When Cover (re)Design Goes Wrong (and sometimes right!)

I've been meaning to check out Marcus Sakey's Brilliance trilogy for a while now. One of the things that really sucked me in was the terrific cover design for his first book - it was original and intriguing, with a really unusual use of perspective. There's a sense of mystery to it that made me want to know what the heck was going on in this book's pages. There's a great bit of boldness and sense of epicness to it. I loved it, and it caught my eye immediately. This style carried over into the second novel, A Better World, building on the artistic theme of the prior novel.

When book three popped up on NetGalley, I overlooked it entirely. In fact, it wasn't until I got an e-mail from NetGalley notifying me that it was available to request did I realize why it had slipped my attention.

Written In Fire may be a great book, and I'll be checking it out as soon as I can, along with the first two novels, but jeez is its cover ever unexceptionally generic and easy to ignore. Gone is all the pizazz and creativity of those two earlier cover designs, which have now been redesigned to fit in with this new and utterly pedestrian design work.

Here's a look at the three new covers together. I guess one good thing is that they all match a theme... But, seriously, there was already a brilliant (excuse the pun) theme happening. I'm at a complete loss for why this sudden change in design was needed. Maybe their original designer was unavailable? Anyway, here's what they came up:

I know publishers change their covers all the time, sometimes with ridiculous frequency. Simon & Schuster, for instance, just re-released a ton of Stephen King books with new covers, most of which I enjoy for their minimalism. Here's a few that caught my eye and that I think work really well. There's some great art here that really captures the spirit of the books they represent, and I find the cover for IT to be tremendously creepy. That ugly clown grin gives me shivers!

Sometimes an author changes publishers, and their series needs a fresh look, as recently occurred with Chuck Wendig's Miriam Black series. Those original Joey Hi-Fi covers produced for Angry Robot are freaking stellar works of art that need to be printed in massive wall-sized posters just to soak in all their many splendid details.

But you know what? I also really dig the fresh look Saga Press gave this series. I love the layout and color design, and the bold way the author's name and book titles are presented against the art work. I love the sleek oily look of the blackbird and the hand-sketched appearance of the mockingbird on these respective titles.

The Miriam Black covers are worlds apart, but both work exceptionally well and have great use of bold colors, while still reflecting the starkness of Wendig's words and the world his titular character inhabits. These are unique products from two different publishers, and while I adore the original Angry Robot covers, I have a certain affection for the Saga Press releases, too. They're clearly different visions and versions on a theme, but they work damn well on their own. Either cover draft makes me want to read (or rather reread) these books, so definitely a striking mission accomplished!

And then there's those cases where successful indie authors get a publishing contract, as Craig Schaefer recently did (Congrats, Craig!). His Faust novels have some seriously wicked cover art that make me want to read the living hell out of his books!

And then Amazon signed him for a new series revolving around the character of Harmony Black. Here's what their art department decided to saddle him with:

Maybe not too bad, but certainly way more tepid than Schaefer's indie works. Sakey's books, too, are published with Amazon, which leads me to suspect that Amazon publishing needs to invest more heavily in creative designers. Or perhaps they're going for a unified line across all their books that are centered around mysterious ephemeral explosions of some sort? I dunno. My untrained eye just thinks there's so much more eye-catching potential in the way these stories are represented than what we're currently getting.

On the other hand, I don't want to end this on a low note, so here's a couple Amazon covers that I think work exceptionally well, this time for Chuck Wendig's Atlanta Burns series, published by Amazon's Young Adult imprint, Skyscape. I just flat-out love this style and color schemes, so cheers to Skyscape for giving these stories the captivating art they deserve.

What do you think? Do the redesigns work? Any standouts in your mind, good or bad? Feel free to sound off in the comments!


Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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