Monday, April 12, 2010

What makes a bad cover?

For the next week, I'll be running a series of posts on book covers. What makes a good cover? A bad cover? And what are your favorite covers? Please take a moment to submit a favorite cover (or three!) for next week's gallery of favorites.

1. Yuck.

If a good cover makes you stop in your tracks long enough to pick up a book, a bad cover is one that you don't want to touch, let alone be seen reading.

A lot of people have raved about the US cover of Melissa de la Cruz's BLUE BLOODS. I can see why. However, I have a complete, visceral, can't-stand-to-look-at-it reaction. I'm not big into vampire books to begin with, but I truly believe the only way I could read this book would be if I wrapped a new cover around it and never again looked at the original cover. Needless to say, that doesn't rank it high on my to-read list, no matter how good it might be.

Everyone, but especially teenagers, can be quite sensitive about what books they are seen carrying around. I think there's a fine line between a sexually teasing cover and a sexually explicit cover. For instance, I recently read Jennifer Echols' GOING TOO FAR. I think the cover's pretty sexy. Would I have carried it around as a teenager? Perhaps not.

I'm sure you can think of plenty more covers that go way too far sexually, romance novels being prime contenders. Dodai at Jezebel blogs on this trend. Apparently the romance industry refers to cover groping as "the clinch."

Some covers aren't gross or too sexual, they're just dull, they don't have the wow factor to make someone want to pick them up. The Booksmugglers have a great blog post about cliche covers. On the one hand, cliches can inform a reader about subject and genre. Swords, cloaks, glowy magic: looks like a fantasy to me. On the other hand, Aidan Moher at A Dribble of Ink blog wisely asks, "Why are clich├ęs shunned in the text of novels, but often embraced on the cover? Should publishers look for the same originality in their art departments that they seek in their authors?"

2. Can't even provide basic information: title and author

This should seem common sense, but with all the book cover tricks of fonts, holograms and foil, sometimes the title and author can be lost. Kristin Nelson at Pub Rants writes about author Brenda Novak's THE PERFECT COUPLE. Here's the jpg of the cover.
Here's what Brenda discovered when she actually received the published book in the mail (as compared to one of her previous books):

As Brenda Novak explains, "the turquoise foil is so dark there isn’t enough contrast against the black background. Held in the right light, it glimmers and shines and shows up just fine. But place it straight in front of you, and you can’t read “New York Times Bestselling Author” (which is a bit ironic, isn’t it?), my name (even though it’s in a huge font—which would also be exciting if you could see it), or part of the cleverly done title (the “Perfect” part, which is also ironic, since it is anything but perfect)."

3. Misleading information about the targeted age range, genre, subject matter or style.

OK, most of us will admit, we buy books based on partially on covers. So what happens when the covers are inaccurate representations of the books?

Author Keren David blogs about living in Amsterdam, with limited access to English-language books, and mistakenly buying a Jacqueline Wilson book which was too old for her daughter: "All of her books look as though they’re aimed at the same 8-12 audience, but some are not... the branding of her books, the bright colours, the Nick Sharrett illustrations, can fail to sufficiently differentiate between the books for younger and older children."

What about this cover?

If you didn't know Dean Koontz, would you expect thriller/horror? Eric at Pimp My Novel writes: "I, for one, would immediately mentally classify it as contemporary romance and never give it a second look, since that's not a genre that interests me."

4. Not just misleading... offensive.

The US cover of Justine Larbalestier's LIAR sparked a huge outcry. As Justine writes, "Micah is black with nappy hair which she wears natural and short. As you can see that description does not match the US cover." Here's an example of the original, offensive cover and the revised cover:

This has been referred to as whitewashing, and unfortunately several other examples have come to light recently. Larbalestier's post prompted a passionate industry-wise discussion about who reads, why people read, and whether white people buy books with people of color on the cover. For further information on this topic, The Booksmugglers have an excellent round-up. Please also read Ari of Reading in Color's impassioned open letter to Bloomsbury.

Have I missed anything? What do you think makes a bad cover?


  1. I imagine that it's disheartening for an author to work so hard on a novel and then receive a poor cover that doesn't match the content or isn't original.

  2. That is so frustrating, isn't it? It does seem that a lot of bad covers get reissued, though. I guess the upside is that publishers want people to like the cover, too!


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