Designing Book Covers with Genres in Mind

What happens when the book you’ve written doesn’t neatly fit into one specific genre? For instance, what if instead of a book that falls unquestionably into the mystery thriller category, you’ve written one that beautifully straddles the line between personal memoir and war memoir? While this question can certainly influence any number of factors in the book publishing process, it comes into a particularly important light when a publisher begins to develop the marketing plan for a new book.

One project team at Ooligan Press found themselves faced with this question as they began work on an exciting new acquisition—a memoir from Rosa del Duca. Breaking Cadence is a remarkable book that deftly straddles the memoir and war genres, and as the team begins to develop marketing and design plans for the book, they find themselves faced with questions surrounding potential book covers. Current trends in covers for war memoirs differ widely from those for personal memoirs, which means the trick will be communicating the book’s unique position within a few of the larger genres. In other words, the team here at Ooligan wants to develop a book cover that accurately depicts and honors the intricacies of del Duca’s story.

This is proving to be a complex undertaking, as war memoir and personal memoir cover designs generally differ significantly. As Rachel Woodward and K. Neil Jenkings report in their article, “military memoirs in the contemporary period frequently provide a participation in armed conflict as the preserve of a specific masculinity.” The aggressive masculinity Woodward and Jenkings reference here is certainly reflected in the covers of war memoirs and books. A quick Google search yields a plethora of book covers dominated by red and black color schemes, bold and heavy typography, and images of soldiers and guns. This is certainly no accident. At a quick glance, readers know what to expect from the historical and military sections of their local bookstore. But following this particular book cover design will narrow the potential audience for Breaking Cadence significantly. Furthermore, it will do a poor job of setting her memoir apart as a book written by a woman in the military (a rare occurrence in the genre) and featuring more about her personal life than simply her time there. The Ooligan team hopes to market her book to readers who don’t just frequent the historical nonfiction sections, and they also want to signal her unique story, so following a genre that features mostly men and centers largely on war isn’t the route we want to take.

So what are some other trends at work in the book cover design world? An article from The Bookseller rounds up a few trends of 2017, and notes that quirkily illustrated titles, handwritten typography, and watercolors were last year’s dominant themes. Interestingly enough, Danny Arter also notes that a trend for centered type “may be a visual attempt to gear darker criminology titles towards a female audience”—an idea that could prove handy for the Ooligan team. Perhaps it’s not a matter of picking one cover trend or genre in which to place del Duca’s memoir, but instead a matter of delicately balancing the two design directions. certainly offers the team a lot of exciting design possibilities, so keep your eyes peeled for more updates as the project progresses.

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