Friday Book Cover: Differences Across One Genre

Ciao, amici. It’s my turn to discuss covers today. I’ve done a few where I broke down the features of a single title or a series, discussing font, color, graphic, etc. Today, I thought I’d back up and take a look at conventions in general.

I’m prescheduling this post. Today’s date is March 23, but this isn’t going live until April 26. I only mention it because I’m about to show you some Amazon bestselling covers, and if you look, it’s highly unlikely you’ll find these books still on the front page. And certainly not in this order. (I thought I should clarify in case you wanted to do some of your own research on Amazon.)

The books I chose to look at are romantic suspense novels because that’s one of my favorite genres to both read and write. Here is a row from Amazon in the romantic suspense category.

romantic suspense covers

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s incredibly interesting that we can have four totally different looks in the same genre.

Things that are the same:

  • The colors are mostly dark.
  • Titles use color or texture or both to stand out.

I’d hoped to find more similarities, but I can’t.

Things that are different:

  • Fonts
    • Titles
      • WHAT I’VE DONE and BOUND use all caps sans serif.
      • I WAS BORN RUINED uses a mix of script and sans serif.
      • THE FALLING OF EVERYTHING only uses script.
    • Authors
      • THE FALLING FOR EVERYTHING uses lowercase serif.
      • The other three use uppercase sans serif.
  • Taglines
    • WHAT I’VE DONE and BOUND don’t.
  • Images
        The Falling of Everything
        A fully-clothed couple kissing. I can’t make out the part on the left. It might be a hand. And there’s definitely water.


      • WHAT I’VE DONEWhat I've Done
        A branch with a few red leaves. And a rainy road.


        I Was Born Ruined
        A couple embracing, but the girl is scantily clad and the man is shirtless. I’m not sure if there’s a pattern to the background; it might be forest or it might be abstract.


      • BOUND
        A faceless man, no woman. He’s dressed, but his sleeves are rolled up to reveal tattoos.

So, can I come up with any generalities? Kind of. You probably won’t go wrong in this genre if you follow these principles:

  • Dark over light.
  • Textures or color to enhance title.
  • Sans serif over serif or script.
  • A person or people on the cover. Faces aren’t necessary (and maybe aren’t preferred).

The laws of probability suggest that many if not most of you are not romantic suspense writers. So why did I use that as my example? One, there’s no genre that would appeal to everyone, so I had to pick one. Two, because it’s one of my preferred genres. And three, to make a point.

Experts tell you to make your cover look similar to (without overtly copying) the other covers in your genre. Today’s study is a good example of why that advice doesn’t necessarily work. By all means, study covers in your genre. But then pick and choose the aspects you like, reject the features you don’t, and work closely with your cover designer to adhere first to principles of good design then second to design trends in your genre.

Personally, I think a well-designed cover that’s different from others in your genre is better than a poorly-designed cover that tries (and fails) to look like every other cover in the list.

But that’s me. I’m curious to know what you think about cover design. Let’s discuss it below.

Staci Troilo Bio

46 thoughts on “Friday Book Cover: Differences Across One Genre

  1. Unless I’m looking for an author I follow, covers are what attract me to a book. And none of those covers stood out to me. I’m pretty eclectic on what works for me and doesn’t, but a cover has to set a mood and give me a feel for what KIND of book it is, and I need something that snags my attention. And sometimes abs can do that:) I like covers like Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series and Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson where the same model is used for every cover with the same “feel” for each book. I think that’s important–to have each book in a series have the same feel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your comment about abs made me laugh. They do demand attention, don’t they?

      You raise an excellent point, though. Books should look consistent throughout a series. That’s more important to me than the look, I think. I respond much better to a defined identity than something scattered and disjointed.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Staci: “OMG, Marcia. Now I can’t NOT see a dog in that negative space. Well, a dog or possibly a boot. I’m so glad I don’t like that cover, or I’d be a little sad right now. LOL

    Ha! Yes, a boot works, too. OR…bear with me here…the Wicked Witch of the West’s striped stockings and ruby slippers sticking out from under the “boat.” 😯 Gosh, I hope the person responsible for this one doesn’t read this. Talk about feeling sad! But really, even if taste differs in what should be on the cover, the design should be clear enough to be recognizable. I’m hoping it looks better in person. (In book?) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • If the author does read this, maybe she’ll see a few ways to improve the cover. The comments aren’t meant to be malicious, but constructive. I don’t think it’s a good representation of the genre, and it’s hard to make out the details. She wouldn’t be the first person who could benefit from new covers. Most of my titles have either gotten them or are in the process of being redone.

      Liked by 1 person

    • That’s not surprising, Natalie. Trends change because we change. And many successful authors see sales of their work improve when they do a cover change with no other marketing. It’s all pretty interesting.

