The Best Stephen King Covers

I talk about Stephen King a fair amount on this blog, and that’s natural. A hundred years from now we’re only going to remember two authors — Stephen King and J.K. Rowling. But one’s had a ton more books, so I thought it would be fun to go through the various covers (at least the ones I read) and find my favorites. For factors, I thought about marketing and being true to the actual content and themes of the book.

There are two important things to communicate about Carrie — that this is the story about a girl with telekinesis and its thematically about violent revenge. A lot of covers use images from the movie, but I thought that would be cheating. In this case, it’s natural given the movie was more popular than the book. But they are two different animals and if you’ve read it, you know what I mean.

Most covers focus on the house, but I don’t think the story is about the house. It’s about vampires and it’s about the town itself being taken over by them. The house is a setting, not a factor. This is an event book. That’s why I like this cover because it communicates more of the event.

This is the first edition cover and I think it looks great. The book itself is about a student who takes his class hostage. The promise of the premise is a charismatic psychopath converting them towards his philosophy like Charles Manson or David Koresh. That looks like this cover to a T.

The Shining has a lot of weird covers that do too much or not enough. There’s a lot of visual motifs that each could make a cover on their own, and artists can’t seem to decide. From a marketing standpoint, I think it would be best to focus on the psycho dad, but most seem to focus on the boy, putting him in danger rather than what the danger is. A compromise is to do the hotel, which is what, personally, I think this is a story about.

When you’re dealing with short stories, I’m never quite sure what the cover should have on it. Should it focus on a single story? Can it be something abstract? Just a spooky thing? The two most famous stories in this book are the titula “Night Shift” about giant sewer rats and “Children of the Corn”. The nice thing about the latter is that crucified bodies in a cornfield is a creepy image just by itself, so it works even if you don’t know about the stories within.

This was a hard one. The story is simple and there’s lots of great ways you can communicate the content and still be intriguing. I wish this image wasn’t only 1/3 of the cover. Covers shouldn’t be taken up with more words than pictures (show, don’t tell), but I think the combination of the military and the walking teens is important. Other images had them in wrong proportions. This image contains both in a movie poster style.

I know I said I didn’t want to include movie marketing materials as the cover, but I just couldn’t find a better image than this. So many of the covers just contain the wheel of fortune, which I guess is an important motif, but doesn’t properly communicate what the book is about. Plus the renditions were bad — it looked more like a coin. King wrote this as “what if a psychic was real”. Now the content within is less spooky or supernatural as the cover I chose makes it out to be–more realism, less mindscape. But I think this cover captures the tone the best.

Roadwork is like Rage, but it’s grumpy old man and doesn’t have much of a plot. 90% of the book is not action. It’s him going about his day and grumbling about the energy crisis and how a dollar ain’t shit cause it’s taxed to no end. If this was a movie, Joe Don Baker would play the lead. But from a marketing standpoint, I like the idea of a road sign pockmarked with bullets. It indicates he’s fighting against authority, which is an important theme and the pull of the book.

A Cujo cover writes itself (draws itself?). The whole thing is a mom and son trapped in a hot car while a rabid St. Bernard terrorizes them. I’ve talked before about the impact this cover had on me and how my five-year-old mind couldn’t interpret it. That’s why I didn’t pick the black version, because its too easy to misunderstand. But this one, there’s no way not to tell that it’s a dog snout.

I hate the purple Stephen King face cover of Danse Macabre. (Maybe I should do a post of worst Stephen King covers.) This isn’t a biography and it’s not a memoir and it’s not a textbook. It’s just about horror books and movies from the sixties (King’s influences). How do you communicate education and horror? I think this cover communicates that, plus reflects the title.

Even though a better cover might involve content that indicates it’s a dark western, I just like this cover better. I like its mood and it emphasizes the goal of not only this book, but the entire series.

