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Warning: Graphics-heavy post, many image links.

While I was hunting around for the next Saturday Book Discussion topic, calico_reaction provided me with one in her review of Mystery of the Tempest. Specifically, her comments on the cover:

Mystery of the Tempest

We're just hangin' at the pool after our Bible Studies meeting...

Apparently, Mystery of the Tempest is actually a gay YA romance novel. I am the most non-graphically designing non-graphic designer who should never design graphics, and I can tell that the graphic design for this cover sucks. calico_reaction is exactly right, it looks like it's targeted at grade schoolers. In Sunday school. Except someone thought a cute blonde hanging onto a bare-chested hunk would go well on the cover of a Bible Studies book for grade schoolers who want to read gay YA romance. Whoever designed this should have her Mac and her Photoshop license ritually burned and scattered in the ocean.

I totally judge books by their covers. That is, I will often make a decision to buy or not buy a book based on the cover.

Yes, yes, I know, authors have little to no control over the covers (often they don't even get to choose the book's title). And the cover usually has nothing to do with what's inside (sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes it's a terrible shame), let alone the quality of the writing. But I'm still a sucker for good marketing in the form of graphic design when it comes to books: if a cover catches my eye and makes me think "Hey, that looks pretty cool," I will at least check the book out. And for those who think covers don't matter, just remember that publishers have spent plenty of money studying what works and what doesn't and concluded differently.

This is especially an issue with ebooks. Gorgeous Michael Whelan covers that work well at catching the eye on a bookshelf do not work so well in an online bookstore where people are browsing a screen full of 115×115 pixel images. At that size, a painting of a fantasy landscape with dragons and horses and stuff becomes a smudge of color. So ebooks have to have covers that are sharp and eye-catching but not too crowded and still look good when reduced to postage stamp sizes.

The iconic Hunger Games covers are a good example. Simple graphic art, but an immediately identifiable style and imagery:

The Hunger Games

I hate Twilight as much as any other literate sapient, but let's face it, the cover is brilliant: simple, evocative, moody, and stylish.


There are also covers that immediately grab the target audience:

Something about a Highlander

Obviously for fans of extensively researched literary historical fiction with a particular interest in the political evolution of Great Britain.

I mean, let's face it, nobody really cares about the story in these books, but the cover tells you everything you need to know about what you're gonna get, and therefore serves its purpose.

What the hell is this book about? My first thought is that it's retelling Carrie as a YA romance. Obviously, I am not the target audience, but the visual imagery is strong and eye-catching.

Shatter Me

Bow before my prom dress, bitches!

Then there are those that just plain fail to appeal to anyone except a very narrow target audience. I have heard that Sarah Rees Brennan's Demon's Lexicon series is supposed to be pretty good and not at all like the squeeful Harry/Draco slashfic she used to write, but these covers are the reason why I, as a non-squeeing, non-slashfic-reading straight male, will never, ever read these books:

The Demon"s Lexicon

I don't care what you say about "bountiful thunder," Scott Westerfield, all I see is a pretty boy with soft kissable lips.

The Demon"s Covenant

Okay, seriously? You couldn't do better than a Photoshopped chick in a nightgown dancing in Photoshopped blue flames?

Many Editions

Books lucky enough to be printed (and reprinted, and reprinted) get a new cover each time, which means it can be fun sorting through different editions on Goodreads to see all the different covers that exist for a classic book.

One of my favorite books, Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, has had a ton of covers printed over the years. None of them really tell you much about the book (but then, no cover could).

The Crying of Lot 49 (covers)

The first edition of John Scalzi's Zoe's Tale is, let's face it, a boring, bland, generic sci-fi cover. Check out the first edition, below, and then the more recent one, and tell me which one actually looks interesting?

Zoe"s Tale (boring)Zoe"s Tale (not boring)

Covers around the world

Books printed in other countries get different covers. Presumably the local publisher has an idea of what sort of covers work for that country. You can see an extensive list of international Harry Potter covers here. I particularly like the Swedish and Danish ones.