      Happy weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You made some very interesting observations, Staci. The only book cover that actually drew my attention was “What I’ve Done.” It’s simple, and I have a feeling the red flower is most significant to the story. I was once told by a supposed pro that my book covers were made from the heart and not the head and therefore were not commercial. 🙂 Well…it’s true. They were all designed from the heart with very personal and significant pieces of the story included (mainly some of Rick’s artwork on each cover.) Who knows? People are fickle and what will attract one person will turn another off. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s the only cover I like, too. But anyone who’s ever read me discussing covers knows I hate people on them (despite what my backlist shows).

      You raise an interesting point about cover design and coming from the heart rather than the head. It’s taken a long time (and a lot of lectures), but I’ve finally accepted what my publishers and their cover designers have been saying: for a cover to be marketable, it needs to be commercially viable. That doesn’t mean it has to be a true depiction of the book’s content; it just needs to have the right look. And it doesn’t mean the author has to like it; it just needs to appeal to the reader.

      All that said, while I’ve finally stopped fighting my publishers on their choices and now accept their decisions without (much) complaint, I still like covers that are more unique and more representative of the contents. But I’m in the minority on that.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Of the covers you shared, the only one that would make me look twice is What I’ve Done. That draws my eye. I actually like the Falling of Everything when it’s blown up, but in thumbnail I can’t even read the script, Ugh! I wouldn’t give it a second glance.

    I am not a fan of people on covers, but I UTTERLY DESPISE headless covers, especially when they focus on men with open shirts. Even if my idea doesn’t match the concept of the cover artist, I’d rather see people with faces on than bare torsos. I think people work good for romance, a little less for romantic suspense. For all other genres, I prefer locations or concept covers.

    Genre definitely factors into what works best–and yes, I am one of those people who look at covers before anything else! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think you and I probably are pretty close in what we enjoy seeing on covers, Mae. But going by the covers for your Hode’s Hill series, that doesn’t surprise me a lot. It’s such a personal thing, though, and trying to find a cover that will draw in the most readers is very, very tricky. What one loves, another hates. sigh No “one size fits all” solutions here, I fear, so I tend to go with what I like, myself. I know that’s not always an option, though, for those who aren’t self-published.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I never (well, rarely) shop for a book by it’s cover. I’m not a visual person; I need words to learn and I need words to assess things. So I usually go straight for the blurb. That said, there are some covers I love. And they exclusively have no discernible people on them. To this day, one of my favorite covers ever is your CUSP OF NIGHT. The colors, the mood, the font, all the placements… that’s hard to beat.

      I’d rather see a headless shirtless man than a shirtless man with a face. But I’d prefer to see neither. Faces bug me SO MUCH because they rob me of the opportunity to paint a face with the author’s words. Bodies distract me, too. They’re less about mood and more about eye candy. I want a cover to establish mood. (The author’s words and my imagination can provide the character’s look—inside the novel.)

      WHAT I’VE DONE is by far my favorite of the covers above. (Of course, it’s the only one without people.) Even blown up, I struggled with THE FALLING OF EVERYTHING. It was muddy and hard for me to determine what I was looking at. For a few seconds, I thought it was just some abstract art. The people were way too dark and hard to distinguish, and being so far to the right, put the whole cover off balance. And I struggled to read the font. That cover was a big fail for me.

      Just goes to show, there’s no one thing that will appeal to everyone. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’m one of those rare people who tests 50/50 on the visual/words thingie. Mark is 100% visual. It’s odd how differently our brains process the same info, huh? I agree that What I’ve Done is the cover in this group I’d take a second look at. I Was Born Ruined makes me faintly nauseous, Bound is boring & same-old, same-old, and I’m with you on The Falling of Everything. I didn’t even realize there were people on it. I kept trying to make something out of the negative space between their faces–like a dog on a boat going over a waterfall. 😀 Covers! They are so important and yet it’s so difficult to get something with broad appeal. We readers are a persnickety bunch! 😀 This has been a very interesting post, Staci. I’ve enjoyed following along. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      • I’m so flattered about Cusp of Night. I really lucked out on that one with how well the house artist was able to exceed my expectations,

        I am 100% visual–give me an eye-catching cover and I’m like a raccoon zeroing in on something sparkly. I Was Born Ruined and Bound turn me off completely, but that might be because of the genre (or what I perceive as the implied genre). I know I’ve said What I’ve Done is the one that draws me, but in large format, The Falling of Everything thoroughly draws my eye. That just goes to show the importance of a book cover transferring to thumbnail. As a thumbnail I wouldn’t look twice at that cover.

