Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Candy's Semi-annual Cover Rant, May 2013 Edition

I've just seen the cover for Why Kings Confess, the next Sebastian book, and, well... Let's simply say that they're redoing it (which is really, really nice of them, by the way).

Why is it so hard to come up with a good cover? Part of the problem is that art departments are overworked; a handful people (who'd probably rather be doing something else) are tasked with dreaming up and executing hundreds of covers a year on a limited budget. Coming up with a good cover image must be difficult, because if you look at book covers, most of them are terrible. I know; I just spent all afternoon staring at so many I'm blearing-eyed, searching for inspiration. I've decided I had a lot of nerve to complain.

It isn't just about good design, although that's really important. Covers also need to be right for their genre in order to send the correct, subtle message to readers (I think some of the Sebastian covers fail here). But some covers rise above the rest to the level of pure genius. Take this one, for instance:

Not only is it striking graphically, but the image of a woman holding out an apple says something about temptation, sex, and danger that is instantly understood. Then there's this guy:

Terrible title and boring cover, but I guess once you're a phenomenon, neither really matters.

What drives me crazy is the cavalier attitude shown by many art departments toward historical accuracy. Consider this cover of Tracy Grant's latest book; gorgeous, eye catching, and totally wrong for her period, which is Paris 1815. But since it's so striking, I understand why they left it alone. (I once complained about a cover that was very historically inaccurate but other wise a good cover; what I got in its place made me want to weep.)

My friend Laura Joh Rowland consistently has some of the best covers I've seen. It's hard to pick a favorite, but here is one of them:

So, can you think of any book covers you've found especially striking and appealing? What works for you as a reader? What doesn't work?

UPDATE: Someone just sent me a link to a very interesting article where some very creative people have participated in a game of "flip that cover," where they took a well-known book and redesigned the cover to create a very different impression. See it at Huff Po here .


Katie said...

I'm more interested in the cover copy than the cover image, especially with contemporary romance and thrillers/mysteries. Because let's be honest, a lot of romance covers are just flat out bad. Really sick of shirtless male models and over-dramatic clinches.

Where the cover image is important, I've found, is with historicals. First, it signals to me that it is a historical, which is necessary if I'm just browsing the mystery or literary shelves. Scouring the whole mystery section for something set during the 1930s/1940s (that I haven't already read) would be really difficult without helpful art departments. Picked up something called The Devil's Wind by Richard Rayner recently (haven't had a chance to read it yet), and what initially caught my attention was the cover -

Liz Fenwick said...

I have been very lucky with my covers so far...they are different and striking. Neither one actually represents the house involved but I'm not sure it matters that much.

I think Choc Lit a small independent publisher of romance here in the UK & now in the US does brilliant covers. I wonder if they will change their covers for the US market???

I loved your early Sebastian covers.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm....I know it is the cover that makes me gravitate toward a book but I can't exactly put my finger on what it is. The ones that come to mind that I love are the Flavia de Luce ones by Alan Bradley and that is due to their vibrant colors in the background. Their spines look so pretty on the shelf. I also loved one of Deanna Raybourn's: Dark Road to Darjeeling. It had such lush rich color and a deep red colored flower next to a silk dress evoking mystery. Another favorite is by Ann Fortier, Juliet, again with the deep colored flower. One of my favorites of yours also had the deep, rich colors (When Maidens Mourn). I also like a lot of Stefanie Pintoff's. I know I hated Elly Griffith's covers for her Ruth Galloway series. I read them despite their covers because someone really wanted me to, but the last one looking at the roller coaster from below just made me seasick every time I looked at it. Sabena

cs harris said...

Katie, I think publishers must walk a fine line between conveying to readers that this is a romance/mystery/whatever, while coming up with something that still looks as if it'smeant to be taken seriously. That Rayner cover is very eye-catching and certainly does an excellent job of telling the potential reader the period. I've never read him before; I gather you like him?

Liz, your covers are perfect, I think. I find that in general I like British covers better than American ones, and they almost always change the covers when they cross the pond. Kate Atkinson is a good example of someone whose British covers are brilliant, while her American covers make you go, "Why?"

