Weapons, Nuggets, Hugos

On my review of Guided by the Beauty of Their Weapons I gushed a bit about James Taylor’s cover art. Normally he has a post on his blog about his design process for a given cover but there wasn’t one there at the time I posted the review. Anyway, he does now have a long post about the stages and alternate designs that went into the cover and it is well worth a read: http://draw-board.blogspot.com.au/2015/12/a-psychochronography-in-chrome.html

Partly because as an excuse to draw stupid pictures and partly because of Brad Torgersen’s daft ‘Nutty Nuggets’ post and partly just because, I’ve been more interested in book covers of late. So here are some random musings.

There are several things in play currently:

  • The role of book covers changes with ebooks – you still see them when browsing on Amazon et al or looking at reviews on Goodreads but unless you make an active effort you don’t see them when you actually read. The relationship between reader and cover has changed. Additionally people who aren’t reading the book don’t see the cover – I read a lot on public transport and once-upon-a-time the cover of what I was reading was a mini-advert to anybody walking by. These days all people see is a black Kindle cover.
  • Independent publishing means many ebooks with covers that are less than great.
  • Traditional publishing may not always through the resources at covers that they deserve (because of point 1).
  • However, the tools with which a person can create an interesting cover are more widely available than ever. You don’t need to be a top-notch graphic designer or illustrator to produce an OKish cover. A bit of talent and producing a cover a bit better than some publisher’s covers is not unfeasible (e.g. Baen give some of their books covers that aren’t great).
  • The technical restrictions on covers have never been lower. OK for print there are still issues, particularly in terms of the thickness of a book. However, print reproduction of digital artwork has improved enormously even over the past 10 years. Online, the world is your oyster – except that the cover has to work thumbnail size.

So it is an interesting time for covers and also there are interesting covers being produced. The challenge of ebooks also means that books with covers that suggest ‘professional’ can give a book a marginal edge. Yes, you proverbially shouldn’t judge a book by a cover but given the volume of works available people need to use various markers to narrow down selections. A good cover is a way of signalling ‘we put some care and effort into producing this’ and while that is neither necessary nor sufficient to suggest that the writing, editing, proofreading etc have had equal care, it is one of the few easily accessible bits of evidence a reader can get without reviews.

So on that note I’ve been thinking about whether an award (e.g. a Hugo category) for Best SF/F Cover would be a good idea. I don’t think there are many downsides.

  • At a time when covers can be neglected celebrating good covers will encourage people, publishers, self-publishers to make an effort.
  • It would allow some books to get acknowledgement that weren’t quite award winning in terms of content.
  • It would allow new editions of old books to get noticed.
  • It is a very accessible category – you don’t need to read a book to see its cover.
  • It would be a different way to acknowledge the work of artists and graphic designers.

Yes, I know for the Hugo Awards there are artist categories and also, in the past (1953!), there was a ‘Best Cover Artist’ category but those categories focus on a person rather than a work, relate to a body of work and have the awkward professional v fan eligibility issues. The artist categories tend also to have lower participation for voting currently because they are difficult to assess.

Voting for a book cover would be easier for people who have appreciated effective art/design but don’t necessarily know the names of multiple artists. It would also allow for a degree of consolation-prize award for some books and some publishers (ok I suspect Tor would do better than Baen in the cover stakes but in general a smaller publisher could use covers to boost their profile).

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