February 8th, 2021

Book Cover 101: Covering A Cross-Genre Novel

by Melinda VanLone

Here on Writers In The Storm we’ve talked about putting the promise of your genre on the cover and how vital it is for selling your novel. As I've said before, a good cover is a contract with the reader that this story fits in the genre they’re looking for.

Note: For more information see Book Covers 101: Your Cover Sells Your Book.

But what if you’ve written a cross-genre story? 

Here’s the short answer: it’s almost impossible to do both at once. You have to lean one way or another, or you’ll miss both sides.

Let's say, for example, you've written a sci-fi/romance novel. Think carefully about the main story elements. Is the romance really front and center? Or is it more interstellar shenanigans with strong romantic elements?

My latest series, Raegan Reid, is a blend of urban fantasy and sci-fi. When I look at it objectively I see that it’s heavier on the urban fantasy elements. If I put a typical urban fantasy cover, a badass female protagonist standing in a sinister city landscape, and then tried to insert a futuristic element into the background, I would end up with a confused cover and no one would buy my book. It would leave both urban fantasy and science fiction readers scratching their heads, and their main thought would be: “I don’t know what that is, but I’m pretty sure it’s not for me.”

You do not want that reaction for your book.

Steps to a successful cross-genre cover.

1. Take a step back and analyze the major story elements in your novel.

  • What genre do they belong to?
  • Which reader is it going to appeal to more?

Typically, you’ll find you’ve got more elements of one genre than the other.  

For instance, I did not lean into the science elements hard enough in my story to market it to science fiction readers. If your cover incorrectly promises your genre, you’ll end up with angry readers, bad reviews, and a mental cross beside your name when it’s seen on future books.

As a side note, some genres are more accepting of experimentation, while other genres are more purist. If you’ve read within the genres you’re publishing in—as you should have—you’ll know which is which.

2. If your story is truly evenly balanced and you can tip either way, consider which genre has the biggest audience. You are seeking the largest pool of potential readers, because a bigger pool means more potential customers.

For instance, if your sci-romance is equal parts science fiction and romance, I’d lean romance. Biggest. Genre. Ever.

If you're still not sure, take a look at the covers from your comp authors, and see which genre they've chosen to highlight. If they've been selling well...it's a smart move to mimic their approach.

3. Once you’ve picked the genre you think is the primary focus of your story, cover your book accordingly (see previous Book 101 posts for more advice on what graphics go with which genre).

Keep in mind, if your book isn’t selling you can always change your cover to lean into the other genre. Maybe you got the dominant genre wrong. Maybe the smaller genre is hungrier and more willing to try a new type of story. 

Remember, the two basic mottos of indie publishing are: if at first you don’t succeed, try again, and don’t be afraid to change your approach. The power is in your hands.

Have you seen a cross-genre book with a great cover? Share it with us in the comments!

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About Melinda

Melinda VanLone writes urban fantasy, freelances as a graphic designer, and dabbles in photography. She currently lives in Florida with her husband and furbabies.

When she's not playing with her imaginary friends, you can find Melinda playing World of Warcraft, wandering aimlessly through the streets taking photos, or hovered over coffee in Starbucks.

Her elementary fantasy series, House of Xannon, begins with Stronger Than Magic. For more information on covers, visit BookCoverCorner.com.

10 responses to “Book Cover 101: Covering A Cross-Genre Novel”

  1. Jenny Hansen says:

    The first covers that come to mind for me are the Outlander books and the Hunger Games books. They were very word-of-mouth shares but the covers are fairly plain - the Outlander books are just words. It seems like a good option when you're crossing genres...what do you think?

    • I think just words would work for some more literary titles, but overall probably not. People or an enticing scene will always capture more readers, ironically. The Outlander books I see have the couple on the cover (as a romance, that makes sense). Hunger Games followed the trend for YA books of having a symbol be front and center until the movies were made of course, and now they use the girl on the cover. Symbols for dystopian is a pretty big trend, or was at the time. I'd avoid that unless your cross genre novel is part dystopian, mostly because symbols don't mean anything until AFTER you've read the book...a day late and a dollar short 😀

  2. ecellenb says:

    A YA fantasy manuscript I'm working on has elements of time travel and occult (Tarot cards and crystals). I am pondering the cover as I read this post. This one will be tricky. You've given me a lot to think about.

  3. writeralicia says:

    Great advice and well-timed for me! I'm planning a re-cover of a YA science fantasy, and I think I'm going to market/cover it as YA sci-fi.

  4. dholcomb1 says:

    One could always have a few covers picked out and crowdsource beta readers to see which one fits better based on how they read the story.

    denise

    • You could definitely do that, if you have access to that sort of thing. OR you could even run a split test of ads on Facebook to see which gets the most clicks. Of course the cover is only half the battle in either case, which is something this article doesn't cover. The second half of the battle is of course the blurb...which should follow through on the promise of the cover and entice them to buy. If you do split test, I'd also split test the blurb 🙂

  5. Julie Glover says:

    I love your book cover posts. Even though I have researched stuff before, feel I kind of know things, and have even chatted with you about covers, I always learn something new! Thanks for these, Melinda.

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