Why should you buy sci-fi and fantasy books with weird covers
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Let’s make our shelves a little weird with weird covers on your sci-fi and fantasy books. I promise it will be fun and exciting. If you find yourself judging a book by its cover, you might be drawn to tame covers that you can understand at a glance. If you ever look at a book and think ‘eh, this is weird’ then put it down – here is my plea. You can expand your options by opening up to books with unusual covers.
While books with weird covers may seem weird and can be hard to sell, the content can often surprise you. If you want to support small authors or explore the list of books, weird book covers are your way. Used bookstores will have plenty of them at good prices. Freelance authors will also surprise you with their eBooks. Listen, if you enjoy opening a mystery box, unwrapping a blind date with a book, or enjoying stories that surprise you, books with weird covers might just be for you.
Strange blankets in history
To understand the origin of weird covers, you have to go back to SFF magazines. i will watch Strange tales Covers of Margaret Brundage magazine. The Tales of Margaret Brundage episode of the Imaginary worlds podcast deeply explores its role in the industry. His painted covers were very popular in the 1930s and had an influence in and out of genre covers.
The cover of the July 1935 edition of Weird Tales, “Avenger from Atlantis,” shows a distinctively odd and alluring cover. A volcano projects fire and human shapes into the sky. To the side, a hooded figure whispers to a sultry woman. Below, waves begin to cover a city. It’s weird, has too many plot points, and uses a pretty woman in a dress to appeal to a readership.
I want it in my hands immediately.
In my reading life I’ve come to a point where I see a strange blanket and I’m like, “yes, give it to me.” I need this now. I will love her forever. Covers like the Brundage influence that SFF covers today for a reason. Conventions make oddly attractive books, for the right client.
Big books with absolutely weird covers like Rocannon’s world by Ursula K. Le Guin, published in 1966. Come on. A winged beast, a torch, and a man in a flowing cloak sell a book that involves space travel, aliens, and legendary battles. What more can you ask for?
Getting Jiggy with Weird Blankets
Today, past designs influence many weird covers. Some trends that come to mind include, but are not limited to, painted or photoshopped blankets with too many intrigue points, the blanket I have dubbed “tough woman in a corset” and book covers. do not indicate what content I will be referring to. like “strong choices have been made”. As a caveat, I will present the trends that I have found in my own reading life. I am aware that other books and other weird cover trends exist in SFF. It’s only the weirdest ones that catch my eye the most. Also the ones that I tend to tear off the shelves, buy and maintain.
Too many track points
These SFF book covers objectively contain too many plot points, in the tradition of Strange tales and other pulp magazines. While they may seem odd or unapproachable to readers outside of genres, they refer to a long tradition of the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to SFF covers.
Traditionally mass-market paperback novels, often seen in second-hand bookstores, tend to take this approach. Urban fantasy novels from the 2003s Bad wind by Rachel Cain, 2016 Heroin complex by Sarah Kuhn, or the 2018s The traded bride Mercedes Lackey’s all use characters in animated scenes to sell stories. Science fiction books like the ones from 2015 An ancient peace by Tanya Huff also takes the episodic coverage approach.
High fantasy is not left out either, with covers like those of 2001. Kushiel’s stinger by Jacqueline Cary and 2013 Mist Torn Witches by Barb Hendee. While the content of the books is vastly different, I have found that they all have at least three plot points painted or photoshopped on the covers. They are adorable.
Outside of mass markets, too many plot points can also reign supreme. Chilling effect by Valérie Valdes was traditionally published in 2019 in paperback form. Masters of deception by JC Kang was an independently published 2018 ebook form. Even YA had books like the ones from 2019 The light at the bottom of the world by London Shah. Accessibility of blankets may vary. The color combination may change. What’s important is that there are too many plot points on each of them.
Tough woman in a corset
Now we should move on to one of my favorite weird cover types: the “tough woman in a corset,” no doubt influenced by the sexually powerful women Brundage loved so much. The category “tough woman in corset” is more an atmosphere than a strict rule. Sure, some women have arms and / or corsets, but some just have aggressive but sexual energy and wear long sleeves, tank tops, etc. One of my favorite books of all time, 2001 Bitten by Kelley Armstrong, really sells the urban fantasy werewolf book with a female protagonist.
Other fun mass market covers include 2009 The daughter of death by Amber Benson and Blood on the Bayou by Stacy Jay, as well as 2012 Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire, and In a fix by Linda Grimes. Not to mention all the books in Kalayna Price’s series ending in 2019 Tomb Destiny. On the covers, women stand in relaxed poses with a background painted or retouched to evoke the setting. If they’re having a good time in a fight and there’s magic, aliens, or general SFF mayhem, you may find a book with the cover “a tough woman in a corset”.
We’ve even had some young adult paperbacks influenced by tough woman in a corset covers, like Strange angels by Lili St. Crow, Personal demons by Lisa Desrochers, and Onyx by Jennifer L. Armentrout. While some of these covers also contain male love interests, the main female protagonist makes eye contact with the reader. These books are weird. They all look a bit alike. I will also sell my soul for a used book or an ebook with a cover that looks like any of them.
Strong choices have been made
My last weird category is simply “strong choices have been made”. In those books, someone had a vision and it was executed in an almost aggressively strange way. In YA, the floating heads of 2007 Vampire academy by Richelle Mead along with a string of other SFF hits.
Another YA favorite was the bizarre trend of putting girls in dresses on the cover for no apparent reason like the 2011 dystopian novel. Break me by Tahereh Mafi as well as the 2012 urban fantasy novels sweet evil by Wendy Higgins and 2014 Everything that shines by Ryan Graudin. I have to admit, it’s satisfying to read about destruction and chaos in a book with an innocuous cover. However, the long list of YA books with covers that have nothing to do with the content of the text is almost impressive.
Then you independently published books where a strong choice was executed in a way some might qualify as oddly specific. Take the really big blue heart from the 2015s Heart struck by lightning by TJ Klune, the odd number and placement of clouds on 2017 Fairly human by ES Yu, or the Floating Werehead Size Report on 2019 Shy wolf by Stella Williams. I would die for any of these books and defend them to the death. SFF books with weird covers can be a bit inaccessible to people unfamiliar with genre conventions. They can also be wonderful if you give them a chance.
Readers can enjoy books with many weird covers, from mass market paperbacks to old SFF books at used bookstores and independently published e-books. Sure, aesthetic SFF covers are easy to sell and recommend, but finding a book with a weird and amazing cover is especially fun.
SFF is unusual and some blankets are leaning (maybe too hard). It comes down to the “don’t judge a book by its cover” argument. Sometimes book covers are weird and then you read them and they change your life. They can have a blanket with too many intrigue points, one with a tough woman in a corset, or a blanket where strong choices have been made. More likely, there is another weird hedging agreement waiting for you. So why not buy an SFF book with a weird cover? What have you got to lose?