Sabena, Bradley's covers are very different, aren't they? Yet they work. I always thought Raybourn's Darjeeling cover was a sly adaption of the Twilight cover; she's someone whose publisher has been all over the place with her covers, obviously never feeling as if they've struck the right note. I had to look up Ann Fortier's cover; striking, but without all the signals given by the title "Juliet" I'm not sure if it would do a good job of conveying what sort of book it is. I also like Pintoff's covers; I actually saved some into a file I'm making for the next time we do this cover dance! I think Ruth Galloway's covers are awful; it's impossible to tell by looking at them what sort of stories they contain, despite the fact that the subject matter suggests all sorts of evocative images. And is that a roller coaster? I thought it was a wonky spiral stair banister!

paz said...

I never have liked people on covers, as I have said before. My favorite covers are intricate and evocative designs, perhaps because of my fondness for calligraphy. If they actually have images, I go for simple minimalist photographs or popart collage style.

For example, Mysterioso, by Arne Dahl, which has two covers that I like:

Karen Fossum's page on Amazon also has some covers I like. I do not like Louise Penny covers, however. Don't know why... but still buy her books.

I have just discovered Ruth Galloway just last month, and read all her books. But because I bought them all as e-books, I didn't even know their covers! I did like the roller coaster one, though.

cs harris said...

Paz, the Mysterioso covers are both very unusual. Karen Fossum's covers are so elegant and sophisticated; I wonder how well they work? Many of Louise Penny's strike me as feminine and dreamy; I don't think we'd see them on a man's book. And that's funny that you liked the roller coaster cover! I've had readers tell me they loved some of the Sebastian covers I loathed, so tastes really do vary.

Elaine Cohoon Miller said...

I think I mentioned during your last cover rant that it was the cover of When Gods Die that made me pick up that first book when you were unknown to me. Now, the cover doesn't matter so much - as long as your name is on it, I will buy it. But for new readers, covers are key. I like the covers for Chatles Finch's Lennox series and Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily series. They are consistent and evocative. Deanna Raybourn and Tracy Grant have had ups and downs. I liked the early covers of the Lady Julia books - English architecture instead of faceless buxom babes. In a different genre, I really disliked the covers of Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel books but can't remember now how I came to read that first book and become enthralled with the series. Of yours, WGD is still my favorite and What Remains is the one which still makes me cringe. Good luck with this one. Can't wait to see your name on it.

cs harris said...

Elaine, Chatles Finch's covers are very different, aren't they? They remind me of Bradley's Flavia de Luce series. And I like Tasha's, too; if Sebastian were female, I think the covers would be easier: historic scene + headless female and you're good to go. I had to look up Carey's books; since it's not a genre I read, I'm not familiar with their typical cover "look" so it's hard for me to judge. I will forever cringe at the Heaven cover, but I must admit, I've never cared for the Gods one, either. The nice thing about this new cover is that my name is at the TOP.

Anonymous said...

So after reading this post yesterday – I went home and scoured my bookshelves, etc. First I agree with Sabena–DR’s - Dark Road to Darjeeling (very Twilightish) is one of my favorites too. Along with these:
Kate Ross - The Devil in Music – although don’t like any of the others.
Anna Lee Huber – The Anatomist’s Wife
Tasha Alexander – Death in the Floating City
C.S. Harris – When Maidens Mourn (really it is)and Why Mermaids Sing - really again.
and a lot of Charles Todd. Anne Perry - The Silent Cry and Twisted Root and most of the Monk Series are good. I am sure I'm only repeating others. and this is more than anyone needs to know.

Elaine Cohoon Miller said...

With WGD! Ithink it was the colors, the blurry impressionistic image plus the great coat and Pavilion that made me pick it off the shelf and read the back copy. That hooked me. And once I began to read the book I knew I had found a writer who I would be buying no matter WHAT they out on the cover. Another old (and beloved) series with good covers: the Kate Fansler series by Amanda Cross/Carolyn Heilbrun, may she rest in peace.

