This week’s topic is based on covers, not the content of the book. I mean no disrespect to any artist or author. My topic post today is merely a lively “discussion” on the topic.
I remember browsing a book shelf at a bookstore as a kid, just scanning the covers, searching for something to catch my eyes. The key seems that the picture is visually stimulating and can easily be connected between the cover art and the subject matter. Last week I ran across four books that illustrated the issue:
As you can tell, they look exactly alike except for the author’s name and book title. In this example, all of the novels are by the same publisher, thus I assume that it is their call, rather than the authors. The first reason that comes to mind is cost cuts for the company.
But can we make any connection between the cover images and the content of the novels? All of this books, based on the cover and title, seem to imply that at least one of heroes is a nerd (see the book and glasses). Yet for any of these novels, there is little correlation to the story, other than that they are both male and one is probably nerdy. One answer could be that the cover is not that important to the publisher, rather a quick search for “keyword nerdy” to a picture and boom, there’s the cover.
This brings us to the topic at hand, if the publisher does not care to tie the cover to the story, should we care? Do we “judge a book by its cover?”
So, are covers even important any more?
When I was a kid, and read books such as To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone with the Wind, and Sense and Sensibility, on paper, there was always an artistic painting or illustration. With many of these older novels, the focus is on the title or a nondescript background. This could be due to printing costs of a photo rather than a plain background. Now, consumers desire increased amount of pictures and less concerned about title or author’s name. Sex sells.
When using an image, there is always the danger of multiple interpretations. As in art, what one person loves another hates. Thus, utilizing a cover with two near naked men, illustrates a simple meaning. The reader infers, “oh, this is a male/male romance.” Other than that general idea, the reader is left clueless. Is this a paranormal, fantasy, or historical romance?
There are covers out there that have images that instantly portray a scene. For example, we see a cover with a burning cross and men in white hoods and we instantly know what the topic of the book. The tone will most likely be solemn with a serious storyline. As a reader, you will have a visceral experience because of that image.
Now we only see the images of those hot studs, often not even the same physical description of the characters in the book. Which reminds me of those “bodice-rippers” in the 1980’s and ’90’s where “Fabio” is gracing the cover with a female draped over his arm. This is not a post about the author, but rather what happens after they hit send to the publisher.
What is a bad cover?
The first question might be what is considered “bad”? A bad cover to me would be something that does a disservice to the story. A bad cover could hint to a bad story or there could be no correlation. For example, in Beaten But Unconquered we see a horrific cover:
The person on the cover certainly does not appear appealing and quite frankly if I saw him on a dark street I would run the other way. To be fair, I have not read the book, so perhaps this is an accurate portrayal of the character. In fact, this book tops the Goodread’s “Worst Gay Book Covers.”
There is also the times where the content is amazing, but the cover doesn’t fit the book:
In Living Promises, Amy Lane writes a fantastic story, very emotional and very intense. But what bothers me is when I see the cover, they look like teenagers, but clearly neither of the characters are and the content is quite serious (HIV).
Does a copied cover or aspect of a cover make it “bad”?
I read quite a few books a week, and spending even more time reading Goodreads recommendations and forums, thus there are plenty of opportunities to find covers. What I have noticed recently are aspects of a cover being used on different books. Take these two covers for example:
While the background is different, it is the same male figure, simply the color altered. It appears that the images were bought from the same stock image provider and it is coincidence that they are pictured. In this case, they are not the same publishers, therefore it is not a case of what a publisher dictates.
Now, each book cover is fine on their own, but rather generic in purpose. For the self publishers, price is obviously an issue, so it makes sense to minimize the cost of the book cover. Overall, it does not convince me to put a book back, but it does not make want to buy the book.
What makes a cover a “good” cover?
The concept of good is purely subjective when dealing with art. We can talk about composition and technical reasons, but then again we can see modern artists who paint a square and get accolades. In these examples of “good covers”, note that this is just my opinion, your mileage may vary. I find I am attracted to covers that are drawn or illustrations rather than images. There are two types of covers that I find compelling: yaoi and symbolic images.
The ones that I like the best in the male/male are yaoi themed covers. Yaoi is translated as “boys love” and initially began in Japanese manga. The move to the male/male romance book cover is easy to make. One of my favorite series is the Heaven Sent series by Jet Mykes and the cover art is by P.L. Nunn. Here are just a few:
There is something about the androgynous of the figures that is fascinating and the bold colors and lines are stimulating.
And then there are those covers that make that connection between cover and the storyline. In Con Riley’s series of Seattle Stories the cover matches the story. We see Sean’s long red hair, which is always in a braid. The top is an image of the mountain, which represents Sean’s father’s place and where the majority of the story happens. I see the hand being Peter, symbolically holding Sean down, grounding him and rescuing him so to speak. The image is simple and evocative.
What is the quote? “The only constant is change?” As technology improves, so does access to images, lower cost of graphics, and increased demand. Thus, having a unique cover seems less important, and rather something that has “wide mass appeal” is the way to go. But I can’t help but still seek out books that are emotionally compelling that is tied to the story. There are some covers that are just so beautiful and well drawn I could purchase them and hang them on the way as art.
In the end, I suppose the cover really doesn’t matter, as long as we take the time to read the synopsis. But for those times when I do not know the author or the book, I will still be looking for the books covers that grab my attention and seem to whisper, “see what’s inside, it’s intriguing.”