I wouldn’t have read the Foreigner series by C.J. Cherryh if I’d seen the cover of the first volume. Seriously, nope. It’s an illustration of a guy, blond hair in a long braid, holding a satchel, just kind of standing there looking at the reader. Behind him are two of the aliens, one male, one female, both looking rather intense and intimidating…and away from me, the reader.*
Nothing about it says this is going to be an intense book, an interesting book, or really anything more than a long, anthropological textbook with sf trappings.
Yes, I know, that sounds mean, but it’s not. In fact, there’s a heck of a lot of anthropology in the series, so the cover is definitely NOT inaccurate. As far as accuracy goes, this is one of the best ones I’ve seen.
But I wouldn’t have read the series if I’d seen it first.
Instead, I was scanning the spines of books at my local library and the image of a dark-skinned elven-looking alien popped out at me. I took it down and was hooked.
A man with blond hair stared straight ahead, terrified. Behind him, holding him in a protective grasp, was a female alien, dark-skinned and elven in appearance and obviously much bigger than him. They hid behind a kinda-sorta-wall with bullet holes cracking the surface. On the other side, near enough to be dangerous but just far enough away that they could be all right as long as they don’t attract attention, another alien, male this time, is obviously looking for them.
THAT was the cover that hooked me.
The question I decided to ask is why?
In looking at the cover for the first volume, as I said, it’s accurate. All the main players are there. It’s clearly branded as sf, and yet it’s also clear this isn’t going to be a fast-moving, reckless kind of story.
If I’d been in the mood…no. Looking back, I don’t think I would have picked it up at all.
But the second cover not only is clearly branded, it grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let it go.
I sympathized instantly with the character who looked terrified. I wanted to be that calm female alien, ready to protect those she cared about. I hoped to find out why the other alien was looking for them. Why are they so important? What’s going on?
Really, now that I’ve thought about it, the difference in whether or not a cover hooks me is the emotion on the character’s face. There doesn’t have to be action in the scene itself, but there does have to be a definite story in the expression the character wears. For example, take a look at this cover for Pandora Hearts, No. 1. (You may have to click Enlarge Cover after you tap or hover over the image.)
Beyond the kid catching a watch, nothing is really happening. Oh, and the fact that the typical manga-physics apply to his clothes and the watch chain (things have a tendency to defy gravity in manga…looks beautiful, though). It’s the expression on his face that got me reading this series. He looked determined, he looked disheveled, he looked like someone who had come from privilege and had had it taken from him. Plus, I have a thing for clocks and watches. That was enough to get me to pick the book up.
Now that I’ve learned this, btw, I’ll be gradually (key word here) re-doing all my covers with this in mind: keep the action in the face. Unless it’s a literary endeavor, have a person and keep the action in the face.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong. What do you think?
*I would like to point out that I had no memory of the spaceship in the background until I looked at the image as a possible link in this post.
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