Here are the US and German editions of John Scalzi's Fuzzy Nation:

Fuzzy NationDer Wilde Planet

The Crying of Lot 49 (Polish)

The Polish edition of The Crying of Lot 49. Still no clue.

And here you can find the top ten foreign Pride and Prejudice covers.

Bad covers! Bad!

No round-up of book covers could be complete without a sampling of really, really bad covers. Check the links below for some horrendous examples. (Warning: Some may require eye bleach after viewing!)

The best place to start (and by "best," of course I mean, "...if you want to get sucked into following link after link down an endless rabbit-hole") is always, of course, TVTropes: Contemptible Covers.

(And though it's for a roleplaying game, my vote for most contemptible cover ever is this. (Warning: What has been seen cannot be unseen!)

Finding bad SF and fantasy covers is kind of like shooting fish in a barrel, especially when you look at the psychedelic 60s, but Good Show Sir definitely deserves a bookmark for bringing the best of the worst.

Judge a Book By its Cover is a blog devoted to book cover snarking. (Unfortunately, she seems to have stopped updating.)

20 Bad Book Covers That Should Be Movies

Unfortunate Book Covers.

Mega-Bad Book Covers.

Good book covers.

And now to undo some of the damage, here are a few of my favorite book covers.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

The Windup Girl

God"s War

The Way of Kings

Poll #1796330 Book covers

Do book covers matter to you?

I don't pay attention to book covers at all
They don't affect me much unless the cover is so awful I'd be embarrassed to be seen with it in public
I have been known to buy (or avoid) a book because of its cover
Covers will make or break a book for me: if the cover doesn't appeal, I'm probably not going to read it

Previous Saturday Book Discussions.



( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 20th, 2011 12:56 am (UTC)
I nearly consistently pay attention to book covers. I rarely go take recommendations (and I don't buy books, just borrow them, so it's not much of an issue there); I usually walk along library shelves and look for interesting books - ones that seem to be about a certain time period/genre - I look for titles in the same way. Do I judge the book's contents by the cover? No. Do I wish other books had covers as gorgeous as Twilight and its ilk are? Yes.

...is http://www.mydigitallife.info/wp-content/uploads/mydigitallife.jpe an actual cover? And of what book?
Nov. 20th, 2011 12:57 am (UTC)
curses, my comment's been screened. Here it is, minus the URL:

I nearly consistently pay attention to book covers. I rarely go take recommendations (and I don't buy books, just borrow them, so it's not much of an issue there); I usually walk along library shelves and look for interesting books - ones that seem to be about a certain time period/genre - I look for titles in the same way. Do I judge the book's contents by the cover? No. Do I wish other books had covers as gorgeous as Twilight and its ilk are? Yes.

...is the first link of your good book covers "visit the orignal [sic] article" an actual cover? And of what book?
Nov. 20th, 2011 01:02 am (UTC)
Huh -- I could see it, but evidently it showed up to some people as a link. I replaced it with another ganked image.
Nov. 20th, 2011 01:03 am (UTC)
the polish Pychon cover is translated as 'going under the hammer' 0__o

also, the first of the last three, good covers is a book whose title i currently ca't remember but that i've wanted to read for ages pretty much because of the awesomeness off that cover...
Nov. 20th, 2011 01:10 am (UTC)
The cover is for The Windup Girl.

Oddly enough, "Going under the hammer" actually makes sense, but you'd have to read the book to find out why. (Just like you don't find out what "The Crying of Lot 49" actually refers to until the end.)
Nov. 20th, 2011 01:17 am (UTC)
I remember books I want to read by their covers, so if they don't appeal to me I might not consider reading it.
Nov. 20th, 2011 02:00 am (UTC)
If I'm at the library (or poking around goodreads/amazon) and don't have a specific book in mind, then I'm more likely pick up and glance through something if the cover art grabs me. I think the only time in recent memory I've brought something based on the cover alone was this book, where the illustrator clearly just read the title and decided to be as literal as possible. It wasn't as interesting as the cover art sadly, but seeing it on my shelf makes me smile.

