Photo or illustration?

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Erato

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Does anyone know if photo or illustration works better for sales? I notice most "popular" books seem to use photographic covers these days, whereas things which want to look "classy" are more likely to use illustration. This would tend to hint that photos work better, but does anyone actually know?
 

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It depends on the genre and market. Though I don't think there are any studies that demonstrate one is better than the other. It's less about photo vs illustrative, but the quality of either and both. And also font. Font to me is actually a far greater factor on whether something looks professional than cover art.

The most important thing is to look at books in your genre, see the trends and attempt to emulate them. You want to stand out, yes, but you also want to make it crystal clear for your readers what kind of book this is. And making sure to look like the other books of your genre is a big part of it.
 

Erato

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The most important thing is to look at books in your genre, see the trends and attempt to emulate them. You want to stand out, yes, but you also want to make it crystal clear for your readers what kind of book this is. And making sure to look like the other books of your genre is a big part of it.

Nice idea when you write in genres big enough to have standard ways of making cover art.

This train of thought began, actually, when I showed my proposed cover art for my historical crime novel to people in a Georgian/Regency forum. Everyone hated it, mostly becuse they couldn't seem to wrap their heads around that it wasn't supposed to be a romance novel and they kept telling me to make it look like a romance novel (which would most certainly lead to disappointment of anyone who bought the book expecting a romance novel, because it isn't one.) The photo I found was a nice pulpy-looking scene of a screaming woman in 18th century clothing, apparently being attacked by a gentleman in matching dress. Since it didn't go over well with the historical crowd, and the costumes in the photo would probably be off-putting to the crime crowd, I am contemplating going more abstract with an artsy painting or drawing, but that might just put people off in general.
 

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Historical thrillers are quite the large market actually. So I'm not entirely sure what you mean that the genre isn't big enough to have standard art. How much have you googled?

https://goo.gl/images/g4tAu7
https://goo.gl/images/RoZfwn
https://goo.gl/images/HeTj2N
https://goo.gl/images/V47rCQ
https://goo.gl/images/ropNGX
https://goo.gl/images/EntpN4

These are just a few I googled using the terms "Victorian Mystery Novel" and "Regency Mystery Novel".

Seems to me there is quite the theme here: photographic, hazy, not too many faces, backs to the camera, moody city/town. I also notice the purposeful placement of "A mystery" or "A Regency Mystery" written onto the covers, probably to help curb that whole "Wait, this isn't a romance?" thing you were talking about.

Anyway, have a look at these examples and have a look at google images. There is quite the pattern I at least have been noticing.
 
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Polenth

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Does anyone know if photo or illustration works better for sales? I notice most "popular" books seem to use photographic covers these days, whereas things which want to look "classy" are more likely to use illustration. This would tend to hint that photos work better, but does anyone actually know?

It depends on the book. Take a close look at any and every cover you can find. You'll get a feel for what tends to go with certain themes. Things to look at include the main subjects on the cover, how they're positioned, the fonts, the colours, and the overall image style. It's a lot more complicated than photo versus illustration.

There's a language to how covers are put together. Once you know it, it's easier to say "I want a mystery, cozy. But also it's underwater with mermaids." And you'll know how books with all those themes tend to be shown, and be able to combine them into one thing. Even if you've never seen a book that is exactly that.
 

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I'll repeat my chronic advice: well-executed is more important than technique. Don't use a bad painting because you think paintings are better than photos.

As for your genre, I'll echo some of the sentiments above: historic thriller is a fairly established genre, and it does have its conventions, and those conventions do center on photography.
 

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Does anyone know if photo or illustration works better for sales? I notice most "popular" books seem to use photographic covers these days, whereas things which want to look "classy" are more likely to use illustration. This would tend to hint that photos work better, but does anyone actually know?

Many valid points above. But, a lot of it may also deal with the overall book budget. It is generally cheaper and faster to hire a photographer to take a picture(s), then lightly use photo-editing to make any extra changes that are within reason.

Of course, this works for somewhat ordinary, mundane things, like a cityscape or cars, for example.

Once you hit fantastical elements, you often have to do heavy photo-editing, which may be photos that are heavily altered, 3D creations, or pure digital illustration.
 

DanielSTJ

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I would say it really depends on what you're trying to encapsulate.

However, this is from a layman's perspective.

Just my two cents!
 

Cath

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Who is your audience? What attracts them most? You can generalize, but the point of the cover is to attract YOUR reader, not the reader who picked up all those other books. Understand them and you'll understand how to appeal to them.
 

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An illustrated cover is the best choice for fantasy books. If you want to show on your cover some fantasy creature or a character in definite clothes, you should find the illustrator.


But if your book is urban fantasy it would be better to use the photography cover
 
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Helix

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An illustrated cover is the best choice for fantasy books. If you want to show on your cover some fantasy creature or a character in definite clothes, you should find the illustrator.

Welcome to AW, Ira. Might be worth mentioning that you work for the company you're promoting here, in case the post gets mistaken for spam.
 

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Does anyone know if photo or illustration works better for sales? I notice most "popular" books seem to use photographic covers these days, whereas things which want to look "classy" are more likely to use illustration. This would tend to hint that photos work better, but does anyone actually know?
I use Clip Studio for my front cover and art for my Manga Comic Book.
 
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