Changing Cover Art ?

The other day, a more recent reader [new to what I write in the last five years, and also, I suspect, of a younger persuasion] of my work emailed me with a suggestion. His view was that my science fiction covers were far too “dated.” The artwork looked like “that eighties stuff” with all the sharp lines and airbrushing. He argued that my SF would sell much better if my science fiction covers looked more like the recent Corean Chronicles covers by Raymond Swanland, because “Swanland is more organic…”

The reader went on to say that my science fiction is anything but conventional or dated, but that the covers on the books proclaim that it is. I certainly like the Swanland covers, but I like a number of my other covers, by other artists, and the John Picacio cover for Ghosts of Columbia helped John win an award or two, I understand. I like that cover a great deal.

But… the point raised by my reader is intriguing. Certainly, research into reader buying habits shows that, especially for an unknown or little known author, the cover is one of the largest reasons for picking up and buying a book. One study determined that something like 27% of sales result from the impression the cover makes on would-be readers.

Yet, for an established author, how much of a difference do covers make? Or do they only make a difference in sales to new readers? The covers on the Recluce books have always been painted by Darrell Sweet, who is a superb colorist, while the Corean Chronicles covers painted by Swanland show more dynamic action. Certainly, sales of the Corean Chronicles appear to have increased somewhat with the Swanland covers, but would a switch to more edgy action covers increase the sales of my SF books… or would they end up disappointing readers who would then expect the sort of non-stop action such covers would imply? Would they turn away older readers who would think that the change in covers reflected a change in content? And while my science fiction certainly has action, it’s definitely not non-stop, because my characters are as real as I can make them, and in real life, nothing is non-stop.

Of course, as the writer, I get very little say on the cover, outside of suggestions for scenes, and what technical input I do provide is usually on the accuracy of the illustration — and yes, the art director and editor do actually consider such factors.

Still, the question remains… would organic yet edgier covers for my science fiction better reflect to readers what I write?