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.
You put a lot of thought into this, which is exactly what publishing Companies do. I love the new covers and how you can tell they belong to the same series. Your books are heavy on action and violence (yay) they are about the vampire world not the human one, and also about what kind of life a human would have in this world and it ain’t good! There is an over all dark feel to it (again, yay). You have made a great choice with the new covers. I adore the original, but for marketing purposes the new might be better. I own the whole series in paper back and I hope to get book 5 with the drawn cover.
Thanks! I did them yesterday while at the inlaws house with no net 🙂
yeah, black printed covers run into ink limit problems, so the paperback is getting the old white standby 😉
My techie just left – so just on now (I love the word just) and I was testing something and showed him your book 5 cover – yes he thought it was YA. And yes I read this all the way through and should keep it for my info. And whenever I see something from wordpress I have to look at it to see if it’s you or not. Having babbled all that – the 5 new covers are fantastic they may be random images but they depict the books.
People tend not to buy compilations (sp) of books so may have nothing to do with the covers
I don’t know why wordpress is doing that 😦 I’ve looked through my settings… I wonder if it’s a glitch?
yeah, there are a lot of factors, so we’ll see if this makes any difference. the new ones are up on amazon already.
Fan of the original covers here. I know I should try to do more “traditional” fantasy covers for mine, but like you, I think mine is unconventional adult fantasy that will not appeal to all fantasy readers. Therefore I don’t want to give the wrong idea to a prospective reader who might end up feel cheated…
New covers are nice – just so similar to others they’re boring! 😉
I LOVE your covers 😀 but then I admit I love unconventional covers, especially art work ones, so…. 😉
Jo, I’m loving this blog! Very well thought out and makes great sense. I love your original covers and your original artwork, but I have to admit – forgive me for this! – the new covers look more “polished” to my eyes. These are the covers I would expect to see on the shelves of the bookstores. I’m looking forward to Heart of the Raven!
LOL! yeah, I only worry that looking too book store-ish will blend in too much. I’ve read a LOT of book blogs where people complain that all the covers look alike, but we’ll see what happens 🙂
Crap! Your old covers drug me into your series…but the new covers DO look more traditional. They are pretty.
I’m probably not going to be much help to you, not that it stops me from throwing in my two cents. The thing is, I’ve got a bazillion of these traditional/random object vampire stories sitting on my Kindle, waiting to be read. If they don’t stand out, they might be stuck on the pile for a LONG time, perhaps forever. And…I’m a hypocrite, because any covers idea that I’ve played around with for my OWN story have combined elements from #4 and #5.
I’m NOT a huge fan of the sexy covers, as in #1, unless that’s what the book’s about. SEX. If that’s the case, let me know so I can save my money. It’s not exactly my favorite genre, but I know romance sells, so what do I know? I’ve bought lots of books with #2’s theme, but you’re right, I EXPECT it to be about a strong female character. I love Katelina, but I don’t know if #2 fits. The covers of #3, bats, and blood, and teeth, OH my! That’s been SOOOO done! Quite frankly, those covers turn me off…unless there’s something funny or quirky along with it. That might get my attention.
I tend to gravitate towards the fun, hand drawn, quirky covers: Charlaine Harris has some great covers! Crap! I got into the Sookie books strictly because of her covers, though I fell off the Sookie train about 4 books back. Quite frankly, I liked her Lily Bard series and her Harper Connelly series much better, but they never gained the Sookie popularity. (The Lily books and the Harper books also have some cool covers.)
Tate Hallaway’s Garnet Lacey series…saw the first book, Tall, Dark & Dead in a bookstore, bought the rest of the series a week later. Awesome series! Sooo bummed when they used a different cover artist for the last book. Waited a year for the last book to come out, then I ended up buying it as an ebook instead of a paperback. The last book’s cover wasn’t anything special. She got a LOT of flack about the change in covers, but it wasn’t up to her. The publishing house made the decision. I’m thinking of reading Michelle Bardsley’s series…strictly because of her cool covers. No idea if they’re any good but I love the titles and the cover art is hilarious!
On the flip side of this…or maybe it’s the same side, I avoided Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series for YEARS, strictly because of the covers. There’s NOTHING wrong with the covers, but they didn’t look like something I would EVER be interested in. Jim Butcher is one my hubby’s favorite writers, but even HE couldn’t convince me to read Jim’s books! I FINALLY read the first book around September/October of last year. OMG! He’s now in my top five favorite author’s of all time. I’m am screaming from the roof tops! I LOVE this series!!!! They keep just getting better. Fourteen (?) books and counting in the Harry Dresden series plus a BUNCH of short stories. Sadly, I wouldn’t have touched these books if it wasn’t for my hubby leaving his books ALL over the place. The Dresden covers just don’t do anything for me. They’re all the same: mysterious guy in a trench coat and hat. Harry Dresden doesn’t even WEAR a hat! LOL
Ah well… See? Not helpful! Let us know if you’re changing up the paperbacks. I have them all in e-form, so covers don’t really matter, but not all in paperback. If you’re changing them up, I’ll need to get the “missing” paperback(s) with your artwork on them pronto! Procrastination, thy name is Juli. 😉
let’s see if i can be intelligent before my 7% battery runs out.
The paperbacks are staying as is, so all is safe 😉
I know what you mean. There are several books I have avoided or gone “eh” about because the covers were so… cliche. It’s like “can;t you do something different?” I’m mostly drawn to #4 and #5 style books (#5 more than anything) but then I guess maybe I am a weird one, LOL! It pains me to say but had i not known anything abut twilight, I’d have picked it up just because the cover was – at the time – so different form all the other books around it. That and the fact that the cover was nicely unisex I believe had something to do with it’s rise to popularity. okay, and it was full of emo teen girl giggly crap. 😉
Ha ha! no! Katelina is NOT a #2. She says she’s not sultry, she’s not lost, and she’s only recently getting to kick ass 😉 it’s impossible to go from couch potato to Buffy in .02 after all, but she’s working on it slowly.
I avoided the Twilight books BECAUSE of their covers! What’s this book about? Chess? Forbidden Fruit? Is this going to be one of those “religious” books? LMAO! True story, I only read them because a friend recommended them. Sad. 😦 She STILL thinks they’re awesome. If it wasn’t for this friend, I’d NEVER have read the series. Of course, once I read the first book, I knew better than to continue. They’re like reading an angsty train wreck! LOL
I’d have missed lots of good books if I judged them by their cover…. though I do scrutinize the cover art once the book is in my hand
There’s some books you read because they have good word of mouth, like Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre is one of my favorite “classics.” Love, love, LOVE, that story! But if I’m just putzing around a bookstore, I’m looking at covers and titles because I’m NOT shelling out money on the first book on the shelf. I’m looking for something to catch my eye. Just being honest here. Otherwise, if the covers and titles didn’t matter, we’d all go to the library, start on one end, and keep checking out books based on alphabetical order…which could be intriguing, but not the norm. 😉