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  1. #1
    Card Carrying Cynic Blackfish's Avatar
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    Embarrassing/Awful cover art

    I've found myself dealing with a new issue when I go to the bookstore lately. I'm now in my early 30s and I'm actually starting to become embarrassed about purchasing some books because of how bad their covers look. I'm talking about any cheesy cover art that tries to show a scene from the book using really blatant, cartoonish sword/sorcery/fantasy imagery. My newest example is the cover of J.V. Jones Sword from Red Ice...view it here:

    http://www.tor-forge.com/aswordfromredice

    Maybe its just me, but I'm starting to feel like anyone over the age of 12 reading a book with that kind of cover on it is just asking to be made fun of. I don't understand why US Publishers have to continue to propagate the "nerd/dork" stigma attached to reading fantasy/sci-fi by making their covers so ridiculously laughable. Jones is telling an adult story, with adult themes and content, but TOR felt the cover should look like it was pulled off a dungeons and dragons manual...and she's hardly the only example. It certainly seems that other countries treat fantasy authors (and readers) with more respect for their work, usually keeping their covers more subdued and serious. I wish it would catch on here, following examples like Scott Lynch's two books. It would be nice not to have to avoid eye contact with the cashier and placing the book cover-down on the counter so that others hopefully don't see it. Its hard to make a case for the quality of a book when all people see is a Conan-type guy holding a sword firing laser beams at a three headed dragon-beast. Am I being overly sensitive? Probably. But there is some truly awful cover art out there.

  2. #2
    Eh, that one isn't so bad--actually, it is somewhat appealing in a, uh, D&D sort of way.

    I certainly agree with you that fantasy abounds with bad cover art--although this is more of a problem in the US. The UK covers seem to be more tasteful, more artistic, less hyper-realistic and more atmospheric.

    Some comparisons:

    The UK edition of David Zindell's Lightstone, vs. the US edition, which if you click to see a larger image it isn't actually even a painting, or it looks like some artist painted medieval weaponry over two models. The UK edition captures some of the feel of Zindell's book, while the US one does not.

    Perhaps even worse, compare the UK and US versions of Erikson's Gardens of the Moon. Ugh.

  3. #3
    Could be worse, you could be buying Robert Heinlein or Piers Anthony. People might think you are buying porn.

  4. #4
    Wow, big difference between the US and UK Covers. Hate to say it but UK covers are better.

    Speaking of Cover porn, how about Cally's War / Sister Time from Baen. Makes Friday look mild.

    While not all the covers are SFF, visit The NEW Covey Awards to vote on your favorite covers every month and let your opinion be known.

    http://thenewcoveyawards.blogspot.com

    David

  5. #5
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    I must be the only one who didn't immediately vomit on first seeing the cover of Gardens of the Moon.

  6. #6
    I can understand what your saying. I was actually on my lunch break the other day and one of my superiors came up to me and asked "what are you reading? Is that some D & D $&#^?" I then proceeded to explain to him the premise of what I was reading(happened to be Gardens of the Moon). Well after all that he then said "someone should have told you to bring that book around a bunch of guys is just asking to get made fun of"

    The covers wont stop me from reading them, but sometimes a more low key cover would be preferable.

  7. #7
    King of the Lurkers. Moderator Keyoke's Avatar
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    Worse cover for me was when the collected the first three books of the Corum series by Michael Moocock.

    The book I had had a barechested muscley dude, wielding a sword, holding a scantly busty lady.

    Worse cover ever. I mean, not even close to what Corum was about, or who he was..

  8. #8
    aka Radone Davis Ashura's Avatar
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    I know what you mean, Blackfish. Those covers are so childish. The ones from Baen for almost all of John Ringo's books are quite difficult to look at. When not looking cheesily stupid (see here)

    http://www.amazon.com/Few-Prince-Rog...968021&sr=1-10

    and here
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0743...17#reader-link

    or they are like the cover of FHM or Maxim:

    http://www.amazon.com/There-Will-Dra...967813&sr=1-27


    http://www.amazon.com/Sister-Time-Po...2967670&sr=8-6
    (I particularly like the gun placement on this one)

    I seriously dislike almost all the cover art on fantasy books, which is why I through away the dust jacket altogether. The worst art, though, is almost always by Darrell K. Sweet.
    btw here are some previous threads on the topic:
    http://www.sffworld.com/forums/showt...ighlight=cover
    and
    http://www.sffworld.com/forums/showt...ighlight=cover
    Last edited by Davis Ashura; October 21st, 2007 at 07:04 AM.