The Bachman Books, like The Long Walk or Roadwork, have a much more dismal hopeless viewpoint. This one is science fiction dystopia and it’s very unlike the movie. The book doesn’t have the underpinnings of science fiction. It’s more of a game-based reality show where you just try to survive in the real world without getting killed. Like a deadly game of tag. But there are no lasers or hovercameras involved. So I thought this cover best covered the “pursuit/escape” angle which is most of the book.

Different Seasons is a collection of four novellas, so now it’s even harder to decide on a cover. Each story covers more real estate, but still, do you focus on one story or provide an abstract image? The sun/moon compass most books provide is all right, but it makes it look like each story is about the weather. I like this better because it’s from one of the stories within (“The Body”), but it can also be like the four boys each represent a story. And the image of them going down a railroad while a crow watches provides intrigue. It’s better at representing the different moods of the stories within, which range from “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” to “Apt Pupil”.

Pet Sematary has lots of good covers. Most have a cat motif, which is lame and witchy if you don’t know why the cat is important. Makes you think “oh, this is Cujo, but with a cat.” But the book is actually about grief and death and accepting it as part of life. To go back on it is to go back on nature, and that screws up life’s programming and makes it crash because you messed with its assembly code. And that’s why a misspelled makeshift grave is the perfect cover.

I’ve always thought it was hard to make werewolves scary — they’re just big people-dogs. Not to mention culture has en-sexified them with the Omegaverse. (First they came for the vampires, and I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t a vampire.) But I think this is a decent cover for a novella.

This should be a simple idea, like Cujo or Carrie. All you need is an evil-looking car. And there were lots of those, but some weren’t evil enough, and some just made it uber-complicated. Yet out of them all, I chose this one. There’s something about the fifties diner chrome streaking upward that still communicates the glory days of the “classic muscle car”. And the skull indicates death. I’d love more stylized titles like this on books.

Eyes of the Dragon is a fantasy story and fantasy covers are some of the best. Or at least they can be. But there were slim pickings here. Probably most publishing houses didn’t know how to communicate that Stephen King wrote a book about princes and castles, not murderous lamps. And the fact that there really isn’t a dragon in the story makes it more difficult. Still, I thought this was both beautiful and symbolic of the story.

Most covers used the creepy-looking cymbal monkey. I do like images that combine childhood and fear. But this is a short story collection. The cymbal monkey just communicates one story (and not even a good one at that). A short story collection needs to communicate a certain tone. That’s why I like the idea of a Rorschach-style crow. A skeleton in a construction helmet digging a grave would also do, but I didn’t see that.

I gotta go with the classic cover for this one. Even though the actual sewer scene doesn’t involve a reptilian claw, it does a great job of illustrating the central theme of childhood fear. What is that monster in the sewers/under the stairs/in the closet. My mom had it and I would stare it just wondering what the contents of such a book could be.

The Drawing of the Three is where the Dark Tower saga really starts. It’s where Roland gets his gang. And I think the three doors best represent the story. The book is more of three vignettes that are character introductions/histories. It’s Stephen King’s realization that this is going to be an actual series of books.

This is where Stephen King starts getting silly and/or seeing how much he can get away with. This story is about a buried UFO that makes a town become mechanical geniuses, but also super paranoid. How do you make a cover for that without giving too much away? Most covers looked too cyberpunk, but this one I was satisfied with. Anything’s got to be better than a green slit with light coming out.

I had a tough time deciding on this one. Lots of good covers that illustrate the central theme and tap into the frights the book exudes. I came really close to picking the classic one of the shadow of the woman with the axe. But ultimately I chose this because the book is not about her. It’s about a writer being forced to write under threat, rather than for the joy. Kind of like Homer eating all the donuts in the world.

I hated all these covers. Stephen King wanted this book to be like his Lord of the Rings–a massive epic with lots of characters and a biblical showdown of good vs. evil. But you have to be an art nerd to understand most of the covers. At least this one doesn’t look like an art history book.

