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Real vs surreal

Discussion in 'Cover Design' started by CF WELBURN, Aug 29, 2017.


    CF WELBURN Dreamer

    Hi all, apologies if this has already been covered (no pun intended).

    Upon entering any bookshop my eye is instantly drawn to the fantasy section and the level of detail in its artwork. From exquisite, sweeping landscapes, imposing cityscapes, intricate buildings, flawless character rendition, meticulously detailed closeup sword design etc... as if the artists themselves had managed to visit in order to create the piece... (I want to call this style fantastical-realism, but sense an oxymoron).

    My question is this: Does abstract/surreal art work as well? Does it catch the eye? Does it evoke the fantastical? I have in mind Van Gogh's Starry Night, or Munch's Scream. (Not that I would use these, but to give well known examples of a surreal nature).

    For me I would find it intriguing, definitely worth picking it up and reading the blurb/ first page. But maybe for others it would be off-putting? Too 'genre-less'... pretentious, even.

    Last edited: Aug 29, 2017
  2. Zeppo

    Zeppo Dreamer

    In my opinion, I prefer a realistic perspective. When I'm looking at a new book that I otherwise know nothing about, I find that the cover helps to convey the theme and setting very clearly. Is magic an important factor, it is likely portrayed in the cover. The sense of wonder and design of the cityscapes also gives me an impression of the world in which the story takes place.

    Perhaps a cover like Starry Night, with an intriguing title might give me reason to read the back. However, I believe that the general audience reacts positively to realism in covers and conveys a sense of professionalism.
    CF WELBURN likes this.
  3. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

    I think it depends on the subgenre. I don't think anyone will expect your novel to be an epic fantasy or high fantasy with abstract/surreal art on the cover. But if you're writing magical realism, fairy tales and folklore, supernatural or metaphysical fiction, abstract/surreal cover art might work.

    Look at the cover art for Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. It's a book for teens, so maybe there's more leeway because of that, but that cover is pretty surreal to me. The book was published in 2015, and is still #843 paid in Kindle store.
    CF WELBURN likes this.
  4. psychotick

    psychotick Auror


    Cover art has to do two things. It has to catch the eye and then it has to make people take an interest in the story - at least enough to read the blurb. I'm sure surreal can do the former well enough, but for me personally a lot of it would not make me want to go any further. Not unless it conveys a message about the book that intrigues me.

    There are three things that are generally found on a fantasy book cover that can do this well. 1) A landscape / exotic city / fabulous creature etc. That tells me something about a fantasy world and if I like it, I'll look. 2) A scene - sword fighting / wizard battle etc. That tells me something about the story / plot that might make me look further. 3) A person - face / figure etc. That tells me something about the characters and the emotion.

    The covers that don't really do it for me are the symbolic ones. The strange glyphs. The sword. They don't tell me anything. So unless the title does tickle my interest or I know the author, I won't go any further. Likewise the text only covers don't really work for me either - not unless the title is really damned catchy. There are too many other books to look at. If your artwork goes too surreal, you run the risk of losing telling the prospective buyer anything about the book, in which case a lot of potential readers will simply move on.

    Cheers, Greg.
    Aryth, CF WELBURN, Russ and 1 other person like this.
  5. Russ

    Russ Istar

    The data tells us that abstract covers (geometric shapes or whatever) tends only to be effective if the author' name is the brand.

    Otherwise psychotic is bang on.
    CF WELBURN likes this.
  6. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Inkling

    When it comes to genre fiction, book cover trends happen for a reason. As annoying as it is to see the same few concepts over and over again, its important to convey information to the reader about what they can expect from the content between the binds.

    You can have a beautiful artistic / abstract cover but it probably won't sell very well (unfortunately ... I'd love to see more diversity). If I saw something more abstract I would assume that it had self published by someone who doesn't know the genre conventions or that its Literary. You need to catch the right eyes (your target audience) and draw them in. A cliche cover is step one. An awesome blurb is step two and it goes from there.
  7. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    I'll have to add my vote for "realistic". This is not about data, just my preference, LOL. Much would depend on how abstract you get, of course. One of my favorite covers is actually for Game of Thrones enahnced edition on iBooks. A wolf trotting across snow with woods woods on the horizon. It has a certain unreal reality to it, love it.

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