On the other hand, if I see bad cover art, then I'm more likely to ignore a book because I tend to think that an effortless cover would match up to an effortlessly written book. I'd definitely pass by something that looks like The Demon's Covenant, as it looks really tacky, and it doesn't help that the title's kind of generic. Who was paid to come up with something made in fifteen minutes on photoshop, and why can't I have such an easy job?
Nov. 20th, 2011 02:42 am (UTC)
I collect books (read them too of course, but I plan on having a large library one day and I like pretty books, goddamn it), so covers are always relevant in the purchasing process.

I am pretty bad about it too, I prefer books from the same author to be similar (same size, soft cover/hard cover, edition, etc) and to be in good condition when I buy them (I buy a lot second hand, as books are expensive new in Australia). I HATE it when they change the book covers in the middle of a series, so they no longer match.

For example, when I buy a Terry Prachett books, I stay clear of the 'Adult editions' and run for the Josh Kirby art, cause it's perfect. But a lot of Fantasy novels covers make me cry.

Like, with the Dresden files, why in GODS NAME did they change the covers to these cliche monstrosities from these noir styled covers? I don't understand. Argh.
Nov. 20th, 2011 03:16 am (UTC)
I'm not particularly particular when it comes to book covers. I pick my books based more on title and synopsis than anything else. That's not to say I haven't been enticed by a particular book cover either. If it looks like it deals with some type of Dan Brownish adventure and/or ancient religious relics which I am typically a sucker for more than I care to admit then I may fall prey to the cover alone.

I think it also depends on the genre. I read a lot of crime fiction and the covers for them are generally pretty bland and generic. I think the only covers that generally stick out for me if not for anyone else are those for sci-fi and fantasy novels. Even then it's not an issue as much as the title and knowing what I'm going to be reading about. Yes Twilight has pretty covers but I'd sooner burn a copy of one than open it to read so much as a punctuation mark.

There are novels I have avoided by their covers alone as well but they are pretty much any novel with a shirtless man(usually with long hipster hair) hovering over a female in some generic Victoria's Secret garb. Or any novel whose cover includes a teenager with wispy hair and collagen induced lips.
Nov. 20th, 2011 03:21 am (UTC)
If I avoided books with bad covers, I would have read far fewer romance novels. ;) The clinch cover is thankfully way less common than it once was.

The closest I've come to avoiding a book, is seriously reconsidering borrowing a book from the library because it was done in really eye-searing shades of pink and green. I did borrow it, but I never quite got round to reading it. I'll probably try again someday, because it did sound interesting.

Every time I see a promising book with an ugly cover, I remember it could always be worse. My mother has mentioned, more than once, the cover of a mystery novel she ran across that contained a major spoiler.

I have picked up books to investigate them because I liked the cover, but I've never bought one just for the cover. I've also been annoyed when I bought a book, then found a different edition with a better cover.
Nov. 20th, 2011 03:42 am (UTC)
Voting? None of the above. A good cover can definitely catch my eye, but I won't buy based on it.
Nov. 20th, 2011 04:21 am (UTC)
I occasionally buy books based on their covers (I bought The Crying of Lot 49 because of the cover - I have the second on on the list up there). I usually only avoid covers if they're just pictures of the actors in the movie. Partially I don't want people judging me, mostly I think that pictures of actors are boring. And I always try to get editions without Oprah's Book Club stickers on them because I really dislike Oprah's Book Club and I don't want to be associated with it.

I don't really buy modern fantasy/sci-fi based on its cover, because it's almost always generic Hot People with dragons or lasers or whatever. They tend to all look the same. Sometimes I buy old pulp fiction because of the covers though.
Nov. 20th, 2011 05:18 am (UTC)
I think generally, if a book's cover doesn't match up with its premises in the inside flap/on the back cover, I put it down. I think it plays into my choice on some level, but it's not the absolute deal-breaker.

I don't know why, but I got excited when I saw the cover of my copy of The Crying of Lot 49 in the upper lefthand corner of that collage.

