Recently it was brought to my attention, by Mr. Bryce Dayton and others, that the cover for Daniel Polansky’s new book, Tomorrow the Killing, is very similar to the cover of my book, The Emperor’s Knife.
I have seen a lot of blue-tinged books in the stores, especially this luminescent, greenish blue, featured below on (the newest edition of?) The Name of the Wind, which also shows a hooded man and a landscape, though in each of these three books the landscape is different:
Though all these covers are beautiful, I notice they seem to be made up of photographs that can be recycled (I think I have seen the man on my cover gracing other books, and you can see a similar device on both The Emperor’s Knife and Tomorrow the Killing). They also use the identical font. Contrast this with the unique cover of Prince of Thorns, drawn by Jason Chan:
Here you see more variation in color, the dramatic cut-out of the cloak from the white background, and the specially created font. I don’t think many would deny this is a special cover.
In the SFF world much is made of covers. Good covers, bad covers, covers that misrepresent the contents. There is no end for discussion here. Since I use a kindle I often don’t see the covers, or see them only in passing as I order the book, and so it is sometimes difficult for me to know how much they might influence the buying habits of others. Still, there are things I have come to understand. First, a cover with a naked male torso, or a romantic-looking male looking off into the distance, are a big turnoff for some men:
While hooded men are code for lots of action and assassin-type stuff:
Swords and men in historical getup mean “fantasy” of one type or another. A girl with her back to the camera, twisting around to look at the reader, means paranormal romance and/or urban fantasy (yikes! This one is holding onto a blade!). A more abstract cover on an SFF book signals that the contents are more adult or literary. A beautiful, ornate cover means you’re going to get some old-school magic and wonder.
Marketing minds at publishing companies must think about who is going to enjoy a book, and then tailor the cover accordingly. (Perhaps Daniel Polansky and I appeal to the same type of reader.) But marketing is more than covers; marketing is price, promotion, placement, distribution, timing, and so much more. The cover is the last thing at the end that causes the shopper to pick your book up from the shelf – but getting that book to the shelf, hopefully at eye level, is a series of other hidden tasks. Count into that the continuing loss of standard bookstores, and you begin to wonder how many sales are still made through covers.
I’m thinking that besides selling books, covers serve to code a book and help you decide what not to buy as much as they help you decide the opposite. When readers buy such coded books and they don’t match to expectation, the disappointment is greater than if they had known they were trying something new.
In some ways publishers might be more in the dark than amazon. Amazon can reliably tell you, ‘people who clicked on this book also clicked on that book.’ But publishers can only hope that the same people who liked one book will like another, and design the cover accordingly. They know what they want to put out there, and thank goodness for that – but as to who will buy it, perhaps they don’t know the answer any more than you or I. So they use the cover as an opportunity to advertise, to catch the eye, to place the book in the buyer’s mind.
So to answer those who asked whether I planned to protest in some way the similarity between my book’s cover art and Mr. Polansky’s – no (I don’t even know if there is such a mechanism to complain about someone else’s cover art). I don’t care. Maybe we’ll sell one another’s books. Maybe not. But we are both communicating the same thing – an old city, some (perhaps regretful) killing, and some nice prose. At least I hope that’s what we’re communicating. And good luck to all of us!