By Joanna Bloore
So many industries are subject to trends and fashions, and the publishing industry is no exception. As well as trends within genres (like the growth in rural romance stories), there are also trends in cover design. While I understand that a lot of publishers are happy to jump on the bandwagon of a good idea, I think some trends tend to saturate the market. But I have to say that I do have my favourites! Here are nine trends I’ve noticed in covers for Australian books in 2021.
1. Overwhelming flora
These covers feature an abundance of flora, creating an sense of being overwhelmed as in Love Objects (Allen & Unwin). And the books don’t have to be about flowers: A Room Made of Leaves (Text) focuses on a historical relationship and Smart Ovens for Lonely People (Brio Books) is a short story collection. Covers with floral themes usually appear on books written by women – although All Our Shimmering Skies (HarperCollins) by Trent Dalton is a notable exception. As much as I love this style, and although the floral effect is very pretty, I personally think this trend has run its course and it’s time we moved to other visual themes.
2. Yellow-red-pink combo for women in the workplace
An emerging colour scheme for non-fiction works with a feminist flavour is the red-yellow-pink combo. These covers are bold and eye-catching, which suits the content perfectly; they hold unapologetic calls-to-action about women in the workplace. The use of pink in the covers of feminist titles has been a 21st-century mainstay (think Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist and Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs), but I’m starting to find the repetitive scheme cloyingly unimaginative. I hope publishers offer us more designs that eschew the predictable pink and opt for less obvious representations of femininity.
How about the strong, geometric patterns on Mary Beard’s Women & Power and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All be Feminists? Or the understated beauty of Amia Srinivasan’s The Right to Sex and Ellena Savage’s Blueberries?
3. Coral-coloured backgrounds
Warm peachy hues are appearing in books of all genres right now. It appears on Evelyn Araluen’s volume of poetry and essays Dropbear (UQP), and on celebrity chef Bill Granger’s latest cookbook Australian Food (Murdoch).
This colour’s popularity was given a boost in 2019 when Pantone gave its colour-of-the-year award to ‘Living Coral’, which was described as ‘an animating and life-affirming coral hue with a golden undertone that energizes and enlivens with a softer edge’. The colour is certainly warm and inviting, and I expect we’ll continue to see variations of Living Coral on book covers for a while yet.
4. Hidden by waves
We’re also seeing a lot of covers where the typography is interrupted or partially hidden. The concealment often comes from a wave-like background image that the title seems to sink into or become immersed in. The undulate imagery in Below Deck (Allen & Unwin) is a prime example of this trend, but it has also manifested as waves of air on The Airways (Pan Macmillan) and the waves of hair on We Were Not Men (HarperCollins). This imagery makes these covers more dynamic, but risks interfering with or dominating the text.
5. Stylised female figures
While they’re a staple of the romance genre, stylised female figures are now appearing in other types of books. Literary fiction has been using faceless figures isolated against a block colour background, as in Small Joys of Real Life (Hachette) and A Lonely Girl Is a Dangerous Thing (Allen & Unwin). Another example is Vintage’s recent recovering of The Handmaid’s Tale. Woman-oriented non-fiction books have also been adopting this style, from memoir (see, e.g., The Mother Wound) to health & wellbeing (see, e.g., The Single Mother’s Social Club). The effect of these covers is bold and eye-catching: the plain background and absence of facial features mean the viewer’s eye is drawn to the figure’s silhouette.
Images of hands are predominant in contemporary book cover design. The trend is particularly strong in non-fiction books that relate to medicine and the human body. For example, the books below deal with stem cell research, the HIV/AIDS crisis and deafness. These covers typically show hands as photographic elements that have been treated digitally, as in Flesh Made New (ABC Books).
Hands are also popping up on the covers of novels, and these images tend to be illustrated. This Is Us Now by Jacinta Dietrich (Grattan Street Press) is the story of two young people navigating their relationship in the context of a cancer diagnosis. Hand imagery may help to humanise stories whose themes are otherwise so grave that they threaten to overwhelm our capacity for empathy.
The surrealism trend gives us dream-like images where reality is stretched or distorted in an uncanny way. For example, Sincerely, Ethel Malley (Wakefield Press) has an image of a primly dressed woman sitting sedately without her head. A surrealist cover prepares the reader for a challenging read, suggesting themes that provoke and unsettle. This trend is one that suits our times, reflecting the strangeness of our everyday lives under COVID-19 restrictions.
8. Sweet cookbooks with sweet illustrations
For cookbooks on baking and desserts we’re seeing covers with cute, cartoon-like illustrations. The colourful and vibrant display of goodies on the cover of Beatrix Bakes (Hardie Grant) evokes the playfulness of cooking sweets. Let’s hope this gorgeous trend is here to stay, and that Australian cookbook covers stay away from the more literal, photographic covers that dominate the US market.
9. Dust and hidden titles in Rural Crime
This cover trend has been around for a while and continues to portray Rural Crime. It is characterised by bold white typography, often in all caps and a sans serif font. The text is slightly transparent or obscured by dust, clouds, or light glare, which gives the cover an ominous sense of instability. The image of a rural landscape bleeds to the edge of the cover, and sometimes includes a faint or indistinct figure. With their mysterious and agrarian vibes, these covers reliably signal to readers what they can expect from the stories inside.
What trends have you noticed?
What do you think of these looks – do you love them or hope they’ll be short-lived? We’d love to hear what other patterns you’ve noticed in cover design. Feel free to share what trends you’ve spotted in new release books in the comments!
Joanna studies publishing and communications at the University of Melbourne. She enjoys reading the inscriptions in second-hand books and befingering her voluminous dictionary collection.