So I’m reading a pretty good book about making covers. His “how to pick an image for your cover” and “how to see what’s a good cover for your genre” are spot on.
A lot of his other advice on how to actually DO it seems to lead to the kind of bland, nothing-burger covers that sell pretty well for a certain type of thriller and contemporary mystery, but tend to not sell for beans in say science fiction or fantasy. And, frankly, suck for romance.
On the whole, though, I think the book is valuable and I wish everyone who asks me to design a cover for them would read it, because honestly, first and foremost your cover needs to signal genre. It’s even excusable for it to look cheesy or bland, but it has to be the right genre. A cover that has a spaceship will always sell science fiction over a cover that has something gorgeous and unidentifiable.
Most of all, always, you must signal genre.
There are other interesting tidbits he gives, like the traditional publishers use the proportions of a 6×9 book not the Amazon-requested ones, and that gives a subconscious signal. I haven’t tested if they’ll let me upload that (they might not) but I’m gonna try.
However halfway through he talked about how bad cultural stereotypes were on covers, like for instance, for Africa all we see is a red sunset and a bare tree, and how Africa has big cities and is as civilized as anywhere else.
Um…. yes. Kind of. Any continent where the main form of success is working for an NGO which pays way more than skilled technical professions is not a continent like anywhere else. Civilized, of course. In fact, dying of civilization and a peculiar idea of the world that they should help the continent to death.
And see, just above I made a generalization, as when you talk about an entire continent, you can’t concentrate on the little things.
In defense of the author of the book about cover design, he’s not stupid. He also immediately said that the reason that the covers show a sunset and an acacia tree is because in the collective subconscious that signals “Africa” to people and that a book cover is not a place to educate people.
Of course he also thinks people can or SHOULD be educated about the nature of stereotypes, and the non-stereotypical stuff that lies behind it.
Sigh. (Does sinal salute.)
Stereotypes are part of the human brain, and frankly one of the parts that saw us become masters of the globe, living in all kinds of environments. You see, we are monkeys with an overgrown brain, but still monkeys. Oh, pardon me, great apes (who declared us great, anyway?) have the capacity to notice a lot of things but only remember a limited number of them.
By and large what we remember are patterns. And they probably allowed our ancestors to survive long enough to become human, and then to become successful human tribes. Because a lot of the patterns will be things like “trying to hunt tiger ow ow crunch hurts, like Ogg.” Or “Behind that bush hide “aaaaah! Hyenas!” Or “If get away from band, lion crunch crunch maul and then Ogg only one leg which makes hunting hard.”
Remembering that type of pattern, particularly when it happens to other people, can save your life. Of course it’s a stereotype. Perhaps a tiger is hurt and old, and you could have killed him and have a nifty tunic. Or perhaps tiger is friendly and you could have joined forces and been super-hunters. but that’s not the way to bet. The way to bet is crunch crunch, ouch, ouch, deathy death.
Stereotypes are the product of the same mechanism. None of us has the time, the patience or the brain space to remember everything about everywhere in the globe, much less give it due consideration and note all the exceptions to the “run of the mill” thing.
Now, stereotypes are often insanely outdated, particularly when it comes to other countries from the US. They are mostly acquired from movies, and Hollywood’s researchers are non-existent. Nine times out of ten they have a vague idea that some country is “quaint” or “old fashioned.” In the US they’re also often acquired from the last known relative or relative of a friend that emigrated from that place. And this is how my host family ended up teaching me how to flush a toilet, because the grandmother who’d come from Portugal hadn’t ever seen a flush mechanism.
People don’t stop and think “Wait, that was a 100 years ago!” No, they file that under “this is how it is in distant place. And honestly, it doesn’t hurt anyone. I mean, I already knew how to flush a toilet, but it cost us all perhaps a minute of our time. I wasn’t offended, because I knew where this was coming from. No sane person should be offended of this sort of thing.
And besides, sometimes stereotypes are true. At least the ones where you encounter the real thing on a regular basis have to be true, or you’d revise them.
My own stereotype of Africa had come from reading a lot of African exploration books. Which meant I thought of Africa as huts and tribes. And I wasn’t far off. When I visited South Africa I passed a lot of tribal hut villages. Of course, this was the eighties and they had satellite dishes, but they were still huts.
And while I’m quiet, non-demonstrative and honestly an introvert for the country I come from (the region I come from is more undemonstrative anyway, being English influenced, but I’m an introvert even for there) people who meet me still think I fit the stereotype of Latin female.
That’s fine. If it becomes necessary for them to know me as an individual, they’ll learn differently. But while dealing with me as part of a group, that’s enough for them to know, particularly if I’m in one of my occasional snits.
I mean, you could roam the globe “educating” everyone in the ways every stereotype is wrong, and itemizing all the little ways things are different from the picture in their heads.
In the end, all it would do is make people confused, tired of you, and annoyed.
In general, I have better things to spend time on than “educating” people.
In fact if you talk of “educating” other people, perhaps you should already educate yourself on how you’re not superior and we don’t want to hear it.
And if you persist, we’ll show you our middle fingers. We have a full set.