Sunday, February 13, 2011

Attack of the Clones

You know, I'm starting to have a problem with urban fantasy books.

No, no--not with their content--with the fact that I can't tell them apart anymore. The covers all seem to feature the same image: a svelte, beautiful Caucasian brunette is standing in the dark wearing revealing black clothing and carrying guns and/or knives.

I guess it's good marketing (or to be more precise, "positioning"), because at a single glance, I can say, "Yep. That's an urban fantasy novel."

Good luck getting me to recognize a particular series based on the cover, however. Books are not widgets, and one novel is not interchangeable with another, but the images slapped on their fronts certainly are. Once, I even bought a book that I'd already read because its cover was so generic I didn't recognize it as something I'd seen before.

It's a little like those romance novels from the 80s that always featured a flowing-locked woman in the arms of a flowing-locked, shirt-impaired man. You knew right away that was a romance novel.

(Actually, the women were shirt-impaired too, but only above the nipple-line. However, I digress.)

I guess this is what happens when a genre or sub-genre becomes extremely popular. If the customers are snapping up those books like candy, then the publishing industry might as well establish some branding, not just for single authors, but for the whole genre.

The logic is, if you put a something in a candy bar wrapper, the public will assume it is a candy bar and consider buying it whenever they're in the mood for a candy bar--even if it's a confection they've never tried before. Thus, if you put an urban fantasy book in an urban fantasy wrapper, you can be assured of a few sales to people who haven't heard of that author but who love urban fantasy.

However, this tactic flummoxes people like me, who like a leeeettle bit of urban fantasy every now and again. When I go to buy that leeeettle bit, I'm faced with a brick wall of covers that all look alike and there's no easy way to find that one series I tried a while back and sorta liked. (Especially if I don't actually remember the author or title, heh.)

The situation wasn't always like this. When C. E. Murphy started out, her urban fantasies featured some lovely, light-toned covers:

And now? Um.

Not that this isn't a beautiful cover, because it really is, but it isn't distinctive beyond being very, very obviously an urban fantasy novel.

And, of course, the authors have no say in this. Their publisher chooses the cover, and the publishers are appealing mainly to the voracious urban-fantasy-gourmands out there--not to people like me, who just want some urban fantasy tapas.

Do any of you have this issue, or am I just getting senile? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

(Well...if you think I'm senile, maybe I don't want to hear it. But at least I won't be mad at you for long! Wait--what were we talking about again?)

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

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