Book cover cliches

Buzzfeed has a very funny – and observant – piece here on some of the book cover cliches that our bookshops are full of. Very much worth a look. It’s got categories you’d expect (“Woman looking out over water”) together with interpretations that are spot on (“Must be a: Wistful tale of love, loss and regret, which your mum will read in the bath.”)

But it’s also got a remarkable collection of basically identical covers: the same image being used for multiple different books. Indeed, I have to say that, comprehensive as the Buzzfeed list is, it missed this little collection:









(I don’t know about the women in the other two books, but the comely lass on the cover of my Lieutenant’s Lover is meant to be a a 45 year old sergeant in the Red Army. Oooh, Comrade!) I think if Buzzfeed were analysing these books, they’d suggest, “Must be: Thoughtful, historical and elegant … chick lit for people who don’t like pink.”

But I think there are other cliches that they’ve missed as well. There’s a new black-and-neon vogue in crime novels, for example:

Three of these, admittedly, come from the fine house of Orion, but the trend is certainly there. (“Must be: Gritty crime. We’re guessing corpses, heavy rain and glum coppers.’)

But then again, what one also notices is that all these covers – the crime ones, the chic woman ones, nearly all the ones in the Buzzfeed collection – are good covers. My crime covers from Orion are probably the best I’ve ever had. And they’re good, in part, because they play along with the trope. I want readers of gritty crime, so why wouldn’t I call to them?

What’s more a cover can be simultaneously cliched and clever. So take Orion’s cover of my Love Story, With Murders for example. Yes, it does the black-and-neon thing, so readers can see from across the shop what kind of book mine is (and hooray for that.) But look more closely and you see the image is of a bunch of roses, spattered with blood. It’s kind of beautiful, but also disturbing. It physically manifests the title, in fact.

I don’t think I can show you the US cover of the book (it doesn’t seem to be on yet), but the American designers at Random House have a similar idea (‘take a rose; blow it up’). The feel of their cover is very different from Orion’s (less gritty crime, more European sophistication), but it’s beautiful and clever and buyable.

Book cover cliches? Humph. Truth is, cover designers do an astonishing job and books today are as beautiful and varied as they’ve ever been. And if you think you could do better, just open up a copy of Photoshop and give it a go. S’not easy.

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