        My publishing house was the one that educated me about the importance of thumbnails. It was something I never considered until we discussed the cover for A Thousand Yesteryears. I wanted to change the background color from red to black, until they educated me about the importance of colors popping in thumbnails.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Thumbnails are so important. I can’t say The Failing of Everything appealed to me small or big. It was just too muddy. I couldn’t make out what I was seeing. But of all the covers, not only did I prefer What I’ve Done, it was the only one that worked just as well as a thumbnail as it did bigger.


  5. Excellent thoughts and covers to ponder, Staci! I’m currently working with my designer on the cover for my latest book–MY MAINE, Haiku through the Seasons–a poetry and photography collection. We’ve gone through four cover ideas so far and my head is spinning. I’m planning to learn Photoshop to completely design my own cover for the next one. Thanks for the great tips!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I’m more drawn to the first two. Maybe its the implied innocence, I’m not sure. I do like how different they all are and still successful. Leaves it open for more creativity. Great post, Staci!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “I’m with you on that. I’d much rather see mood. While characters make the story for me, settings make the cover.
    I’m with you 100% on that! Perfectly said, and I may have to quote you here and there. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I know I’m in the minority, here, and please don’t take offense, but I’m not crazy about faceless unless it’s caused by the angle of the cover model and looks natural. And I really don’t like headless, especially combined with the bare chest and air-brushed abs thing going on. I pass right by those books on the shelves, generally, though I certainly read my favorite authors, regardless of cover.

    The biggest problem I have with these particular issues is that every single cover looks just like the rest to me. I know you want to give shoppers a clue to the genre, but I don’t understand the need to make the covers so very much alike. You could probably go through and switch titles & author names, and no one would ever know the difference.

    Why not have a cover that does what you want in a way that makes it pop? I do realize that if it’s working for authors, they are going to want to do it, but I am a HUGE fan of originality. It has to be good, well-designed originality, but that’s what I look for. A cover that stands out from the rest will pull me in every time. And when I find covers that work on that level, I admit I’ll often buy the book on that basis alone, hoping the story will be as good as the art.

    Again, this is just my own opinion, and very subjective, and I don’t mean to be putting down what anyone else prefers, especially if it’s working well for them.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I don’t think you are in the minority, and you haven’t said anything that anyone should take offense to. You’re certainly entitled to your own opinion, regardless of how popular it is.

      A lot of people don’t like the headless torso covers. I prefer them to faces because the faces never look the way I imagine the character to be.

      But, faces or not, abs or not, I agree that a unique cover is more appealing than a bunch of copies. Thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I did try not to be rude, because I agree it’s not a right or wrong issue. Just personal preferences. I don’t mind if the people on the cover look a bit different than I’m imagining. In general, the book will tell me how they look, and I’ll tweak them in my mind to suit me. But I’m even happier with covers that don’t show people at all, or at least not clearly. I like getting a feel for what the book is about, more than for what the characters look like. Shadows, silhouettes, or compositions of things or places work better for me. A creepy wooded scene with a distorted shadow falling across a path–those types of things. Or maybe a table set for a romantic dinner for two, with a bud vase knocked over on a damask tablecloth. Now that would pique my curiosity and I’d want to know what went wrong. I guess it’s the setting or mood of the book I enjoy more than the characters. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  9. I think wet must be a theme there too, be it sweat or rain it seems prevalent. One of these days I’ll have to get you to give me a tutorial on tag lines. It seems I may be needing some soon. Looks like I’m the odd man out; I like eyes on my covers. Doesn’t have to be people. The dog on Playground or the forest on Panama are enough for me. Maybe I should write a horror story and put a jar of eyeballs on the cover.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Good points. I too prefer Sans Serif fonts. I do like the idea of the author’s name in lower case but definitely no script! The idea of a faceless person is appealing (I like to imagine what characters look like) but the heavily tattooed arm is a turn off for me. A tattoo or two is okay but that much is disgusting to me. (And yes, I know it’s a big thing these days.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m becoming desensitized to tattoos. In real life, one or two to express something important is fine, but I wouldn’t want more ink than un-inked skin. But on a book cover, I don’t even blink when I see them.

      I’m definitely pro-faceless. I like to imagine the characters, too.

      I designed a cover once with a lowercase name (even the first letters were lowercase). I loved the look but didn’t have the nerve to publish it. All caps does seem to be a trend right now, though. Maybe I should do a full lowercase cover… that would certainly be unique! LOL

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m all about faceless. Actually, I’m really all about no people at all. But if I have to have them? Faceless. (It’s still a great source of irritation to me that my publishers have put faces on so many of my covers.) Thanks for weighing in, Janet.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I’m going to go against industry advice when I say this, but I like unique (provided it’s relevant). I’ve seen Amazon pages where almost every cover looks identical—you can’t distinguish author from author and title from title. Even the colors are similar. My eye would definitely be drawn to the original, fresh-looking cover that stood out. Thanks for sharing. And for the reblog. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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