  9. #9
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    I know it's a bit ridiculous, but I think cover art is one of the main reasons why I only just started reading fantasy. And thus, only just started posting here. I boycotted the entire genre, along with sci-fi, because the books look so goddamn stupid. It -invites- horrible preconceptions of what fantasy is like!
    I know that judging a book by its cover is virtually a cardinal sin, but come onnnnnnnn. Like cardinal sin, it happens! And if you have something (say, cover art) that's begging to be judged, and is also a book.. rules are made to be broken, you know?

  10. #10
    boss of several cats... Severn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Allie View Post
    I know it's a bit ridiculous, but I think cover art is one of the main reasons why I only just started reading fantasy. And thus, only just started posting here. I boycotted the entire genre, along with sci-fi, because the books look so goddamn stupid. It -invites- horrible preconceptions of what fantasy is like!
    I know that judging a book by its cover is virtually a cardinal sin, but come onnnnnnnn. Like cardinal sin, it happens! And if you have something (say, cover art) that's begging to be judged, and is also a book.. rules are made to be broken, you know?
    Heh - well I'm glad you made it past the cringe factor and started reading the books.

    The first fantasy book, other than The Hobbit and a few fantastical childrens stories I read was Daughter of the Empire by Feist. Now, the cover at the time was of a blonde girl by a huge rock with towers in the background, seen here: http://www.crydee.com/covers_title/116, amid a bunch of other generally awful covers for the book).

    The thing is - she's dark-haired. The rock is supposed to be of the size that a person can pick up and carry, and the towers are supposed to be Japanese-style, one-level estates!

    Still, I thought it was beautiful when I first saw it, and loved the book too. (The only series I like from both Feist and Wurts actually, odd that).

    I'm just very grateful the UK covers find their way over here...

  11. #11
    I like spaceships cougs's Avatar
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    ya, I got a lot of weird/dirty looks at the office last summer for the huge TPB editions of the Malazan books I was reading (I had an hour and a half lunchbreak...how could I not read?). People would questions along the lines of "what are you twelve?", laugh, and walk away shaking their heads.

    I've more or less given up explaining the premise of a speculative fiction book when the inevitable "what's it about?" question is asked. Honestly i think for the most part it is near impossible to make the book not sound stupid in the 20 seconds that most people allot you to explain before they start to get that "please shut up face" and slowly walk away.

    I always try to get books in HC nowadays, not because i'm ashamed of the art, i just prefer hc. Since i can't read a hc with the dust jacket on the cover problem is alleviated.

    It's too bad most people don't realize how well a lot of these authors write. I love loaning out my Conan books to some friend who just watched the movies and asks about the books. They are ALWAYS completely blown away by Howard.

    oh well.

    I'm just very grateful the UK covers find their way over here...
    ya UK covers are great, The UK cover of The Bonehunters is so much nicer than the US cover.
    Last edited by cougs; October 21st, 2007 at 06:25 PM.

  12. #12
    Repudiated Ursus s271's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Radone View Post
    I know what you mean, Blackfish. Those covers are so childish. The ones from Baen for almost all of John Ringo's books are quite difficult to look at. When not looking cheesily stupid ....
    http://www.amazon.com/There-Will-Dra...967813&sr=1-27


    http://www.amazon.com/Sister-Time-Po...2967670&sr=8-6
    (I particularly like the gun placement on this one)
    But you should admit that those covers capture the spirit of the books perfectly

  13. #13
    Ataraxic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    These coversations always amuse and sadden me, because for me, there's no way any form of cover art can be embarassing, and certainly not SFF cover art, which is indeed art (if not always 100% accurate for the book using it,) and usually quite beautiful and varied.

    But then, I grew up in the age when we considered these covers badges of honor. If you were carrying a SFF title, with its bright cover filled with visuals, you were telling everyone you didn't care what they thought, signalling to other fans that you were in the club, and showing exactly how much smarter, more educated and with it you were as a SFF fan than those who squealed, "Is that some sort of alien?" could ever be. Yes, it is an alien and it is cool. We also read comics. We watch Star Trek. We have action figures even though we're not kids, and we play computer and video games. Fans oogled the art at conventions and the artists were as big a bunch of celebrities as the authors. We put their artwork on our walls as posters.

    But the audience -- for SFFH and for comics, games, action figures and all the rest -- grew and the first thing that happens when that occurs is an immediate movement to make things less distinct, more generic and more conformist to the median, so that they are more commercial. We love this, but it's garish, seems to be the consensus, and it's making us look bad. We can't sell this to as many people because they'll think it's too weird. It looks too much like comics and games (which get a garishness pass.)

