The Woes of the Cliche
This should probably go in my author blog but the people who primarily read my author blog are… wait for it… wait or it… authors! And authors, god love them, will generally regurgitate all of the marketing guru advice they’ve been busy absorbing (and often paying for) along their quest to make oodles of money. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is a bad thing, if it’s your goal, but, it’s not the perspective I am looking for just now.
Off and on over the years I’ve gotten flak for my book covers (see above). They don’t look like 90% of the vampire book covers because they aren’t actually written for 90% of the vampire readers. My strongest reviews usually come from people who say “I don’t normally like modern vampire books, but…” On the other hand, there is a percentage of PNR fans that do like them, and it’s a market I haven’t really tapped into. It’s also a market that may not like the books, but I digress.
With that in mind, I decided to experiment and made more “traditional” – ie cliché – covers for my Special Edition versions of the books – this is a combo of two books in one, along with special content, at a savings.
Despite the new covers, the two book combo, and the extra content, together, in their first three months, they sold only 40 copies. Meanwhile, the first two books with “bad covers” (Shades of Gray and Legacy of Ghosts) sold 153. Why? Perhaps the cliché covers are blending in. Or is it a lack of reviews on the Special Edition pages? It could be advertising – they were featured on different sites – or maybe it’s a lack of deeply entrenched back links. In other words, there are a lot of variables to consider.
With that in mind I decided to remove a few of those by temporarily creating new covers for the books on Amazon only. If my Amazon sales leap upwards at a higher rate than B&N etc. then that *should* tell me that, yes, the covers are an issue. But, what should I do for those new covers?
A tour around Amazon using search words like “vampire” or “vampire romance” reveals that there are only six kinds of book covers for paranormal books – but which one should I use?
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. 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 and I wouldn’t be surprised if he has at least one monologue where he feels regret and angst and tells himself that he should “stay away” from her . If the couple are pictured together she may be tougher than the solo counterpart, but they will still leave the battle and have hot, steamy sex.
2. Kick ass/sexy/sad woman. This kind of cover says that the woman is the main component in the story. If it has a “kick ass” woman I expect her be super tough and not need a man, while also outwitting those whose paths she crosses. I also expect violence since she is probably some kind of hunter. 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 shows that the main element of the story IS the vampires – everything else comes second. I would expect something heavy, historical and traditional ala Dracula. 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).
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.
5. Totally random object/scene. Think Twilight, or Fifty Shades. Though the artists will cite symbolic bull, this cover tells you nothing. But, the font choices and colors on these covers 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, but also likely to be 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.
So what do I do? My series doesn’t fit into the first category (though book one might me able to), so hunky heroes and steamy sex scenes are out. I might have a female protagonist, but she’s not kick ass, she’s not sultry and she isn’t lost and weeping, so category two is out. The books are a quick, light read, with no heavy history, so category three is out. Katelina might drink margaritas, but the series is the anti-thesis of chic lit (or at least I hope it is) so category four is out. This leaves me with “completely out there” – which I’m already doing – or “totally random object/scene”, which is what I have decided to go for.
Remember how I said that artists of these abstract covers will give you a lot of symbolic bull? Well I’m no different.
Since the first book does have a heavier romance element it got a hunky hero silhouette. I could give you a lot of crap about the symbolism of the tree, but really I just like trees.
For book two I swapped out the heavy pink/red color of the original cover for a simple blue because, though there is some heavy romance moments, the main challenge in the story is the characters’ regret and how to deal with that. This also contributes to the choice of the graveyard motif, which not only conveys the regret and lost moments, but also gives it a gothy, vampire-ish tone. Plus it looks cool.
Book three is faster paced with less emphasis on the hunky hero and more on a new character, who wants desperately to involve himself in a triangle just because I told him not to. The highway and the red color scheme reflect the fast pace, as well as the conflict. Not to mention red happens to be the new character’s main color.
The fourth book has even less emphasis on the romance, and more on the culmination of the story arch with Oren and Malick. A lot of things are wrapped up. I went for purpley-blue to give it the edge of feminine. The bulk of the heavy action takes place underground, which doesn’t lend itself to a silhouette, but there are some defining scenes at a country house, so I went for that. I could also claim that the lonely scene emphasizes that, as a human among vampires, Katelina is alone among the monsters.
In book five the romance is still taking a backseat, but there’s a bit of a triangle that refuses to go away, so it got a feminizing purple color. The vampires leave the US and do some globe hopping as they search for an ancient relic. Not only do they visit Japan, but the Japanese images evoke tradition, agelessness and a bit of mysticism, which fit the theme of the book perfectly.
And if you’re still reading this mindeless pap, there’s blood splattered on them to symbolize violence and vampirism and all that.
The question is: Will the cliché covers make more people buy? If so will it lead to people who feel they were promised something the series doesn’t deliver? Or, like the special edition covers, will it make no impact at all? Place your bets now!
P.S. All the images are still my own. I’m not really interested in the various limits stock photos place on usage.
PPS – I’ll do an official announcement on my author blog in a couple of days maybe.