On Covers or The February Book Pick: The Widow Tree by Nicole Lundrigan

Lundrigan, The Widow TreeIt’s my birthday month! Woo hoo! I get to pick the book, no arguments! Predictably, I chose my book suggestion from the New Book October picks as I am just really intrigued by this book. And why am I intrigued? Well, first off, I was reading an article about how Lundrigan is one of Canada’s most overlooked fine writers. But, really, what sold the book for me was the cover.

We all do it. Don’t deny it. Don’t even try.

It’s not that I won’t read a book with a bad cover. I read a lot of high fantasy and YA, and the covers on some of those can be doozies. But, I’ll pick up a book that I know nothing about if it’s got a good cover. And it was way easier to sell a book with a good cover when I was in that business. I’m sure all readers are the same way – we can’t help it. And publishers go along with us, for the most part. They even keep similar looking cover trends in certain genres so we know how to recognize a genre we like (royal historical fiction has a picture of a woman in a period dress, fantasy has someone with a cloak on (often drawn, not photographed), YA romance has a quirky/sexy girl with wind in her hair.

goneBut, sometimes publishers are tricksy. We discussed this in the podcast on Kalla’s book. We probably would not have chosen that book if we had seen the hardcover, as it represented the light-ish historical romance that it was; we were tricked into thinking it was a deeper book because of the amazing cover on the trade paperback. There’s nothing wrong with romance, but neither Kirtles nor myself are big fans. Or, like when publishers decided to put the airbrushed teens on the covers of the YA series Gone by the always awesome Micheal Grant. Does the cover on the left make it seem as though these are kick ass books about a city that goes all Lord of the Flies which then gets ramped up when the kids begin to mutate from a complication at the nuclear power plant?

So, readers think covers are important, and publishers think covers are important.  Can someone tell my why so many Canadian books have dated/poorly designed/bad covers? And it’s not just Canada. I really notice when I go to the UK how much cooler the UK covers are than the North American ones – do they have better designers, better taste? What’s going on here?

arc_nobody_cries_at_bingo_coverAnd, because this is me, why do some of our new children’s books look like they are 1980’s cast offs? Yes, yes, I’m generalizing. But, do you know how hard it was to sell my airbornbeloved Nobody Cries at Bingo with this cover (2011)? How about the nothing-could-scream-80s-more first cover of the awesome Airborn by Kenneth Oppel (published in 2004). Thankfully, publishers have realized their error on the Oppel and it has come out recently with a much cooler cover.

plainkateThings are getting better and many books for Canadian youth are coming out with great covers, such as the beautifully written Plain Kate. The main thing that keeps me reeling in equal parts confusion and frustration is YA covers in general – there seem to be a lot of them with pictures of real teens on them, which dates them very quickly. I get confused by why publishers keep doing this as the biggest sellers in YA have all been designed covers, not photographs (Twilight, The Hunger Games,  Divergent etc).

With regards to adult Canadian books, I could actually see the e-spittle flying out of The Bookish Wanderer’s mouth as she wrote to us about the badness of the cover of Lisa Moore’s newest offering, Caught. Moore is a famous author and this book has been greatly lauded, and while I don’t find the cover all that terrible, it’s blah at the very least.  Could someone not have put a little more energy into this than a bikini clad babe in the surf? But, as with the kids’ books, Canadian covers are getting much better on the whole as well, such as the cover on our book pick for this month. The early part of this millennium was not that good to our books, but we seem to be picking up the pace.

Yes, this became a bit of rant. My apologies. But I think Canadian literature is worth ranting about, don’t you? I know cover design can’t be just down to publisher decisions, I’m sure politics comes into play as it does in any business, and I’m not sure if it stems from too much reliance on marketing research or too little. I also realize that I am dissing the hard work of some designers out there, but my feelings are a testament to how much I truly respect the words our writers are writing and that I only want the very best for them. I also want our designers to be held up to the highest standards, we are a nation of amazing artists and creators, are we not? I can’t help but rant about getting some higher standards in designing the faces of our national literary treasures.  As Avery Brown says after complaining about her food in a restaurant, “You can’t let people get away with shoddy service. It starts with overcooked meat and ends with President Quayle” (Murphy Brown, Season 1, Episode 15)

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