When Covers Show Too Much

I’m sitting on a little cherry bomb of excitement these days. I have in my possession the finalized cover art for The Curse Merchant, and it’s rocking my world. This was my first encounter with a design professional, and I’m sure that I’ll have several more such encounters in my future. The process of arriving at a final cover design was highly educational. I had to do my homework, and form my own philosophies on cover art.

One of the sticking points that jumped into my thinking early on was this… what do I show on the cover?

A quick perusal of comparable titles on Amazon gathered a wealth of data to sort through. Issues of high contrast, color schemes, font choice, as well as the fundamentals of design all sliced into my brain like a seagull through the engine of a 747. The resulting flurry of gore and feathers made me close my computer and go weep in a corner for several whiskey-soaked hours.

Gestalt! Squawk!

Allow me to briefly digress.

I’m a fan of the Finnish symphonic-metal band Nightwish. Recently I purchased their latest album, Imaginaerum, and spent several commuting hours immersing myself in a miniature movie in my own mind. Music unleashes serious creative energy in my brain, to the point where I often find it difficult to write without just the right kind of music playing in the background.

As my appreciation of this particular album grew, I discovered that a feature length film based on the music was in the works. Well, fine. I already had the entire movie going in my head, but whatever. I’m not Tuomas Holopainen’s personal screenwriter, after all. When the first video from the album hit Youtube, I was reluctant to watch it. How could it possibly be better than what I saw in my head?

Well, I finally buckled, and it turns out… I was absolutely correct. The video featured a kind of “behind the scenes” montage as the musicians were in costume, and at one point Holopainen hung from wires in front of a green-screen. This isn’t my issue as much as the fact that they didn’t look anywhere near as cool as they did in my mind. And I suspect, based on what I saw in the video, neither will the movie.

Which brings me back to the cover art of my novel.

One proviso I flung into the inbox of my artist was “No faces.” A reader’s visualization of a character, or even a setting, can be deeply personal. I didn’t want to skew the reader’s image of my protagonist by having a model’s face on the cover. Ultimately, I didn’t even show a faceless character. No over-the-shoulders, no three-quarters minus the head… not even a cufflink. It’s something I felt pretty strongly about.

And yet, when I look through Amazon, I see a parade of book covers with faces and bodies. I’m clearly in the minority here.

So I’ll put the question out to you, dear reader. When does a book cover show too much? Do you prefer not to have an artist show you how the protagonist is supposed to look? Or does it actually help?

I’ll be announcing the Curse Merchant cover reveal soon… possibly this week. So keep your eyes peeled!

Image credit: Free Digital Photos

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