Also, the way the images were formatted in this post reminded me of Cracked articles. In a good way.
Nov. 20th, 2011 05:37 am (UTC)
I have been seduced by a beautiful cover especially for new authors and are less swayed once I know an author's work but have been known to wait or pay a little extra for a cover that appeals more.

One good expample is 'The Replacement' which had a US cover I liked with a baby carriage which reminded me of 'Rosemary's Baby' and a UK cover of a bloke looking pale and moody.


So I paid extra for the import over the lower priced UK one.

I also like to take part in Eurocrime blog's cover comparisions and it is a good way to see trends in covers for crime fiction between UK and USA.

I also think that whoever designed the 'Twilight' covers was inspired.
Nov. 20th, 2011 09:26 am (UTC)
Ah, covers. I once read the book Witch Child by Celia Rees and was hooked. So I went to the bookstore to buy the sequel Sorceress the moment I got the chance. Only to discover that my country's publishers had decided to aim for a young audience and had changed the covers from these:

To these:

I get that they thought the covers were too adult for a YA series, but why they chose covers that would make anyone past elementary school too embarrassed to touch them is beyond me. There's probably a much smaller chance now that a teen will pick up these books, even though they kept the "above 12" rating).
Nov. 20th, 2011 11:17 am (UTC)
I don't buy or not buy based solely on book covers, but I love owning pretty ones. Vintage Books always have great covers, simple but stylish. The cover for Dodie Smith's I Capture The Castle is perfect. Sarah Waters' novels have great covers. I love John Howe's covers (harking back to my childhood's edition of Lord of the Rings), and Gollancz's Fantasy Masterworks series, and and and.
Nov. 20th, 2011 11:30 am (UTC)
When I'm browsing in the local B&N I might pick up a book and leaf through it if the cover caught my eye. But it wouldn't be the deciding factor as to whether or not I bought it.

Also have you seen jimhines's lol books? Sadly he doesn't seem to do them anymore.
Nov. 20th, 2011 11:44 am (UTC)
Bow before my prom dress, bitches!

Mind-reading is a talent of yours, isn't it? XDDD
Nov. 20th, 2011 02:46 pm (UTC)
Yes, that made me chuckle as well ;)
Nov. 20th, 2011 11:51 am (UTC)
I can't answer that poll because the options are too strict. I certainly pay attention to covers and I've read books I wouldn't have otherwise because a striking or unusual cover caught my eye. But I would never buy or not buy a book solely based on the cover. And I've never been embarrassed to be seen in public with any book I'm willing to read, no matter what kind of cover it has.

Nov. 20th, 2011 12:57 pm (UTC)
I'm totally guilty of buying books because of covers. So far this hasn't bit me in the ass, but it could one day.
Nov. 20th, 2011 02:11 pm (UTC)
Sometimes I have wanted to buy a book whose story I've read and liked, but have waited a long time because I haven't found one with nice enough cover (for example, Stephen King's "The Shining").
Nov. 20th, 2011 02:49 pm (UTC)
You know, what I can't understand is how it's so easy these days to make a good picture - SO EASY - and yet it seems that especially when you publish through a small company, or an arts centre, or whatever, that the cover is going to be dismal. How hard can it be? I could do better than some of these covers I've seen, and that's saying something.

Dullest covers ever? Maths/Science textbooks. As if they needed to ensure you're bored even before you open the book.
Nov. 20th, 2011 08:04 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the shout-out! Head's up that Mystery of the Tempest is technically a gay YA mystery. Romance isn't the focus on the novel, though there is the gay romantic subplot. :)

Love your comments on the cover, btw. :) And fun post, besides!
Nov. 25th, 2011 07:04 am (UTC)
I enjoyed your post, and I found the links intriguing. I don't actually judge books by their covers, but i certainly am more likely to give an attractive cover a better spot on my bookshelves:)

Regarding The Demon's Lexicon one, I liked it. But I'm female, and that is a very pretty young man:)
( 25 comments — Leave a comment )

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