Saturday, August 15, 2009

Judging Books by Covers

Sometimes, let's face it, we judge a book by it's cover. You may not do it intentionally, but it's human nature to be drawn to something visually powerful. And if we're fair about it, the marketing departments are trying to package the book in a way that makes us want to buy it. But as we discovered in Kristen Painter's recent (and quite excellent) discussion of the cover for Liar, sometimes they fail.

The reality is that author's have very little-- if any-- say in covers. I once turned down a rather nice, unsolicited offer from an epublisher based upon this. I won't say who it was. They certainly make a great deal of money and have a good reputation. I just hate, hate, HATE their covers.

But I'm also guilty of the "pre-disappointment dream" of a magical, wonderful, glorious cover in my future. I love Mel's cover for Bite Me, and Rhonda's are so eye-catchingly bright, too!

Here are some books I loved for both what was on the outside, and on the inside. I've bought books with glorious covers that disappointed. These are a few favorites that didn't.

Terry Pratchett is my all-time favorite author. I love his young adult, his adult, everything he does. And his cover artist is Josh Kirby. You have to hunt around for some of the Kirby covers in the US, which pushes the generic, plain ones. I'll never understand that. The UK just has a superior sense of book aesthetics, I guess. This is the cover for Guards! Gaurds!, one of my favorites. There is so much going on in the illustration you could spend as much time looking at it as reading the text inside!

Melanie Rawn's Dragon Prince series is one of my favorite fantasy series. The Star Scroll, cover pictured here, was an absolute masterpiece by Michael Whalen, a legend in fantasy artwork. He captures a softness, fierceness, and strength all at the same time in his paintings. The colors are gorgeous, but the detail is even moreso.

Anne Bishop, another fave, has darker, more thoughtful covers. She's always been an auto-buy for me. I have every book she has ever written in both hardcover and paperback. But I stumbled upon her because I walked by the New Releases in the Sci Fi/Fantasy section and was arrested by... drumroll... one of the covers for her Black Jewel series. After grabbing it on impulse, I did what I usually do: I read the first few pages... only I had reached page 10 before realizing how long I'd been reading.

Yasmin Galenorn was another author I picked up strictly in response to her covers. I loved the dark, edgy look of them, and particularly liked her tough-looking, lovely ladies. I wanted to know these women, and reading their stories was the natural way to go about it. Picked her up, read two pages, picked up everything on the shelf that day. I've been a loyal fan of this series.

And of course, this is a YA blog. My absolute-favorite-cover-in-ages is Robin McKinley's Chalice cover. It uses the Pre-Raphaelite painting Miranda, by John William Waterhouse. Google him some time when you need to be inspired. I have prints of his work all over the place. Chalice features Miranda from the Tempest as its central image but only die-hard dorks like myself make the immediate connection. She is featured in a gorgeous circle of knotwork with bees at the four compass points. I think I bought this book just as much because of the cover as McKinley's name on it. It's a dream-cover for an author.

What are some of your favorite covers of all time?


  1. Oooh, I am now coveting Shadow Queen after seeing that amazing cover. I feel a Saturday afternoon bookstore excursion coming one!

  2. The most recent series I started because of the cover was the Melissa Marr series. I saw the cover of Ink Exchange and had to have that book.

  3. Mists of Avalon and the Sword of Shanara books. Loved those covers!

  4. Oooh I agree on Marr and the Mists of Avalon cover. There are so many. I wish more romance publishers were as smart as the YA folks and fantasy folks.

    I was also psyched to see Liar get a new cover, Kristin!

  5. Those are GORGEOUS covers. I agree--I find myself drawn to a lot of books because of how eyecatching the covers are. And I totally know better! LOL

  6. I buy most of my books online so sometimes I never even see the cover.