Re: Why does most cover art suck?

#1
And I'm not just talking about the ones with obviously low production qualities. I'm talking even about the ones that have actual professional quality presentation level. 

My problem with them is that they all look so unbearably generic and uninspiring. Generally they look like they could have belonged to any book ever and don't tell you anything about the plot of the contents of the book, except maybe only very vaguely (if there is a sci-fi character on the front then you can tell the book is sci-fi, but otherwise you have no idea what the book is about).

To me, a good cover raises questions. Makes you think, "what is happening on that cover?"

Example from Alan Foster's Quozl:

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Who are those bunny looking creatures? Who is that fat man bursting into the room? Why are they inside his home? What is going on?

This is what GOOD cover is SUPPOSE to do. It makes you ask questions. It makes you intrigued to look for answers by actually reading the book. 90% of book covers, even for well written novels/stories, don't seem to do this, and just look ultra-generic and boring. What gives? Do people just not understand the importance of an interesting cover?

Re: Why do most novel covers suck?

#2
I'm guessing because they have to work as a thumbnail. Lots of people buy books online nowadays; this illustration is neat, but I'm not so sure Id be able to tell what's going on if I saw it 200x120 pixel size, or whatever format they use on Amazon.com. 

The Twilight cover? That's just hands holding an apple, no problems telling what it is. Think of current book covers like a memorable brand logo, like the Nike logo. They don't tell you what the story is about necessarily, but they are memorable. 

EDIT: Oh, and trends. If someone liked Twilight, and they wrote a book to a similar audience, it only makes sense that they'd make a similar cover to speak to the people who already bought something like that. Eventually it just became the norm (partially because of the book success and partially because the graphic designer behind those are INSANELY influential. The guy charges multiple grand for a cover like that, simple as it may be, and last I heard they were booked indefinitely).

Re: Why do most novel covers suck?

#3

Llamadragon Wrote: I'm guessing because they have to work as a thumbnail. Lots of people buy books online nowadays; this illustration is neat, but I'm not so sure Id be able to tell what's going on if I saw it 200x120 pixel size, or whatever format they use on Amazon.com. 

The Twilight cover? That's just hands holding an apple, no problems telling what it is. Think of current book covers like a memorable brand logo, like the Nike logo. They don't tell you what the story is about necessarily, but they are memorable. 

EDIT: Oh, and trends. If someone liked Twilight, and they wrote a book to a similar audience, it only makes sense that they'd make a similar cover to speak to the people who already bought something like that. Eventually it just became the norm (partially because of the book success and partially because the graphic designer behind those are INSANELY influential. The guy charges multiple grand for a cover like that, simple as it may be, and last I heard they were booked indefinitely).



I would rather run the risk of some people not entirely being able to tell what is happening on the cover art in case they are browsing through the store on their phone, instead of having a utterly generic cover art that produces literally zero excitement.

Furthermore, trends die. What if 10 years from now nobody gives a damn about Twilight? Why use a twilight inspired cover that later down the line will produce no additional excitement and will just look like any other generic book cover?

Re: Why do most novel covers suck?

#5
The short answer: because good cover artists cost a lot of money and are in high demand.

Now for a longer answer: Visual storytelling is an extremely niche skillset. It is hard enough to make a drawing visually interesting, creative, and well rendered. For most careers in art, that is more than enough to keep one gainfully employed for life. So why would somebody take on the extremely burdensome extra work of learning how to tell a story in a single image, especially if that story isn't even your own? Yeah. Exactly. This is why most don't. They continue on their merry way doing character designs or concept art for video games instead. They get paid just as much money, and it is a lot less of a headache.

The ones that still pursue storytelling do it for the love of the art form. These are the ones who are not satisfied with simply drawing something cool. However, they are an extremely rare breed.

Publishers are always looking at the bottom line (money). Editors are always looking at the deadline (time). If you prioritize those two factors, you often end up with unsatisfactory artwork. Because the artist is often only noteworthy because they are available cheap and/or the fact that they can reliably hit a deadline.

Re: Why do most novel covers suck?

