On April 14, 2010, April wrote, On another topic, your aside about how a book cover can make or break a book really intrigues me. Do you have more to say on that topic that could be made into a post? I’d love to hear your opinions about it.
Warning: This post is a departure, not about writing at all, just covers.
Many of my book covers – Ella Enchanted, The Wish, the latest Dave at Night, Two Princesses of Bamarre, Fairest, Ever – were created through photographs. There was a photo shoot of the girl or, in the case of Two Princesses, girls. The artist works from the photograph and paints in the background, possibly also from photographs – I don’t know. In the last few years, my editor at HarperCollins has been emailing me photos of models, and I’ve had a say about which of a small selection of pretty girls will represent my book. Back to Two Princesses again: my editor sent me photographs and I chose an Addie and a Meryl and then neither model was available, and the artist used two different young women.
The hard cover of Dave at Night was illustrated by Loren Long. I love it so much that I bought the original art, which now hangs in my living room. The cover reminds me of the work of early twentieth century painter Thomas Hart Benton.
An interesting tidbit is that initially Loren Long showed a waiter balancing a bottle of some kind of alcohol on a tray. The people at HarperCollins felt that liquor wasn’t appropriate on a children’s book cover, so Loren Long replaced the bottle with a goblet and a glass.
A new artist was hired for the paperback. I like that cover too, and it’s effective because Dave takes center stage. It’s probably a more kid friendly cover, whereas the hard cover appeals to grown-ups. The logic may have been that adults buy hard cover books, but children may buy a paperback. Since then, HarperCollins has had a second paperback cover created.
Publishers commission new covers to breathe fresh life into a book that’s been out for a while. That’s why many of my books have more than one cover. A few years ago HarperCollins began putting what looks like a gold-leaf band across the top of my novels and the title in gold lettering. This is a form of branding. My books become identifiable at a glance.
Picture book covers are created by the illustrator, of course. I adore the covers of my Betsy Who Cried Wolf and the soon-to-be-released Betsy Red Hoodie. My Disney Fairies books are illustrated novels with illustrated covers, and the illustrator, David Christiana, is a master.
Lately I’ve been reading complaints by readers that the girl on the cover of this or that novel of mine doesn’t look like the girl I describe. In Ever, for example, I say Kezi has an olive nose, meaning it’s a little droopy and a little bulbous at the end. The artist may not have been able to find a pretty model with this kind of nose, or may not have looked. The chosen model is lovely and vaguely Mediterranean looking.
My complaint about Ella Enchanted is that every time there’s a new cover, Ella’s hair gets lighter. But I haven’t said so to my publisher. I wish the cover of Two Princesses of Bamarre showed the dragon Vollys more prominently, but the covers of both books are fine. Their purpose is to sell books. My books are – from a marketing standpoint – targeted to girls, eight and up. The covers show pretty young women, and potential readers presumably (on a subconscious level) want what these beauties seem to have. Ooh, this sounds crass!
Then, however, if the cover is successful, the girl reads the book and the story takes over. With luck, it’s a good book.
Take my novel Fairest. Aza, the Snow White character, is homely at the very least, except for a brief part of the story when she’s beautiful. If the cover art showed her when she was most unappealing, the book itself would likely have had little appeal. The cover is clever; she seems beautiful, but most of her face is behind a hand mirror.
I hate when a cover hurts a good book’s chances. It won’t be read if a child or parent doesn’t want to pick it up. The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw, which won a Newbery honor, started its life with an unattractive cover, in my opinion, which was then replaced by another bad one, although the third and latest cover looks excellent to me. I can’t say who’s to blame for the first two; they may have been just what the author wanted. I love The Moorchild, but it seems not to be well known, which I blame on the first two covers. You can see the newest one online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble and one of the early ones on Amazon and the other on Barnes & Noble. I think it’s interesting to look, and you may not agree with me. After you look I recommend that you read.
A strange cover fad swept through publishing a few years ago. Somebody got the idea that a cover should feature incomplete people. One of the covers for my novel The Wish was caught up in the craze, and this particular cover shows a quarter of the main character’s face. But the moon is very full and very big.
At the beginning of an author’s career she may have little say about cover art. I’m still not brought in on cover-art discussions, but on the few occasions when I’ve been very unhappy with a cover, HarperCollins has changed it. For example, the proposed cover of Writing Magic seemed wrong to me. I thought it made the book appear to be about magic spells rather than about writing. HarperCollins changed the cover, and now I think it’s perfect. Of course I had a reason for my opinion. I didn’t simply say I didn’t like it.
This is just a mini-prompt: Look at the kids’ books on your bookshelf. How do the covers affect you? Do they draw you in? Do you remember your reaction when you saw them for the first time? Look at new covers in bookstores. Do you see trends? What makes you want to pick up a book? If you can, find out the reaction of someone much older or much younger than you are. An eight-year old may respond differently than a sixteen-year old to the same book jacket. Have fun!