Why Embrace the Chick-lit Cover Design Rules
Many consider chick-lit a lesser literary genre and the frilly cover designs are not helping. Your book is better than that… so, should you follow the trends or not?
I understand the sentiment. I am a woman, and a writer. I want us to do well and get the recognition we deserve. Still, I’m suggesting we should embrace the pretty illustrations and bright pastel colours – especially when starting out.
Recognition comes with sales volumes. If you sell a lot of books, you will be taken seriously. And eventually, you will have the freedom to put a picture of a toilet bowl on your book cover and sell millions. But not before that. Not when you’re starting out. In the beginning, your main goal–and this is definitely hard enough–is to get your books in the hands of the right readers. By right readers, I mean people who enjoy the kind of books you write.
More specifically, you want to reach people who enjoy your particular take on the genre, the underlying themes, characters of certain age and disposition who face certain life events, or the story location. This is where the book cover design comes in. You need to communicate all this, while staying within the widely recognised genre look.
Be the surprisingly nutritious marshmallow
“But my book is so much deeper and more meaningful than that!” I hear you. Many books are. Many movies are. In fact, if you look at films Garden State and Legally Blonde, you could argue that Garden State packs in more depth and meaning. Yet, the two movie posters don’t look that different. Both opt for a soft blue sky with fluffy clouds, a red/pink title and displaying the main cast with some related props. This is because the film studio’s first and often only concern is to sell the film. If they succeed in getting people in the theatre, the job is done. The audience might go in expecting a fun, light-hearted flick and be surprised to find powerful storytelling with more depth. Are they going to complain? Most likely not.
Spot the similarities…
In my experience, humans are lazy. Many of us, regardless of what we lie on Facebook or dating sites, often choose the ‘easy read’ over the challenging one. If it turns out to be the literary equivalent of a marshmallow, it won’t satisfy us. But after a long day at work and arguing with our spouse, we choose it anyway. And ultimately, this is why we need the romantic, light-hearted, magical, and yummy book covers. They promise us chocolate cake, when we just can’t be bothered cutting up vegetables.
I’m not suggesting you forget about your story and just go for any script font and frilly bits to attract those looking for a light read. It’s important to communicate the subtle flavours of your story to attract the right readers, who are more likely to enjoy it. Even within the wretched ‘chick-lit’ category, there is quite a bit of design variation (see my other article Chick-lit book cover design demystified) so find a style that you’re comfortable with. But, for the sake of your book, don’t abandon genre conventions for the artistic and obscure.
Making a book look serious or obscure may work for an established author, whose name carries the promise of what lies inside. But, by and large, the obscure book cover will launch your book into obscurity. The decision to click on a book cover is made in seconds. You might believe your cover ‘makes people think’ or ‘reflects what the book is about’, but this is not the level of consideration readers apply when browsing a book shop or a website. Most of what goes on isn’t even conscious thinking. Reader’s sub-conscious brain is decoding an established visual language of genre. They remember the types of stories they’ve enjoyed before and look for similarities: The swirly font, or maybe the more brushed style, combined with just enough magenta to say it’s fun and contemporary, or a dreamy-coloured sky that holds a promise…
Beautiful but obscure book covers
Our brains are great at detecting patterns and we rely on these patterns to make sense of the world. Nobody wants to do complex thinking when looking at book cover designs. We want to just find one that ‘looks interesting’ and click on it.
The real design challenge
As a designer, you might think it’s easy to follow genre conventions as sort of a formula. It’s not. There are two parts to great book cover design. The first is the genre. It has to be absolutely clear. The second one is the story. What makes this book different? What is the unique flavour here? Balancing this with the genre conventions, as well as making sure the design is fresh and contemporary (as, even with the genre conventions, design itself constantly evolves) is the real challenge. It’s worth getting it right, though. Books are literally judged by their cover, even before the conscious thought kicks in.