Mark Charan Newton on SFF artwork

I recently posted the cover art for the UK paperback edition of Newton's Nights of Villjamur (Canada, USA, Europe). Considering the lack of reaction, I reckon that most of you didn't have a problem with this new cover.

On the other hand, elsewhere the comments have been flying, especially on A Dribble of Ink. Not surprisingly, as Aidan has spent the last year or so either bitching about or singing the praise of this or that SFF cover. What's interesting is the editior such as Simon "Doctor Evil" Spanton, Julie Crisp, and Lou Anders all gave their two cents.

Taking all that into account, Newton offers his own two cents in this blog post. Here's an excerpt:

I thought I’d clear a few things up about cover art, which have been touched in those comments, but I felt needed airing full, and putting in context.

* There is an audience of readers who don’t spend much time online, on review sites or blogs or forums.

* In the bookstore-world reality, that audience spectacularly outweighs the number of online fans.

* Online fans are, therefore, a vocal minority. A core market of fans that are very passionate (and one that I personally belong to).

* As Simon Spanton says (in the comments): “… much as it may be uncomfortable to hear, our job as publishers is to make that core market an increasingly small part of the author’s readership – for an author to sell big numbers we have to get their book in the hands of those people who maybe buy just one or two genre books a year, not just the dedicated fans who buy maybe 20 books a year. And that, essentially, is where the cloaked figures come in.”

* As Julie Crisp says: “The top three reasons for buying an SFF book are: read the previous in the series, read other by author and saw in shop. Most readers will experiment with a new author because it reminds them of someone they’ve read previously and enjoyed. I’m guilty of it myself. They want that simple association – something that’s immediately comparative. And we would be remiss if we ignored that… As an aside, it’s not just SFF – you look at most genres and there’s a certain style of covers associated with a certain genre of book.”

* So. I am a new author. The majority of people, particularly the offline world, will not have heard of Nights of Villjamur. They might not read the lovely reviews. All they have to go on is this:

What the book looks like.

Do check it out! Anyone who has ever bitched about why SFF covers look like they do might learn a thing or two. . .

11 commentaires:

Aidan Moher said...

I know I've certainly learned a hell of a lot about what goes on behind the curtain (and how little I know about the publishing world) from that conversation!

A Dribble of Ink

Bryce L. said...

Mark does have a point. We, the online community, will find out if a book is good and read it no matter the cover if it happens to be good.

We have the ability to find out information much easier than those not online.

Why cater to us? That's what Subterranean press is for.

Chris V said...

Never thought of cover art in exactly this way, although I have to admit I am guilty of being part of the large dumb masses as well. Occasionally I do buy books randomly, mostly when I am stuck waiting for a train ( yeah the curse of public transport)
Cover art does have to reflect genre, but I see no reason to make covers just a stereotype. Lets hope a good middle way can be found. For me in the end it is always about the story. Even though I love pretty covers. Perhaps special edition might be a good way to appease some of the real lovers. Although I have to admit I have no where near enough money to buy all the books I want to read let alone something fancy. But thats the curse of being a student, one that will end fortunately.

Todd Newton said...

I'm a cover art-o-phile, but honestly this sounds like the same old defense to me. "This invisible cloud of readers demands what we've consistently produced for the last X years." I don't know, there has to be a better explanation than simplified sociology.

Shawn C. Speakman said...

At least his cover is a good-looking cover. It still has the same old tired cliche cover we've seen the last two years though.

It comes down to two things:

1) Marketing teams protecting their jobs. They can point at another cover on a book that has done well and say, "We gave this book every chance to succeed based on the information we had." It is easier than having to come up with the new "next standard" of cover art.

2) Book sales. There is a large section of the book buying population who do not research a book. And if a cover has a cloaked figure or a tramp-stamped vixen on the cover, the reader knows what they will be getting most of the time.

Personally, you can put me firmly in the bitching department.

I know it has to do with book sales, but if a marketing team and art department actually do their job and spend time on their job, they can produce an inviting cover that DOES NOT mimic these other covers and YET does sell a lot of copies.

To me it is sheer laziness or an issue with time management and publisher resources and the excuse it has been done a certain way for so long is a poor one at that.

