Is There An Ideal Steampunk Romance Cover?
Steampunk is a genre big on aesthetics. Covers are a great canvas for evoking the often complex worldbuilding contained in the story. Many print steampunk books boast richly detailed images, like the ones for The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder and The Executioner’s Heart by George Mann.
The approach is a little different for steampunk romance, however. This subgenre, one caught between mediums and parent genres, faces a number of cover challenges.
Many steampunk romances are digital-first. With ebooks, elaborate details may be lost at thumbnail size and can end up looking cluttered. Ebooks have trended toward simpler covers in order to stand out more when online browsing is involved. Bold, easy-to-read fonts are common. The thumbnail issue is probably why steampunk romances covers don’t usually have a fancy steampunk font.
Plus, small press and digital-first publishers don’t always have the budget for top-of-the-line cover artists. A barebones cover made of stock images is all one can expect in some cases (even if, ironically, the world in the story is richly detailed).
Steampunk romance faces another cover challenge. For marketing purposes, it’s helpful to portray the heroine, hero, or a couple on the cover in order to tag the story for readers. Characters take up space, whether they are models from a cover shoot or of the stock image variety. Cover designers must then get creative about balancing the hybrid elements.
And what should the characters be wearing? There are a limited number of stock images with steampunk characters and only mainstream print publishers seem to be able to afford custom costumes, so a digital-first publisher may have little choice when it comes to characters in steampunk outfits. Women in corsets frequently appear on ebook covers. And like other romance subgenres, steampunk romance has its share of man titty.
On the other hand, characters like the Man O’ Wars from Zoe Archer’s Ether Chronicles series involve a type of hero who is an exotic “Other.” Part of his core characterization and appeal is the telumium implant in his chest. Therefore, regardless of budget it makes sense to reveal that on the cover.
Despite the challenges, there are a few elements one can expect from a steampunk romance cover no matter the publisher or budget. These covers have evolved quickly and I’d wager it’s because the steampunk aesthetic is unique and lends itself to a visual medium. Common cover elements for steampunk romance include:
Steampunk romance covers trend toward warm, earthy color schemes—reds, browns, orange, yellow. The sepia-like tone evokes the Victorian-era time period. Another reason for this color scheme is that it pairs well with brass, bronze, and copper objects.
Airships are one of the most popular steampunk romance cover elements. And no wonder—they’re frequently present in the stories.
Gears & goggles
Many steampunk and clockpunk devices are made with gears, which make them an effective way to convey a steampunk setting. Goggles are a popular accessory for steampunk romance characters. For covers, they’re frequently used as a shortcut for steampunk content.
Prosthetics & weapons
Many steampunk romance stories feature characters with prosthetics. A few covers boast prosthetic limbs. Some, like Sheryl Nantus’ Wild Cards & Iron Horses, do what they can with stock images to create the fantasy. Others, like the cover for Meljean Brook’s Riveted, does the same thing, but with an obviously bigger budget.
Weapons are another item readers can find on a steampunk romance cover. Two notable covers featuring steampunk weapons are Beth Ciotta’s Her Sky Cowboy and Kate Cross’ Touch of Steel (note the brass fan and aether pistol).
From a reader perspective, it’s satisfying to see how many publishers have embraced the steampunk aesthetic. Steampunk romance is a niche genre yet the excitement for it is obvious.
Do you have a favorite steampunk/steampunk romance cover?
I love the covers from the Ether Chronicles, the Gaslight Chronicles and the Parasol Protectorate. Enjoyed your post very much.
It’s all such fun eye candy, eh? Thanks for reading!
I love the steampunk covers. The variety and the ingenuity is just plain fun. Great summary of the elements and the challenges.
Absolutely loved the covers for the Parasol Protectorate series.