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Donna Lea Simpson | When series change their ‘look’.

October 9, 2007
Most authors’ romance or mystery series have a definable ‘look’. The novels in the series all bear a striking resemblance in graphics used, or models, style, color palette, and other similarities that ‘brand’ them. Janet Evanovich‘s Stephanie Plum books are instantly recognizable for the bold colors and font selected. You can recognize those puppies across the bookstore! And that’s the point. The cover’s job is to draw readers, and once a rhythm is established, to signal to readers that this another book in a series they love.

When I received the cover for the first novel in my ‘Awaiting’ series with Berkley – Awaiting the Moon – I was relieved. I loved it! There are a lot of elements – full moon, wolf, castle, and brooding hero with moody expression – but I think it works. It’s mostly tones of blue… moody and dark. Most importantly, it really does signal what the book is; a historical paranormal werewolf romance. So it perfectly epitomized the series to follow! The heroes of my books are conflicted, moody, and secretive, and the tone is slightly dark and gothic, with secrets and mystery swirling throughout. Whew… that’s a lot to put out there! And yet I felt that the cover did its job admirably.

The second cover, for Awaiting the Night, really echoes the first; it has another enigmatic hero, a castle, a wolf, and the moon, but the colors are different. In other words, it does its job and echoes the first cover, establishing a rhythm.

But then I received the third cover, for Awaiting the Fire. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great cover: attractive colors, nice texture – kind of satiny in feel – with what I think of as the ‘Bowflex-fella’ front and center and the title in raised metallic red print. But… it doesn’t look anything like the first two. Not one iota. And that’s problematic, in that it doesn’t send the right signal; not only does it not echo the first two, I think looking at it, you’d be hard pressed to guess what the book is. A mystery? A romance? A fitness manual?

In a marketplace where authors compete fiercely to establish an audience, continuity and dependability of format are really desirable, but sometimes a publisher may feel that a change is needed, or may decide the ‘pattern’ isn’t working. I’m curious as to whether readers really look for that ‘patterning’ when they’re in the books store? Do you recognize series by appearance only sometimes? As far as genres go, there are trends, certainly; in the case of historical romances, a painting of a woman in a low-backed gown with a pearl necklace, or a fan seems to be a current favorite. I know that when I shop for murder mysteries, I can spot a cozy or a culinary mystery easily, and that’s a good thing! So, are there certain elements that attract a reader best, and do sub-genres have an easily identifiable ‘look’? I think the answer is ‘yes’, but that’s just my opinion. What do you think?

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Donna Lea Simpson

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