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!
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International editions – case study ‘Angel’s Blood’ by Nalini Singh

I find it interesting to compare different editions of the same book, especially foreign language editions. To that end I’ve collected various editions of Angels’ Blood by Nalini Singh. The original version of Angels’ Blood was published in the US in 2009. Angels’ Blood reached our shores in the form of the UK/Australian edition in 2010.

US Edition
UK/Australian Edition

The title’s typeface in the US edition draws heavily on romance genre conventions: decorative, foil stamped, drop shadow. The UK/Australian edition is edgier, and hints at horror/thriller elements with the dripping blood in the title.

Other editions are as follows. 

The Spanish and Portuguese editions are effectively the same as the UK edition, except the typeface for the title has been altered in the Portuguese version. The European versions seem to be more monochromatic than the various Asian editions as a general rule. The UK, Hungarian and French covers seem to be following the trend for predominantly black and white covers, with a single highlighting colour, very reminiscent of the iconic Twilight cover.
I think the Indonesian and Polish versions are the least successful, mainly because of the bad photo-shopping. On the Polish  cover the woman’s breasts have been photo-shopped out, leaving the model with an unnatural appearance. I’ve made some more detailed comments on the Indonesian cover below.

The Indonesian version also doesn’t clearly express that this is a book with strong fantasy elements – this cover could belong to any romance novel. The other editions lacking a strong fantasy element on the cover (such as the US and Japanese editions) still have a fantastical feel because of mystical background lighting.

Another thing I find interesting with the different editions is whether the author’s name or the book’s title is deemed more important. The most important element is the biggest, boldest, and is usually located at the top. The editions seem to rank the importance of the title versus the author’s name as follows:
Title more important
Author more important
UK/Australian
French
German
Hungarian
Italian
Japanese
Polish
Portuguese
Spanish
US
Indonesian
Thai
The logic behind this is probably because Nalini Singh is most well-known in the US market, so her name has strong brand appeal there. Outside that market, the name of the book is more likely to entice potential readers. I’m not sure why the Indonesian and Thai editions deem the author’s name more important.

My first example: Hit List by Laurell K Hamilton

I’ve chosen Hit List, an paranormal romance novel for my first foray into cover analysis because it’s unappealing by anyone’s standards, but why?

The Positives

One of the strongest aspects of this cover is that the hierarchy of information is clear, from the author’s name at the top, down to the title and then the name of the series. Additionally, the metallic gold of the cover is eye-catching (although tacky).

The quote from Charlaine Harris (a bestselling author in the same genre) and the ‘#1 New Yorks Time Bestselling Author’ shoutline are both clearly displayed and may help to convince potential buyers that this book is worth buying.


The Negatives

I think the main issue with this cover is that there is just too much going on. It also unsuccessfully mixes the conventions of several different genres, and it’s not clear just what target audience this cover would appeal to. The metallic gold suggests romance, the naked lady suggests erotica and the bold, all-caps typefaces for the author and title and man in the trenchcoat suggest a gritty thriller. All the different elements of the cover seem to have been combined at random, rather than deliberately placed.

Additionally:

  • The text has a mixture of alignments, with most text being centre-aligned and the title being right-aligned. This adds to the feeling of ‘busyness’.
  • The scale of the pictures seems to be off, with the man the same size as the gunshot pattern, but tiny compared to the naked lady.
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