Readers tend to have certain expectations of what a book cover should look like for a particular genre, whether it be a couple on a romance novel, blood on a murder mystery book, dragons on fantasy fiction, etc. People look for elemental clues on the cover to determine which type of book it is and whether they want to read it.
But what if a novel spans multiple genres? How can the cover capture the interest of readers of each genre?
One author created a PickFu poll to see how a target audience would react to two different covers for a fantasy fiction novel about time travel that also includes an element of romance.
Option A features a photo of the upper torso of the woman. A smaller image of a man overlaps the image of her body. The cover is a golden hue with the title in bright letters.
Option B shows a couple running from a distance. It’s difficult to see their faces because they are back-lit by streetlights. The colors are darker than Option A, taking on more of a dark blue-black tone.
Can you guess which one won?
The winner is… Option B.
Of 50 total responses, Option B won 34 votes (as opposed to Option A, which received only 16 votes).
Fitting for Fantasy
Many respondents felt that elements typical of a romance novel were more off-putting for fantasy fiction. The test panel liked how Option B depicted an adventure and fell more in line with fantasy fiction. One respondent wrote, “I prefer B because it feels a little more mysterious and in line with what I’d picture as a fantasy novel cover.” Respondents described how the distance of the man and woman in the cover added to this element of mystery. It was clear to them that the novel would include more adventure than romance.
Another individual observed, “[Option B] seems to focus much more on the adventure portion of the story. It is an action shot, and I clearly see the subtitle of ‘Meet Heaven’s Deadliest Avenger.’ This would make me more interested than choice A, which focuses on the romance side of the story and is something I’m not interested in.”
What’s fascinating is that respondents didn’t like Option A because it looked like a romance novel, even though the novel is part romance. However, no one mentioned looking at Option B and not wanting to read it because it was fantasy fiction. Perhaps the inclusion of a couple on a mysterious photo appealed more to both romance novel readers and fantasy fiction readers.
Gender and Book Covers
Test panelists made some interesting comments about the depiction of gender on the covers. One individual referred to the woman in Option A as looking like a “showgirl” and another described her as “suggestive.” Panelists used terms like objectifying to describe the depiction of the woman in Option A.
Respondents also noted the sizing of the man and woman in Option B as being equal, suggesting that the novel is a “joint venture between the man and woman.”
Many comments showed that respondents are paying attention to gender depiction on covers. Perhaps a romance novel could get away with what one respondent referred to as a sultry woman on the cover. However, in the case of a fantasy fiction novel, individuals didn’t seem to like it.
If you are creating a book cover for a novel that crosses into multiple genres, split testing your options is key. Pay close attention to expectations of the different book types, ensuring that elements on the design could make the book fit into either category. Sure, you want your cover to stand out, but you don’t want it to stand out as being completely out of place.
You can test out your book cover options by creating a PickFu poll and receive responses within minutes.