And Pat, why not add your own thoughts on the cover art and that of its predecessors? You have some firm opinions on other topics. Why not this one? Is Mark's response your response?

Tom said...

Come up with whatever excuses you want- bad, cheesy genre-specific art is still just bad art. There are plenty of times I've refused to pick up a book because of bad cover art. This one isn't bad, but it says to me "this is just like every other middling, so-so fantasy novel you've read" which is a shame because this book is better than that.

If their goal is to appeal to the great bookstore masses and, from what is sounds like, those who don't normally pick up a sci-fi/fantasy book, why use a cover that looks exactly like every other book in that section? That argument holds no weight at all. As a former general bookstore manager, I can say there's little to no chance a non-fantasy fan is picking up this book based on the cover. It barely warrants a faceout on the shelves.

I think the audience for this book is old enough that if someone was going to pick it up, they don't want something that reminds them of the DragonLance books we read in junior high.

Anonymous said...

You just contradicted yourself at the end there because this cover is in absolutely no way like one of those Dragonlance covers. those DL covers where action based fantasy dungeons and dragons covers this cover is what you see now on most coffee tables ..its non threatening to the mass readership it doesnt say " Hi there im a full out fantasy novel,please pick me up" this cover is more like the fiction covers you get in other genres but its made the compromise of having a guy in almost complete black with a non commital background.Your complaint about being dragonlance is complete nonsense and even if it did look like DL cover this is a fantasy novel so I dont really know where your coming from with that remark.Its not a bad cover because I will never slate an artists work and to do so is childish to the extreme.Im sure this cover will sell big time.Its not a work of art but it will be inofensive to most people and they can have it on there coffee table( which publishers like ) so their friends pick it up and dont think oh dear its another nerdy fantasy book. Publishers nowdays are trying to promote certain authors with a cross over look from crims novel and chick novel cover. women are most probably read more than men do so unless the book is totally all out dragons and warriors a publisher would promote that author with this cover. Some covers you like others would hate and so on.I gurantee that some people having a go at the cover would when passing the scifi and fantasy bookshleves would see this one out the corner of their eyes all it needs is just a quick glimpse and the publishers have done their job. People slagging the cover off are short sighted.Dont slag it off and think you have in some way elevated yourself to being an art critic all of a sudden.A book cover should do many things as well as draw the reader in whether it be for the right reasons or not the book has intrigued someone.I say that simply the fact that people are talking about the cover has done its job.What I would say is that the artist whos not known for being a fantasy and scifi book cover artist more romannce by look of his website was wrong guy to choose for the cover.. not saying he is bad artist but there are plenty of seasoned Fantasyartists that could have done the job and with approval from all sides.

Cecrow said...

Maybe the reason no one commented on the cover here when it was posted was because the author's unfamiliar and the cover didn't grab anyone? I sort of remember seeing it, but my eyes passed right over that entry and I didn't pause to read what it was about. Zeroed right in on the Stanek article, though - lol

Anonymous said...

but your talking about it now though lol

Tom said...

Anonymous, I stand by the statement that this cover in no way distinguishes itself from any other book on the sci-fi fantasy shelves. You mention it having done it's job if it draws a glance but I'm baffled that you think this would over any other similar cover.

Yes, the Dragonlance comparison was a bad analogy and I take that back.

I'm in no way bagging on the artist themselves. I do think the cover is very cliche though. The artist gave the publisher what they wanted. All I said that it does nothing to distinguish itself from other titles on the shelf and I didn't think it was appropriate for *this* novel.

You yourself admit this artist is better suited to a romance cover- a genre not noted for outstanding cover art- and that is exactly my point.

If you care, there's been a much more in-depth, reasoned discussion about all of this back on Aidan's site.

Anonymous said...

another sweeping staetment Tom.I am not talking about Mills and Boon covers.Some romance covers are very technically superb .Its a different genre and you make another sweeping staetment about art?? can I ask from what background do you have this superior knowledge about fantasy art and now romance art.Alot of top fantasy artists have actually done quite a few romance covers.You should really go no further in digging that hole. If you dont like cover fine but dont keep attacking other genres and the art when you have zero knowledge of the artwork and the covers.It really anoys me when people just pluck an answer that suits them right out of the air and proclaim it as fact.Stick to standing behind the counter at your book shop. kind regards.