#6
I agree with your idea of a cover providing a glimpse into what the story's about. Personally, I've always liked covers with lots of detail that makes you think about what the story's about. Classic sci-fi novels had some amazing covers. Unfortunately, in today's world of on-line reading and publishing, covers have had to become less detailed. Does that make them bad? Not in my opinion. I've seen some very well done covers where the right font and background alone made you want to read it. There are many book covers I've seen on Royal Road which are quite good. Some are simple and others greatly detailed. As with most art, book covers are a matter of personal taste. I really enjoyed the example cover you included in your post. However, I suspect that some people would say it had too much in it to the point of being distracting. There are plenty of bland and boring book covers, but there are also many that are done well.

Re: Why do most novel covers suck?

#8
In the case of traditionally-published novels, many (if not most) of those are designed by the publisher's in-house marketing team, and that team doesn't have time to read the whole novel cover-to-cover. More likely, they're working from a short summary, and they're doing multiple covers per week. And while the author might have a chance to give input, the marketing team is more concerned with current industry trends and what cover will bring in the most profit. From their perspective, this is the number one priority. Unlike a novel, cover-creation is strictly business. Artists might take risks, but businesses prefer reliable income. Will the trends change in ten years? Probably. But if the book is still selling well in ten years, they can always update the cover then. 

For self-published novels or web novels, the author might have full creative control, but money is a major factor. A fully painted scene might cost thousands of dollars, while a single character, symbol, or background costs only a few hundred. And like with the traditionally-pubished novels, the designers are working with only a few paragraphs, along with some examples of what style the author prefers. Most authors aren't professional designers, so the best they can do is research current industry trends and ask for something similar

Re: Why do most novel covers suck?

#9
As many have mentioned, the main reason is money. Good art costs a lot, not only from a monetary but also from a time perspective. But on the other hand, not every story is suitable for a very intricate cover. Sometimes less is more. Everything depends on the target audience, the genre, even the art-trends at the moment. A children's book or a more light-hearted story (like Terry Pratchett's) are suitable for colorful intricate covers showing excerpts of the narrative. A book that wants to pander to the "old generation" and present itself as "noble" can go with a classical gold-rimmed leather cover that screams "victorian library" (I have some new editions of Sherlock Holmes and Shakespeare that hit the mark). If you have a thriller, you go with a lot of contrasting blacks, reds, and blood splatters. And sometimes, you don't want to show the whole story on your cover but just the key McGuffin (or maybe it is because so many things are going on inside that you can't pack it all on the cover). You get what I mean. 

As for covers here on Royal Road, most of the authors, myself included, have made the covers themselves. And they look as they do because of the limitations of our skills. 

Re: Why do most novel covers suck?

#10

David Wrote: A fully painted scene might cost thousands of dollars


Doesn't that depend on scene complexity and the skill of the artist though? I would argue that a book cover with even just average presentation quality, but interesting concept, is a step up from the typical generic cover. 

Seeing as we are all on the topic of talking about how much cover artists charge, where do you even go look for such services? Can this be done online? How does copyright work?

Re: Why do most novel covers suck?

#12

splattenburgers Wrote:
David Wrote: A fully painted scene might cost thousands of dollars


Doesn't that depend on scene complexity and the skill of the artist though? I would argue that a book cover with even just average presentation quality, but interesting concept, is a step up from the typical generic cover. 

Seeing as we are all on the topic of talking about how much cover artists charge, where do you even go look for such services? Can this be done online? How does copyright work?

You can do that online. There are enough freelance artists out in the open. You just need to find someone whose art you like and contact them with a request. The thing is, however not that simple. From my time on Deviant Art, I have some idea of the basic pieces for acceptable art. A simple A4 pencil sketch of a single character costs between 5-15$ depending on shading and whether it is full body or portrait (full body always costs more). A portrait of a single character in color with simple shading can triple or even quadruple, depending on the complexity of the technique, shading, amount of colors used, etc. And here we are talking about a portrait of a single character, not full-body and without background. If the character is in a dynamic pose, it costs more. If there is background added, it costs even more, especially depending on the background complexity. If you want more than one character in a dynamic setting, well prepare a few hundred. Oh, and you would need a high-resolution image so that it is printable in good quality. Caching! 

