Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Why Covers Work

Being a writer for YA, I thought I would feature a few of my favourite YA covers, and the reasons why they work.

Uglies Series by Scott Westerfeld

I'll admit I much prefer the UK covers for this series (though they've been redesigned now, something I wasn't happy about). The first thing that drew me to these books was the covers. I'd never heard anything about Scott Westerfeld or the Uglies series before, but it was the controversial covers that drew me to the books. This series prompted me to become an avid follower of Westerfeld.

Nobody can deny that these covers make a statement. Broken Barbies in the surgical bowl. The image itself is simplistic, but instantly it grabs you. In a way, this is pretty macabre, with the unattached limbs in a bowl. But it's the doll plastic that makes it less of a horrifying image, and more of a thought-provoking one. It draws the audience in, and if you know the book, it's a pretty well thought representation. The rest of the covers for this series were fantastic as well, each one not only making a statement about the book itself but intriguing the audience. It's just one example of how a cover can gain readers, and even a future fan.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Again, another book where I personally prefer the UK covers. This cover is absolutely beautiful. I love everything about it; the colour scheme, the tree branches, the falling leaves and title font. The cover is very aesthetically pleasing, and definitely appeals to its target audience. I would be ecstatic if I published a book with a cover anywhere near as gorgeous as this. Like the Uglies series, the image actually tells us about the book. The forest setting is relevant, as most of the drama and action in the book revolves around the woods, and the dripping blood used in the font tells us there's an aspect of danger in the book, which are the wolves in Mercy Falls. Its sequel Linger is equally fantastic, and I think the Scholastic cover and art department did an amazing job on this.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

This cover tells us a lot about the book itself. Teenagers in parts, ready to be assembled. Because it’s such a recognisable image of an assembly pack, Shusterman is allowed to draw the reader into the horror of the book without the cover doing all the work, but still being incorporated into this. The colour scheme is pretty good as well, the white on metallic blue is very striking, and visually pleasing. Another small detail to note is that the art department have paid attention to the book itself. On the cover, one girl and two boy’s heads are displayed. Unwind revolves around the journey of one girl called Risa, and two boys called Connor and Levi.

This is actually a very rare thing in the publishing industry. It’s common for a cover to be completely irrelevant or inaccurate, even going as far as whitewashing characters. Take what happened to Liar by Justine Larbalestier. Her character was not Caucasian. This was clearly described in the books, yet her publishers used a white model for the first cover of Liar. Due to the controversy and backlash, they were forced to change this to a more accurate representation. But it just shows how far publishers will misrepresent books in covers to sell.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

It's such a simple design, but I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it. The parchment paper tells us that the story itself is old. The image tells us about the main character Lisiel, and that she is a teenage girl. It also shows her main struggle through-out the book - she is dancing with death. It's the contrast between the two images, the pretty girl and the disturbing skeleton, that tells the reader there is something more to this book, and that in itself gets the reader to reading. And at the end of the day, isn't that one of main functions of a cover?

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Many people would argue with this and say that the cover was boring, irrelevant to the book, and plain. But what many people don't want to see is how iconic this image is. With the massive rise in popularity of the Twilight Saga, there are not many people now who could see the image of the apple in the hands and not know what it was referring to. This single cover has been copied by so many other books, replicated to try and attract the same audience.

I was angry to see Graceling by Kristin Cashore had a cover design which replicated the font and black background of Twilight. The cover quote advertises the book as '[Cashore] will slake the thirst of Twilight fans'. I can say right now that Graceling is nothing like Twilight. At all. The fact that it has been pigeonholed into something it’s not to try and gain readers honestly horrifies me. But do you know why? Because that cover image sells. Twilight sells. So while it may be degrading to incredible writers like Kristin Cashore, you can't argue that the cover art for Twilight has become something iconic and recognisable, a statement even. That's why it works.

The main points mentioned here are:
- Relevant
- Controversial
- Makes a statement
- Draws the reader in

That is what makes a good cover. Another thing that is interesting to note is that all those books are popular. While you may not have heard of some of them, all the books featured do have a big fan base. So maybe there is a link between how far an art department will work to make an effective cover, and the potential of the book. Publishers want to make their book sell, and good covers can do this, so it might not be so coincidental. It's still interesting to consider though :)

*Sorry about the size of some of the pictures, I couldn't get them smaller.

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