Thursday, June 3, 2010

Book Covers

Put me down in the camp of folks who like their book covers to have something to do with the content of the novel. I understand that the people in charge of designing and selecting the covers for novels are trying to make the book look as appealing as possible so people will buy it. The cover is a marketing tool, just like the front of a cereal box or the packaging of a Wii.

But, all too often, it's false advertising!

For instance, I'm currently reading a series of novels called "The Lost Fleet." They're written by John G. Hemry under the pen-name of Jack Campbell, and they're quite good. I'm finishing the final novel in the series now and plan to write a review when I'm done. But their covers are a travesty. There's barely any ground action in these books - they're Horatio Hornblower-style space battles between fleets of naval vessels. They're actually very similar to David Weber's Honor Harrington books (in fact, if the two authors were to collaborate, the world might well explode from sheer awesomeness). So why, I'd like to know, do all of the covers feature the main character - John "Black Jack" Geary - in Marine battle armor wielding various enormous and fancy-looking ray guns??

I know the answer, of course - because it looks cool. But dammit, the Honor Harrington books are clear evidence that fleets of spaceships or a commander on the bridge of her flagship can be used to create compelling, exciting artwork for the covers of novels.

I can only conclude, therefore, that those publishers who choose to approve artwork that has nothing to do with the content of the novel are simply lazy. That's all - they could have, had they been so inclined, created cover art that was both an effective marketing tool and was true to the book's content, but they didn't feel like it. They wimped out. They were too busy or just not good enough to manage both, so they didn't even try - they gave up and went with the easy option.

For shame! When you've got good writers telling engaging stories and you've got talented artists at your disposal who can bring any image from imagination to reality, you're silly not to use them to their full potential.

Don't get me wrong, Hemry's latest novels aren't the sole examples of this activity, nor even the worst offenders. I mean, at least I can assume that the guy on the cover looks more-or-less like how the author imagines his protagonist as well as how he pictured Marine battle armor, it's just that he never envisioned them being smashed together and dumped on the cover (I presume - who knows? Maybe Hemry loves the covers). I also recall that back in the old Usenet days, it was common practice for the group members to pick apart the Darryl K. Sweet covers. But at least Sweet's artwork, imprecise as it often was, made a concerted effort to reflect what was in the novel. I recently saw a post on John Scalzi's blog where he discussed one of his novels' foreign covers and how it bore not the slightest resemblance to anything in the book. That's crap, and as a reader it annoys me.

So that's it. Novel covers - if somebody's going to put their heart and soul into writing the damn thing, then the editor in charge of the cover art ought to at least put some effort into selecting imagery that's true to the novel while still serving as an effective enticement to get people to buy it. Anything less is shoddy work.

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