PS: The artist that did the work has the copyright. By ordering and paying them, you are allowed to use it for commercial purposes but you have to credit the artist. It is your story but their artwork.

Re: Why do most novel covers suck?

#13
The vast majority of artists are their own agents. So you can usually contact them directly if they are available for commissions. Copyright always remains with the artist unless otherwise agreed upon. This is why buying work for publication costs so much. It may not be much money to get an artist to make a picture for you. But if you are going to limit their ability to resell that image (as prints, for example), then you will be charged extra to make up for the potential lost income.

Before approaching somebody, it is a good idea to check their commission rates so you don't waste their time by lowballing them. Building up a relationship by commissioning a simple sketch can help break the ice and greases the wheels for future contract work.

Re: Why do most novel covers suck?

#14
Professional cover designers create covers that are designed to sell books, based on the genre in which the book belongs. They have a good idea of what sells, which can vary by genre, and even by author (for example, for a Stephen King book, what you want is his name in big letters--the actual image hardly matters at all). These days, how it looks as a thumbnail is also very important, as others said above.

For a typical fantasy novel, you might want to start with a character-driven cover, to say, "hey, look at these interesting characters! Come read about them!" If the book sells well, then later, you might replace it with a simple symbolic cover, intended to attract a new and different generation of readers. For a very successful book, maybe after that, you'll get a different artist's take on a brand-new character-driven cover.

But that's for fantasy. For a contemporary thriller, you'd go a different route. A character-driven cover is less likely to sell because it's, what, a regular guy in a suit? So, instead, you'd choose a mish-mash of symbols related to the story. Maybe a man running in the background, a few bullets scattered on a table, and a soviet flag fluttering overhead.

For romance, you want attractive people clutching at each other. For erotica, you want hot bodies (heads are optional).

The intent of the cover isn't to represent the book but to sell the book. If the publisher and designer think a whimsical scene will sell the book, then they'll make one. I haven't read the book you show above, but I think that cover would only work for comedic fantasy, and even there, it looks rather dated by today's standards. It screams "this book was written in the eighties" to me. It's not quite as rough as covers from the seventies, but it's not as polished as modern (professional) covers.

The cover is meant to entice readers. Professional cover designers will tell you not to attempt to recreate an actual scene from the novel, because doing so will detract from whatever it is that's enticing potential readers to pick it up (which, again, will vary by genre).


EDIT: I'm referring to professional cover designers here, who sometimes work with professional artists. A lot of folks above are talking from the frame of reference of an indie author hiring an artist, so I just wanted to add one more note to my reply. Most artists, even good ones, aren't cover designers. Those are two different skills, and often require two different people. If your funds are limited, be sure to consider what skill you actually need. A cover designer will be able to get you a professional-looking cover even without an artist. An artist may be able to give you exactly what you want in terms of art (if you're lucky), but they may not be able to give you a professional-looking cover without the help of a designer.

Re: Why do most novel covers suck?

#15
Oh, and back on the topic of why so many covers look copy-pasted - because many stories are written like a copy-paste. A young, aspiring author writes their first YA novel inspired by certain vampire books. Train of thought - vampire books are cool and sell. How do we ride the trend wave even better? By making the story AND the cover of the book as close as possible to our inspiration, but different enough as to not get a lawsuit. 

I don't imply that all authors and publishers think like that, but you have to admit that there are some obvious clues pointing in that direction. 

Re: Why do most novel covers suck?

#16

Ariana Wrote: Oh, and back on the topic of why so many covers look copy-pasted - because many stories are written like a copy-paste. A young, aspiring author writes their first YA novel inspired by certain vampire books. Train of thought - vampire books are cool and sell. How do we ride the trend wave even better? By making the story AND the cover of the book as close as possible to our inspiration, but different enough as to not get a lawsuit.



Yes, it's deliberate. Each genre has certain styles, and within a genre, even the different sub-genres have specific styles. An urban fantasy vampire book written for teenage girls will look like a romance novel with pointy teeth and a dark background, so as to say, "Hey, you remember all those books you enjoyed with covers just like this one? You'll enjoy this one too! Buy it!"

Re: Why do most novel covers suck?

#17

splattenburgers Wrote:
David Wrote: A fully painted scene might cost thousands of dollars


Doesn't that depend on scene complexity and the skill of the artist though? I would argue that a book cover with even just average presentation quality, but interesting concept, is a step up from the typical generic cover. 

Seeing as we are all on the topic of talking about how much cover artists charge, where do you even go look for such services? Can this be done online? How does copyright work?



Oh yeah, the range is huge. You can get a free digital painting on Art Breeder, an artist on Fiverr will charge hundreds, and the high-end artists charge in the thousands.

When I was looking for a cover designer, I found covers I liked (in my price range) and tracked down the designers. Sometimes, you can find credits in the front matter which is usually visible on Amazon. If not, you can always contact the authors and ask who they used.

And an interesting concept is easier said than done. The problem is, who's coming up with the concept? Most authors aren't graphic designers, or we would rather be writing our next book than putting more time into the marketing materials. And if you're paying the designer to do the concept, that means even more money.

Re: Why do most novel covers suck?

#18

Ariana Wrote: Oh, and back on the topic of why so many covers look copy-pasted - because many stories are written like a copy-paste. A young, aspiring author writes their first YA novel inspired by certain vampire books. Train of thought - vampire books are cool and sell. How do we ride the trend wave even better? By making the story AND the cover of the book as close as possible to our inspiration, but different enough as to not get a lawsuit.

This is literally the oppsite of what I want to do. What is the point of going through the effort of writing a novel if you just want to chase a trend? I want to tell the story that I WANT to tell. If that means sacrificing mainstream appeal, then so be it.



David Wrote:
splattenburgers Wrote:
David Wrote: A fully painted scene might cost thousands of dollars


Doesn't that depend on scene complexity and the skill of the artist though? I would argue that a book cover with even just average presentation quality, but interesting concept, is a step up from the typical generic cover. 

Seeing as we are all on the topic of talking about how much cover artists charge, where do you even go look for such services? Can this be done online? How does copyright work?


And an interesting concept is easier said than done. The problem is, who's coming up with the concept? Most authors aren't graphic designers, or we would rather be writing our next book than putting more time into the marketing materials. And if you're paying the designer to do the concept, that means even more money.

I'm a amature 3D modeler/graphic artists actually. Not good enough to create a professional quality cover, but I imagine it helps. I don't have problems envisioning scenes in my head.

Re: Why do most novel covers suck?

#19

splattenburgers Wrote: This is literally the oppsite of what I want to do. What is the point of going through the effort of writing a novel if you just want to chase a trend? I want to tell the story that I WANT to tell. If that means sacrificing mainstream appeal, then so be it.



If you want to do that with your story, that's great, even if you lose mainstream appeal. You should write the story you want to tell. But that's not the purpose of your cover. The cover is meant to attract enough attention to read the blurb, and then the cover and the blurb together need to sell the story.

Think of it as two populations: X is the number of people who'll be attracted enough by the cover to take a deeper look, and Y is the number of people who'll be interested enough to buy it (or read it on a free site like Royal Road). Y, therefore, is a subset of X.

If you deliberately limit Y by writing a story without mainstream appeal, you'll need to get X as big as possible if you want to have any readers at all. One percent of ten thousand is much larger than one percent of one hundred.

That said, most of this advice is for someone releasing a real book. People don't really mind amateur covers here on Royal Road because they understand the context here. Professional covers may still draw a higher percentage of readers on RR, but the difference won't be as stark as it would be on Amazon, where you're competing with thousands of professionally published novels.

Re: Why do most novel covers suck?

#20
Simple but impactful graphics are arguably visually more, eh, impactful than complex, busy layouts, especially at a certain size scales, as well as far more attainable at certain levels of artistic talent. Also, Not everything can be rendered like Horatio at the Bridge even at an appropriate scale (size). Both are used, and I like the more collectable art provided by say, Hildebrand myself, but expect to find that on few book covers, even if they do make good posters when scaled up. While I appreciate covers that tell a story, I certainly wouldn't suggest rank amateur writers to attempt creating one for their work. Gods, what a debacle that would be. If you are Norman Rockwell, that's fine, but otherwise...