Why are clichés shunned in the text of novels, but often embraced on the cover? Should publishers look for the same originality in their art departments that they seek in their authors?
It keeps cropping up. The internets hates clichéd covers and demands changes in cover art – new, shiny, original things – but change doesn’t come. Why?
Well, that’s a story in itself, really, and it goes a little something like this:
There are people who work for publishers and they have families that need feeding. Often, they need to make money in order to eat. They would like their authors to eat too. They realise to do this they need to make money, and a very good way of making money is by selling books. Selling books is good for the publisher and good for the author. Clever people are employed who spend years looking at the book industry, and how to try and make some money in it, and they spend months having meetings deciding on how to do lots of things, like spending huge amounts of marketing cash. Oh wait, no, they don’t have a lot of money to spend. In fact, they’re often deciding on how to spend tiny budgets on several titles each month, which means some books will get no money behind it at all. And some chains charge money just to have the book on the shelf. Money disappears very quickly in this industry.
Which is where cover art comes in. It is the single most important decision in selling books. The casual customer is led – nearly always, when they don’t know the author – by cover art. It’s the first thing they’ll see. And they buy the book with money, which pays the wages of lots of people. The right cover feeds lots of publishers and authors and keeps people very happy indeed.
So a publisher wants to put a piece of artwork on a book that will appeal to lots of people in order to eat. They will speak to bookchain buyers who make a fuck-ton of buying decisions every day in a competitive environment, possibly making or breaking a career with one large sweep of the hand, and publishers really ought to listen to them.
Sometimes the bookchain buyer will say, ‘That obscure arty picture on the cover of your book looks pretty, but it will kill the career of Author X in an instant. Why not put something that lots of people will actually want to buy on the front? You know, stuff that presses the right buttons with fantasy readers – make it familiar with things they might have read before, because that’s probably the best way of shifting units.’
And the publisher says to this: ‘Yes. I would like to eat, as would my family. So would my authors and their families, too. Let’s put something on the front that will encourage lots of fantasy readers pick up the book.’
So they do. And the author sells lots of books and he or she is happy because their book is being read by lots of people. But there will always be angry people – and the angry people live on the internet. They think that the people who live on the internet are right all the time, and bad covers are EVIL, because bad covers never sell books.
And that’s really all there is to it. Cover art is never quite the same as what’s in the book, because the inside is made up of words, and the outside is made up of pictures, and they each do very different things.