    So we've now reached the stage of the brown paper wrapper. That is, publishers are either getting rid of cover art altogether or coming up with cover treatments that disguise the SFF content of the novel, so that the book looks like a common variety thriller, or historical novel -- something that isn't SFF and so isn't weird. Hide the SFF content and the cover art is no longer awful or embarassing. It's also very useful to publishers and booksellers, because the book can then be sold as general fiction, not just SFF, because SFF is weird and embarassing. As general fiction, they can potentially sell more copies, because nobody who is willing to buy fiction in the first place is embarassed by a plain old novel.

    There are some benefits to the brown paper wrapper. It inspires more creativity in publisher art departments, and they sorely need it. It allows SFF fiction a more prominent position in the marketplace and more backing from booksellers. It attracts some new readers who are timid. It provides an even greater variety of art, which is helpful for those who like art and those who don't mind art but don't want comics art on the cover because they don't like comics or the implied idea that SFF is like comics in any way, and particularly dislike SFF's pulp heritage. It lets SFF be less easily identified and so less easily castigated by brainless critics. It separates adult fantasy from children's fantasy, where cover art is not an issue because the kids don't worry about being seen as childish.

    But we sacrifice a great deal for it as well.

    In the U.S., the market has shifted fewer titles into the plain brown wrapper mode because the market is different from the U.K. It's bigger, which means there's a greater variety of people to try to sell to. It is deeply allied with the gaming market, which still finds the art a selling tool. It is less allied, but still strongly connected to, the red-hot comics and toy markets where art is very important. And it finds that the classical art often still works as a signal of rebellion, of being in an exclusive club set apart from other fiction and fiction readers, and attracts SFF fans who are the main audience for many titles.

    So for now, U.S. publishers are taking the tack that they put out some titles with classical art, some with plain brown wrappers, or put out multiple covers for one title, because hey, it works for the magazines. Whereas in the U.K., where we know that understatement and decorum reign -- unless perhaps you're in a pub drinking Guiness -- the plain brown wrappers are more favored.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by David Boultbee View Post
    Wow, big difference between the US and UK Covers. Hate to say it but UK covers are better.

    Speaking of Cover porn, how about Cally's War / Sister Time from Baen. Makes Friday look mild.

    While not all the covers are SFF, visit The NEW Covey Awards to vote on your favorite covers every month and let your opinion be known.

    http://thenewcoveyawards.blogspot.com

    David
    British covers aren't just better.. they completely blow away the crappy covers put on US books.

    Look at the Vorkosigan books, Malazan books, and Discworld books in America compared to elsewhere... Especially Discworld. It is such a shame.

  15. #15
    \m/ BEER \m/ Moderator Rob B's Avatar
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    This is always a good topic for fodder. Timely, too. Check out a recent article/blogpost at Solaris Books.
    Quote Originally Posted by Solaris Books
    The science fiction and fantasy (SF/F) genre is as complex and diverse as fiction itself, and often, for a publisher in this market, finding new ways to appeal to the correct audience can be a challenge of epic proportions. Publishing a successful SF/F novel is not something you can easily do to a formula, and indeed, the measures of what make a novel a success are as varied as the houses that publish them. So how, then, do you go about finding this elusive success and packaging a novel in a way that will maximise its potential in the market?
    .
    .
    .
    The list is defiantly midlist, aimed at a core readership, and as both individuals and publishers we revel in the genre, in all its aspects and forms – novels, movies, manga, comics. We celebrate our inner geeks. Although we recognise there are other successful ways to package books and appeal to readers, we’ve chosen to go in this direction. Our books look like science fiction and fantasy novels, with all the stereotypical trappings, and we’ve received a great deal of praise from both critics and readers for our celebration and support of the genre. Our lists – both Solaris and The Black Library – go from strength-to-strength, and for now, our strategy remains steadfast: we publish books for SF/F fans, for the SF/F section of the bookshop.
    The approach is working for them, I think. At the very least, it isn't working against them. The books they are publishing seem to be selling (Maxey, Martin).


    Lou Anders, editorial director of Pyr, responded in kind.
    Quote Originally Posted by Lou Anders
    To make your product stand out and be noticed. Get above the signal-to-noise ration. That means let your SF&F light shine - not hide it under a bushel! Hey, what's a bushel anyway?
    Both imprints, when you look at their books, you know you are looking at Fantasy / Science Fiction novels. Whereas some of the covers mentioned in the posts above are a bit over-the-top, I think both Pyr and Solaris are approaching it in a more polished way.
    Last edited by Rob B; October 23rd, 2007 at 07:22 PM.

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