Charles Gramlich said...

Laura has definitely been pretty lucky with some gorgeous covers. Some of yours have been pretty nice too, although I know you've had to fight for most of them.

Elaine P said...

One of my favorite recent covers was for We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen. I didn't read the book because the story really didn't interest me, but I loved that cover. I"ll chime in too about Deanna Raybourn. It was the combination of the original cover and the title of her first book that caught my eye, then I read the first couple of pages and I was hooked. I doubt that I would have picked up or even noticed the book with its newer cover. The same thing happened with your books, I saw Why Mermaids Sing and liked the title and cover and picked it up. I don't think that there is a certain type of cover that draws me in, but I know it when I see it!

cs harris said...

Ali, Do you know if that is the original Devil in Music cover? I know they redid some of them. It is wonderful. Huber's covers are in general good, I think; it helps to have a female protagonist and a more Victorian dress shape, I think--art departments seem to be able to handle that. Tasha's covers also benefit from that. Quite a few of Perry's are good, but they have changed them over the years, not always for the best. Todd's are good, too. Thanks for your input!

Elaine M, I do love the color of that cover. Perhaps my attitude toward it is influenced by what it looked like before they did some serious tweaking. I wasn't familiar with Amanda Cross and had to look her up.

Charles, Laura has been very fortunate. She also comes up with wonderful titles.

Elaine P, A very unusual cover and evocative title. And it is interesting how DR's publisher keeps changing the look of her books. They obviously don't think they're getting it right.

LOgalinOR said...

I also agree with Ali--Dark Road to Darjeeling, The Devil in Music, The Anatomist's Wife, all of Tasha Alexander's, and including Lucinda Brant's covers, are captivating and interesting. My favorite Sebastian cover would probably be Where Shadows Dance because I've gone back to look at it so many times (and still do), as the relationship between Hero and Sebastian progressed. I was able to formulate a mental image of Hero from the backside view of her. With the title and Sebastian's figure in the background, and the play of light (and shadows), it makes for an intriguing cover.
I also whole heartedly agree that once you find a favorite author, you will read all their books, regardless of the cover design.
Candace, wishing you all the best that you will be pleased with the cover of Why Kings Confess.

Anonymous said...

How fascinating!

You may be interested to read a piece on this very topic (talk about timing!) from The Guardian's website. Published today, it's titled 'The most incongruous book covers of all time':

cs harris said...

LOgalinOR, interesting, isn't it, how many cite the same covers. I had to look up Lucinda Brandt. Lets keep our fingers crossed for a good do-over!

Aon, I howled! Thank you for this. And did you follow the link to these:

Liz said...

I just love Louise Penny's covers. Don't know if they are the same in the U.S. I think not, given that some of her mysteries have different titles south of the border. At any rate, it would be hard to beat the ones we get to see here (kudos to the books too!)

Katie said...

Actually never read Rayner before. Chose that example because it's the last time I looked closer at a book because of the cover. Now that I think about it, I think What Angels Fear was another book where that happened. I really like that cover. Deanna Raybourn's new one, Spear of Summer Grass, has a beautiful cover. Think one of my favorites is Jennifer Crusie's Maybe This Time.

Contemporary mystery/thriller covers don't make much of an impression on me, good or bad. And since they're in the mystery section, I have a pretty good idea what I'm getting, so it doesn't bother me. I enjoy the JD Robb covers a lot of the time. You can look at the images after you read it and see their significance to the plot. Historical romance covers often seem very over the top, although that's usually in used bookstores. I think it's getting better.

cs harris said...

Katie, I'm hoping all the media attention this past week will help nudge things along.

vp said...

I've always liked Lauren Willig's Carnation series and Susanna Kearsley's covers. They are pretty and tasteful and have some sort of relationship to the book.

I loved the Kate Ross covers and yes, I'm pretty sure, that the classic covers were on the first editions. Kate's covers are probably the only time I can think of when I preferred the US covers to the British. I have both and the British are not very attractive and really have little or no relationship to the books.

Interesting article in the Guardian recently on truly terrible cover updates on classic books: