I admit it, I’m a cover snob. Which is especially funny considering that the majority of my reading resides firmly in the genre categories of fiction; not an area known for getting the best cover treatments. But my ventures into the wilds of non-fiction and literary fiction are often purely the result of great design and pretty, eye-catching colors calling to me from a shelf. In fact, I've developed die-hard publisher loyalties purely because I like the way their books look on my bookshelves at home. I mean, is it really so wrong to own every edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland because the covers are all so gorgeous?
It’s easy to love the good covers. It’s the bad covers that cause me problems. Or design changes. MY favorite series of all time1 went through a publisher change after the first four books, and while I will continue to purchase them, I’m always sad that the first four books are gorgeously designed trade paperbacks, the next four are meh looking mass markets and the rest are all reasonably well done hardcovers. In another instance, a favorite author has three series, each one progressively more poorly designed than the one before it. In fact, the newest one2 looks like something a first-time Photoshop user could achieve in a couple of hours.
I once worked a panel of four very well-known and well-loved supernatural romance authors. A question was posed about cover design, I believe in regards to how much control the authors had in the design process, and it led to one of the authors recounting a time when a design was submitted for her newest series. When her publisher asked for her feedback she informed them that it was a nice design but her protagonist wasn’t a redhead like the woman pictured on the cover, she was a brunette. The publisher’s response? Oh, they knew, but the redhead looked better and was more likely to sell copies.
One of my favorite books of 20143 recently came to paperback with a major cover design change. It’s gone from a graphic symbolic interpretation of a key element in the story to a very literal interpretation of the title. I know, as a bookseller and as an at least semi-intelligent human, that the choice was cooked up by a marketing department somewhere to boost sales. I also know, as a bookseller and as an avid reader, that they have actually narrowed their audience by doing so.
And don’t get me started on movie tie-in covers. Ugh.
You’re probably all eager to know that titles I’m talking about. Well I’m not going to tell you.* Call it protecting the innocent if you will. I’m not going to encourage judging a book by its cover. I’m just going to silently, or at full volume if you were to ask my long-suffering coworkers, seethe about poor design choices and keep praying to the various deities of publishing that it stops because I’m a cover snob.
*I originally wrote this post with the intention of it being published elsewhere, so I left it intentionally vague for professional reasons which do not extend to this blog, so here are the titles: