Standing out or fitting in?

Ron Hogan at Galleycat and a poster at Metafilter have recently drawn attention to the covers of of three Orbit authors, Charles Stross and Ken MacLeod (Orbit in the UK only), and Iain M. Banks (Orbit in the UK and US).

For the most part, when we publish an author in the US and the UK, we publish with the same cover — and some of those covers are developed in the US and some in the UK. The cover for Iain M. Banks’ MATTER, for example, was developed in the US, whereas CONSIDER PHLEBAS and PLAYER OF GAMES were developed in the UK.

Banks Cover Comparison

If we felt that a book would appeal to a wider readership if it had a different cover in the US or UK, we’d give it a different cover. But usually we don’t. Not everyone will agree with that — but that’s fine.

Going back to the Galleycat comments, we don’t really have any rules when it comes to covers, but there’s one thing we always do first when we’re discussing them: we decide what it is that excites us about a particular book/series/author. What makes it stand out? What makes it different to everything else out there? And then we ask ourselves: how do we reflect that in the cover approach? What kind of look would be the perfect way to reflect what we think makes this particular book/series/author special?

What we don’t do is think: this book is epic fantasy therefore it has to have one of these covers; this book is military SF therefore it has to have one of these covers. And so on.

And it’s not just the cover illustration/design that this relates to — it’s the format, the production values, the entire package for a book.

This is the issue, I think, at the heart of the Great SFF Cover Debate/War. It’s nothing to do with where the book is being published in the world; it’s to do with the question that every genre publisher has to ask themselves: do we want our books to stand out or do we want them to fit in? Most genre publishers would say both: they want their books to stand out by looking exceptional, but they also want them to fit in by being immediately recognizable to readers of similar books within the genre. Depending on where you put the emphasis, though, the cover for a particular book can go in some very different directions.

Orbit is a publisher of genre fiction, and we’re proud to be a publisher of genre fiction, but at the moment we definitely seem to be putting more emphasis on trying to make our books stand out. Why? Check out the SFF section in your local book store. How quickly can you find a book from a writer you don’t know that excites you because of the way it looks? Hopefully, you’ll find something quickly and the book itself will turn out to be just as exciting as it looks. That’s why we like our covers to stand out.