Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Science Fiction Romance Cover Conundrum

Given the refinement of cover art that romance publishers have accomplished over the decades, why oh why can’t they get a handle on the packaging for science fiction romance covers? Covers are usually perceived as the main marketing tool for books. Case in point: listen to this Carina Press Marketing podcast in which Malle Vallik emphasizes their importance.

Paranormal romance, historical romance, contemporaries, and urban fantasies all seem to have been afforded that coveted cover sweet spot--right down to the last ruffle, tattoo, or shade of blue. So why does SFR lag so far behind? During an exchange with author Claire Delacroix (GUARDIAN) on the subject as well as some research, I gained insight into a few possibilities:

*Publishers are all about avoiding risk, not incurring it. This is especially true for niche subgenres.

*Lack of sales for said niche subgenre.

*In general, they are not the customer of science fiction romance (see Jacqueline Lichtenberg’s post on Marketing Via Social Networking). Therefore, they don’t know how to package it—either for fans or readers new to SFR.

*Budget issues (e.g., they don’t invest in skilled cover artists; reliance on stock cover images.).

*They haven’t yet encountered that particular SFR that makes them go, “Whoa! Let’s spend some money on this one!” despite the fact that they are not the customer.

*All of the above.

Until publishers decide they want to get serious about branding SFR covers, be prepared for images that are all over the map in terms of style and quality. For example, check out When Bad Covers Happen To Good Books, which features commentary on two SFR covers.

I don’t expect every single cover to nail it, but maybe two proverbial heads are better than one when it comes to packaging SFR. We may not all be cover artists (I draw a mean stick figure, but that's about it), but we are the customers. And even if the quintessential SFR cover arises from an as yet unknown source, it's still an important conversation to have given the importance publishers ascribe to that aspect of a book's packaging.

With that in mind, I’m going to give each of you a virtual hundred dollars for a very important task. Your mission: Share ideas on how to best design a science fiction romance cover, or compile a list of essentials for such a cover. Anyone who is a cover artist by trade is especially welcome to contribute.

As you develop your cover, consider these questions and issues:

What components do you think would help readers identify science fiction romance? What common motifs might unite the entire subgenre (with the exception of steampunk romance, which will probably develop its own visual cues)?

How might your cover appeal to both fans and readers new to the subgenre? How might it appeal to booksellers? Can you appeal to all three simultaneously? Would it make a difference whether the cover was for a digital book vs. a print book? And finally, regardless of medium, what would be your strategy if you could only use stock images?

Ready, set, go!

Joyfully yours,