There’s a very small window to capture a reader’s attention and as much as we hate to say it, covers play a giant role. If you don’t grab them with the cover, they’re probably not going to check out the blurb, which inevitably means that they’re probably not going to buy the book. Unless you’ve developed some great word of mouth, you need to have something that gets a person to pick a book up off the shelf. Modern covers have become so static; it’s hard to tell one from the other. Young Adult books have been bogged down in ‘pretty lady’ syndrome for far longer than appropriate. Whether it’s a good looking teen or the decapitated version of the same idea, it’s about the girls. This is especially true in romancey type stories.
It works, to a point, but it does terrible things for the representation of women. Typically, we’re girls, writing about girls, for girls. Let’s try not to objectify ourselves. There are enough people doing that for us. But Stacked has written an amazing article on that topic. I recommend you read it. I want to talk about how deceptive book covers have become. From a few of the successful authors I’ve spoken to, sometimes their input into the cover art is minimal. Occasionally, it even impacts the book content. If I’m remembering the story correctly, the necklace on the cover of Kelly Armstrong’s Darkest Powers Trilogy wasn’t even in the book. She had to add it to make the cover make sense. I might be remembering this story wrong, but it’s what’s in my memory.
But the positive part of that story is that the cover ended up represented in the content of the book. The artwork should give you an idea of the story you’re about to encounter. If the cover has someone walking through a misty field, there better damn well be a misty field in the book. If it’s a sexy time cover, it should have some sexy time content. You know what I mean. When I was a teen and I stumbled across Flowers in the Attic (yes, I’m pulling from the V.C. Andrews well, she’s a wealth of content ideas), I knew from the cover
that this was not going to be a happy story. Things were going to be dark. They were going to be off putting. It was going to be awesome. These covers held up for a good long while. For at least a couple decades, you knew that if you were getting an Andrews’ book, you were getting a tiny part of the picture on the cover and more characters once you opened it. Even the 90s release followed the same format.
It worked. But all good things eventually become tacky and the covers started to change. There are far too many to display, but these are the ones that start us down this awful rabbit hole.
Then there were three covers were released in 2011. There’s a more stylized cover.
It still gives the reader a pretty good idea that there’s something sinister going on and this house is a major part of what’s going on.
Then we go back to the girl format with the girl from the back. What’s this cover telling us about the book? Could be anything. Could be that a blonde girl spends a lot of time outside in a flower garden. But it’s black and white with pops of red, so your seasoned reader will recognize that all may not be what it seems.
And then we get the worst – the WORST – cover adaptation. A young, attractive girl staring canoodling with an equally attractive young boy. They’re bathed in sunlight. They’re outside. There’s an image of a grand house in the background. It looks warm and inviting. It could be about fucking tennis.
Do you look at this book cover and think hey, this book includes horrible abuse, a terrible mother, incest, and death by poisoning? Nope. That is not what this cover image sells. It makes me livid. Why are you lying to the reader, publishing company? Why do you think young adults are too sensitive to handle a cover that gives them the truth? You want them to read the book, right?
It’s time for a complete overthrow of the cover art industry. Can we go back to illustrators please? Back to books with character? Or forward to something entirely different? Who’s with me?