Cover art is a strange thing. The very thing I love in a cover, the thing that would make me pick a book up and start reading, may be the thing that puts another reader off immediately, and for a wide variety of reasons, or something that’s barely a reason at all. I’ve looked askance at dragons on covers (even though I love dragons) ever since hearing that some publishers have on occasion been known to insist that there be a dragon on the cover because All Fantasy Readers Will Buy Stuff With Dragons, even though no actual dragon may appear in the book. There does recently appear to have been a slight assumption that All Fantasy Readers Will Buy Stuff With Broody Types in Swirly Cloaks, to the point where I assumed that a Broody Type in a Swirly Cloak meant that the contents would be quite a lot like the last three books I read that had that type of cover, and didn’t pick it up – thus the cover had exactly the opposite of the intended effect. At least on me.
What makes a grabbable cover? Picking a few from the nearest shelf: there are Pratchett’s Discworld books, with the delightful, highly coloured, comical Josh Kirby covers. One of those was probably what made me pick up my first ever Pratchett, and after that, of course, the name was enough. Three Flashman books, with, interestingly, completely different styles of cover; two of which, if I didn’t know the series, might intrigue me enough to pick it up, the other, probably not. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, just for a non-fiction sample; an old-fashioned looking cover, but intriguing enough to make me read the first page, which immediately had me hooked. And a proper old-style fantasy cover; Aldiss’s Helliconia Summer, a weird landscape and strange beasties, the sort of cover that still tends to grab me. It makes the promise of strange new worlds, and a lot of the time, that’s exactly what I want. And lo, there is one broody person in a cloak, (though actually they’ve got their back to the reader so they could be laughing or howling at the moon, not brooding at all). It’s The Old Stories collection by Kevin Crossley-Holland, and actually it’s a gorgeous cover, that I would probably pick up even if I didn’t know the name.
What strange, visually driven creatures we are. And how lucky I feel that I’ve had two fantastic covers. I can’t guarantee how many readers will agree, but I know they’d make me want to pick up the books, so that’s something.