There are some real duds in here. The Langoliers, a secret garden, library policemen, a haunted camera. Honestly, one covers as good as another.

You just can’t beat a demon train

A random assortment of short stories from the late 80s and early 90s. Nothing really stood out in this collection, so I’ll go with the editor’s choice of a scarecrow walking down the street.

Often this is cited as one of King’s worst books, even from those who love all his weirdness. Most of them are a man on a park bench. It could be what the story’s about — an elderly man whose wife died early and now he’s just kinda stuck in a rut waiting to join her. It is about a guy who can’t sleep. So he stays up all night trying to keep from being bored. But the lack of sleep makes him able to see three little babies who are like grim reapers. Two are for “meant to be”s and the other is for “accidents”. Also this ties into the Dark Tower somehow. I just chose the scariest-looking cover.

This book takes place in, essentially, a single setting–a death row cell block during the Depression. And that’s a perfect cover for a book, because nothing better illustrates dread than that long walk toward an inevitable demise.

How do you get someone to read the fourth book in a series? If you haven’t hooked them from the first three, how do you market for that? At least this cover sort of indicates what the book’s about. Half of it is wrapping up the story from the previous book and the other half is a flashback to Roland’s history.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is a short novel with only a single character. A ten-year-old girl who gets lost in a forest. With the isolation and fear, she starts getting paranoid and delusional. That’s pretty much it. It’s more like a free verse tone poem than a story. But it’s easy to make a good cover that indicates the isolation and paranoia of being lost in a northeastern forest.

On Writing holds a special place in my heart, and it’s as close to an autobiography as we’re going to get. There’s something about the brightly lit window and the cellar door that speaks to me about the writing craft. In the book, King says that the first draft is written with the door closed and the second draft with the door opened. I like the metaphor of a house being like that. The upper floors are cheerful and lit, but there is always a dark underground doing the work.

This novel is just bullshit. Like someone took bits from Aliens, Apocalypse Now, The Shining, The Thing, The Tommyknockers. Like when you combine all your dinner in a blender. Great tastes that taste horrible together. This was the most attractive cover I could find.

The Dark Tower series was weird before, but now it just gets weirder, with doombots and a Seven Samurai plot. It’s unhinged because it’s metafiction. But at least this novel is one cohesive novel, not a set of novellas in the same book. This cover somewhat illustrates the “someone comes to town” plot.

I barely even remember what happens in this book. All I remember was that it was the shortest in the series and is more of a transition book between the previous and the final. There is no real central image or motif around this plot, but this cover illustrates a basic mood.

How do you make a cover for the end of an epic seven-book series like this? Seven books all just to get to a single foreboding place. A place that promises to unlock the key to a universe. For that, I think a simple dark tower should suffice. Of course, there are many interpretations of that tower. I think this one is the best.

Nothing beats a bloody cell phone lying in the street next to a coffee cup. So much to unpack–why did it happen, who is that person in the reflection? If it bleeds it leads.

I hate this novel with a passion. It’s a bunch of vomit on a page and goes nowhere. It might be the worst thing I’ve read of his that I made it all the way through (I stopped Dolores Claiborne because I couldn’t stand the chapterless style). It’s like King tried to write women’s fiction and it ended up all crumpled. Most covers are of a shovel, but I don’t even remember why. This one seems to illustrate a tone–blood and a feather.

I can’t see anything that works better as a cover than the newspaper from JFK’s assassination. That isn’t what the book is about, but it’s the central focus. The book is more about nostalgia because he has some time to kill before that assassination takes place. So he becomes a teacher, falls in love, its a nice little story. But the draw is the “what if”.

There really aren’t many covers to choose from besides this one. But it’s a good one. It’s a portal fantasy so why not illustrate that conceit. A boy and his dog descending down a staircase and you know they’re going into a strange world.

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at http://www.ericjuneaubooks.com where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.

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