the wall.
It’s Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants in Norwegian. Even if we hadn’t noticed the guns and the sepia-tinted photo, that poppy gives it away. Are those soldier-photos and poppies clichéd? I guess yes, but they also act as immediate identifiers for readers who are eager to read something similar to books they have already enjoyed.
Now what about family sagas and romance? Evidently (from my observations), a reader wants to see a woman on the cover, most often with her back to us, contemplating her situation. Her attitude and costume communicate the historical period covered in the novel:
Many crime stories also feature women, usually with their backs turned to us, walking into danger. Women? Of course, I should say ‘girls’ for that genre 🙂
My own WWI novel will be published later this year, and I am agonising over what might make a good cover – to poppy, or not to poppy? – being the main question. Do I need a rising sun to mark it as Australian? And a woman in historical costume to signify that it is a family-based romance as well as a war story? My brains are on the rack.
If you have any brilliant ideas for what I could suggest to my publisher, please leave me a comment below!
PS All photos taken by me.