Top 5 book covers (Judge a book by its cover)

Despite that old maxim, it is a truth universally acknowledged in publishing that people really do judge a book by its cover. This is true all the way from the distributor’s sales teams and trade book buyers all the way up to the customer. If you get the cover wrong, a bookshop is less likely to stock the title. I know, I know, it’s the inside that counts, the words themselves, but unless you get that book into the customer’s hands in the first place, those words aren’t going to be read.

However, this would seem to presume that the customer is part of a gestalt, that each individual buys a book in the same way. We’ve perhaps not taken into account the fan mentality; the buyer who will collect an author’s work because they love that author, not caring one jot what the design team and artist have done with his or her book. Also, a genre publisher has to make sure that a book is aimed at the right audience, and that necessitates a certain look. But while a publisher is very happy to publish books for its faithful fan base, it must also keep an eye on the wider picture – the book that appeals to everybody; the breakout titles that sell a million copies or more.

Consider Harry Potter. That was a breakout title in the fact that adults as well as children were reading it. The publishers responded by issuing editions with more ‘mature’ covers – a monochrome photo of a steam-train instead of a colour illustration of Harry Potter waiting for the Hogwart’s Express.

So, while making sure that their core market is targeted, a publisher may also consider making the cover a little wider in appeal, in the hope that it will encourage a greater audience.

China Mieville is a case in point. China is certainly a brilliant and incisive writer, producing novels as rich as anything in literature, but China is also a genre writer. However, rather than going for what we would think of as typically genre covers for China’s books (fantastical beasts or cityscapes), the publisher has gone for much more design-led covers. China has broken out of the SF ghetto and the look of his books reflects that.

That’s not to say that a publisher has to go for a design-led look. Science fiction, fantasy and horror have produced some great fully illustrated covers over the years. And if your book has a kick-ass, beautifully illustrated dragon on the cover, chances are that it’ll reach your intended audience no problem. The important thing as a publisher is that you get the best possible cover art you can and make sure that you have a design team in place who can do justice to the art you have commissioned.

But, dear writer, beauty is the eye of the beholder, so you may well be wondering what pleases my eye. Therefore, I shall give you a roundup of 5 of my personal favourite covers from the Abaddon/Solaris stable.

Death got no mercy by Al Ewing1. The Afterblight Chronicles: Death Got No Mercy by Al Ewing (art by Mark Harrison)

I always consult with the author before commissioning a cover for their book and when I asked Al what he wanted to represent his ultra-violent post-apocalyptic hell-ride, he said “How about a man punching out a grizzly bear?” Fortunately, artist Mark Harrison was well up for the task, and what we have is, I think, the most audacious cover of the Abaddon Books range.

Deadfall Hotel by Steve Rasnic Tem2. Deadfall Hotel by Steve Rasnic Tem (art by John Kenn Mortensen and D’Israeli)

This was originally going to go out with a D’Israeli cover, which we all thought was gorgeous, but when we presented it to our distributor’s sales team they weren’t keen, saying that it didn’t tell them what kind of book it was. So, we had to go back to the drawing-board, as it were. Fortunately we didn’t have to go very far as John Kenn Mortensen had produced stunning artwork for Centipede Press’s hardback edition of the title and was happy for us to license one of those pieces. What’s more, D’Israeli was happy for us to use his original cover artwork as illustrations for the interior. So, we ended up with the best of both worlds and a gorgeous paperback.

Blood and feathers by Lou Morgan

3. Blood and Feathers by Lou Morgan (art by Pye Parr)

This is one of those design-led covers I told you about. At Rebellion Publishing we’re fortunate to have a brilliant design team led by Pye. We wanted to shy away from your traditional Urban Fantasy cover for this as we didn’t want Lou to immediately be dropped into a niche. Her book is unusual and brilliant and we wanted to give this debut title as much of a boost as possible. Pye did a wonderful job with his blood-splattered angel and storm of feathers.

Hell Train by Christopher Fowler

4. Hell Train by Christopher Fowler (art by Graham Humphreys)

Hell Train marked Christopher Fowler’s return to horror. The nice thing about Chris is that he’s massively well connected to the film business. Hence, for this book, we managed to get the legendary Graham Humphreys. Graham has produced many incredible film posters over the years, including The Evil Dead and A Nightmare on Elmstreet. True to form, Graham produced a great cover that wouldn’t look out of place as a poster for a classic horror movie.

The noise revealed Ian Whates5. The Noise Revealed by Ian Whates (art by Dominic Harman)

Dom is a BSFA award-winning artist, for this very cover no less! When it comes to science-fiction and fantasy art, Dom is certainly one of the hottest talents there is. His beautifully illustrated covers always do a book justice and if you’re looking for great genre artist, then look no further!


Jonathan OliverJonathan Oliver is the Editor-in-Chief of Solaris and Abaddon Books. He is the author of two novels in the Twilight of Kerberos series, The Call of Kerberos and The Wrath of Kerberos, as well as a bunch of short stories that have appeared in a variety of places.