Series branding for paranormal romance book covers

Today I’m thinking about paranormal romance series’ book covers. Specifically, how the series’ covers achieve the following:

  1. make it clear it’s a paranormal romance novel!
  2. make it clear it’s a series
  3. have unique branding

I’m particularly interested in point (3) because there are so many very similar sounding series in this highly competitive market. How do you make your shifter romance series stand out from the eleventy billion other shifter romance series whilst still making it look like a shifter romance series?

For my extremely scientific investigation, I pulled up some series that popped up under “paranormal romance” in kindle books on Amazon. Then I decided to look specifically at shifter romance, to narrow down the genre into a subgenre, as it were.

Well, apart from the fact that bear romance is a lot more popular than I had realised, the first thing that strikes me is unsurprising: a bare-chested man on the cover is fairly mandatory in the genre.

Bare-chested men abound in the bear-shifter romance subgenre (see what I did there)

Bare-chested men abound in the bear-shifter romance subgenre (see what I did there)

These are three different series by three different authors, but they’re all using the same devices to create a series brand: font, layout, and—in the case of the top and bottom series—background. The fonts also create different impressions; the middle series’ font/layout makes me think there’s a more fantastical flavour to the series (more fantastical than werebears), whilst the bottom series’ font gives a hint of western. (I have no idea if these suppositions actually match the contents. That’s a whole other experiment).

(I’m also starting to wonder just how many stock photographs there are of naked man chests…)

So onto dragon shifters.

Fantastical fonts!

Fantastical fonts! 

The dragon romances above also highlight another form of series branding I’ve noticed: colour tinting. I think this is partly why the bottom series looks more coherent as a brand than the top series.

Tinted lion-y goodness! I like that the designer made the effort to find a different lion photo for each book.

Tinted lion-y goodness! I like that the designer made the effort to find a different lion photo for each book.

And I spotted this, by assuming it was the same series. A rather unfortunate coincidence in terms of creating unique series branding:

This is the must-have font for alpha dragons. Who knew?

This is the must-have font for alpha dragons. Who knew?

Conclusions? Nothing earth-shattering, but obviously the shifter romance cover design starter-kit includes:

  • a naked man chest
  • the animal your hero is shifting into
  • a distinctive font
  • tinting!

Books in the same series

Obviously, if a reader likes a book they’re likely to want to read the next book in the series. Cover design within a series is all about making life easy for the reader – book 2 in the series should look as much like book 1 as possible. Another consideration is that series are usually stacked together on bookshelves, forming a large block ‘billboard’ of spines that can also be used to attract new readers.

With the Twilight series below, the covers all share the same design and together form an impressive large black colour block of spines.
 
A series with clever spine designs is the Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. On the spine, the ribbon connects to the next book in the series and the cover figure gets progressively closer.
I also have to mention a clever bit of cover design I’ve noticed for Brandon Sanderson’s books. Since he became a bestseller, all his books have taken on similar design elements. They’re all white with a single accent colour. Books within the same series (like the Mistborn Trilogy above) have the same accent colour. Books from different series have a different accent colour. See Elantris and The Way of Kings below. Both of these books are different series, but the standard design elements make it easy to find books by this author.

Update 22 June 2012:

I’ve also noticed another bit of cover trending here, with the Night Angel trilogy by Brent Weeks using similar design elements to Brandon Sanderson’s for its covers. Brent Weeks and Brandon Sanderson target exactly the same demographic, so it makes sense for the covers to share design elements. If readers pick up a book by Brent Weeks when they wanted a book by Brandon Sanderson, it’s a win from a marketing perspective because they have picked up a book they will probably be interested in anyway. I also wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that S and W are usually shelved fairly close together in the fantasy/sci-fi section of most bookstores.

Update 27 June 2012:
And yet more fantasy books to add to the trend pile! What is it with the ribbon love?
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