Sunday, August 12, 2012

On Trek Fan-produced Book Covers

As the old saying goes, you can't judge a book by its cover... and yet this is exactly what we do with our traditional print media! You browse the shelves, something catches your eye, perhaps only the spine, so you pick it up, check out the cover then flip it over and read the back promo-text ... and nine-times-out-of-ten your decision has been made!

The cover is just as much a communication media as the writing inside the book: it tells the prospective reader, using visual cues, what they can expect from this book. Everything written is unique in some way and a publisher treads a fine line between preserving that unique quality whilst at the same time presenting the publication in such a way as to make it recognisable and attractive to its target audience. For example our Trekzine, Personal Logs, needed to be recognisable as...
  • short stories and art...
  • about Star Trek, any series and era...
  • a wide range of story types from action/adventure to personal relationship dramas...
  • Fan produced...
  • rated PG13 or less...
All of these key points, which by the way would be tags you would need to apply to your work where possible, should be recognisable from the cover either by being spelled out in the promotional blurb or by recognisable memes in the cover art, font, colour scheme or layout of the cover

Does an illustration have to accurately record something that happens in the story? That is a bitterly fought argument! My own thoughts on the matter are: why can't you have both? A cover that sells the story and accurately shows a scene in the story? Given that a cover might have a minor difference with the story but really ticks all the boxes to draw the casual browser, I would only veto it if the author vehemently disagreed with it – mainly because if they felt that strongly about it then others who read it and liked it might as well.

Marion Gropen puts it this way on the Self-Publishing Yahoo Group, “If you put art that looks like a cozy mystery on an urban fantasy, it doesn't matter that the room depicted actually appears in the book. The reader who buys it will be expecting a cozy, and they'll be annoyed when it's not. And the reader who actually would like your book probably won't buy it, based on that cover image.”

So what do I look for in a cover? Two things. Primarily I'm looking for something that will allow the prospective reader to accurately identify the style, genre and content of the story. This might sound “commercial” to you - a strange thing to say about a fan production! - but there is a language and symbology to covers, just as there is to road signs and food packaging, and it is this that will make the initial connection between your book and the browsing reader - especially for an online publication where there is no practical need for a back cover.

However whilst showing how this is similar to other stories the prospective reader might have read, it also needs to explain how it is different as well. It needs to show the unique spark that will make the story memorable for the reader. Hopefully so much so that they will go looking for others thing the author has written!

Remember that what we as amateur publishers want to do is to emulate professional publishers right up to, but not including the vast profits they make! The writer creates the stories, we package it in such a way as to attract an audience for it and facilitate the distribution of the finished works. How does one do that for a Star Trek fan produced fiction? Well, how better to find out than to study the history of Star Trek book covers? Have a flick through Arnold E. van Beverhoudt, Jr's Sandcastle V.I. gallery of scans of the covers in his possession starting from HERE...
  • The Bantam TV Adaptations The focus is brand-recognition of Star Trek and that it is part of a series of a collectable anthologies which you can follow. Very SciFi from the Analog generation.
  • The Bantam Original Series Novels The focus is on the fact that they are Science Fiction - spacescapes and exotic aliens - rather than the Original Series characters.
  • The Pocket Books Original Series Novels This is what most people think of when you say, Original Series paperbacks – everyone has some! Follow the development of a standard format, almost a trademark look, that was instantly identifiable as Star Trek and focused on the characters - almost always Kirk, Spock and McCoy.
  • The Pocket Book TNG Novels Three dimensional serif fonts, photos or photorealistic graphics, no borders, almost Spartan covers
  • The Pocket Book DSN Novels The later DSN covers between 2002 – 2009 were very artistic, almost abstract designs with a larger more prominent portrait and traditional Trek sans serif fonts
  • The Pocket Book Voyager Novels Interesting to note that the Voyager covers went from portraits of characters in the String Theory series of 2006 to spacescapes in 2009 – 2011, which seems to suggest to me that the books were moving their focus away from the characters to content
  • The Pocket Book Enterprise Novels The variety of themes on Enterprise book covers, in addition to characters, suggests to me that Pocket Books never really settled on whether this series should be character focused or plot-centred. Always good, sometimes artistic design, with the series title once again featured
  • The Book covers shown on Memory Alphas' upcoming list don't show any surprises, other than a return from the recent spacescapes to character portraits once again. 
 What are your opinions of the way Trek book covers have changed over the years?

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