Thursday, February 16, 2012

Passion Post: Cover Art

In my recent post about my "passions" I included art. I didn't say specifically cover art, but that is definitely part of my passion.

I am as guilty as anyone of "judging a book by its cover." But I have realized over the past few years that books with beautiful covers are not necessarily brilliant on the inside, and vice versa. Today, I want to give some examples of book covers I have loved and hated, that illustrate that lack of correspondence. You may or may not agree with me. I get that. It's all personal taste.

Well, mostly :P. Some art just simply sucks.


I'm going to start with the book that was the subject of my post on Monday. Harry Potter.
Yep, as much as I adore these books, I have never liked the covers. I don't like the style of painting, the nearly monochromatic color schemes, the lack of contrast in the images. I find them un-eye-catching. If I had not been told about these books with such enthusiasm by my next door neighbor, I may not have ever opened one.

Next, The Secret of the Rose by Sarah L. Thomson:

I. Love. This. Book.

I discovered it after reading another book by her, Dragon's Egg. It's cover was much cooler, but I honestly picked it up because of the title (hello, dragon!). I went back to the library to see what other books she'd written, and found The Secret of the Rose. Inside is a beautifully written story. Outside is, well, a very plain, ugly painting and a rose that is pasted in. Bleh.

But please, follow in my footsteps and bypass the cover art!

And the most recent offender--the one which prompted this whole post. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. 

I just finished reading this. The prose in this book is gorgeous. It's what I'd call a paranormal romance/urban fantasy. But the romance didn't get too squishy (except a couple spots) and the author's descriptive ability blew my mind. The story is very deep, with a unique and imaginative story world.

But I bypassed this book many times. The cover, to me, screams "Mardi Gras" and the mask looks pasted in. And once I got into the book, I just got angrier and angrier about the cover. The main character is a tattoo covered chick with peacock blue hair. She is raised by chimeara (creatures composed essentially of human and animal combined--think head of tiger, human torso, reptilian legs--you get the picture). Oh, and she's an artist, who draws these creatures all the time. My mind goes to a million places where this cover could use all of that, yet it is about as un-artistic and un-other-worldly as can be. Not the least bit representative of what is inside. There is actually a mask worn by the MC about three-fourths of the way through the book, but it is not just blue feathers, it is a bird face complete with beak.

Ugh. Seriously.

In preparation for this post, I did some searching to find other posts about the cover of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and did discover that there is a German version that is quite lovely and closer to what I'd imagine for this story. Although, I still would love to see something--even if just an element of the cover--drawn, because, hello, the MC is a freaking artist (as referenced about a bazillion times in the book).

Hm...okay...this post is getting longer than I expected. So, I'm gonna cut it here, for now, and pick it up next time. Tell me--shall I continue with more books I love with covers I hate, or go on to the other side of the coin and post some books I hate with covers I love?


imladrisnine said...

I tend to agree with you on the Potter books. I especially thought Deathly Hallows was odd and I kept waiting for the characters to have some sort of showdown in a coliseum, which never happened.

And as long as you eventually get to the great covers with bad innards you're alright ;) I don't want to jump the gun but I LOVED the homeland/exile/sojourn trilogy of R.A Salvatore's Forgotten Realms series, but thought the first run cover art was horrendous. Drzzit was downright creepy in a Khan meets the Frost Giants and possibly the hairdressers from 1970's Krypton sort of way. They've recently gone back through and had another artist redo all of the first 14 or maybe even 17 books to make them uniform (later covers weren't nearly so bad so correct me if I'm wrong in thinking they re did them all) and Drzzit has been brought much more inline with what the imagination sees in the text: a youthful, slight, sexy drow usually in mid-two bladed sword attack on some poor creature.

Kessie said...

The fourth Harry Potter book had a sweet dragon on the cover in Germany or somewhere. I remember looking at it and going, "Why didn't the US get cool art like this??"

Paintings and drawings are expensive. Clipart and touched up photos are cheap. You do the math. :-p

Unknown said...

The HP covers never struck me as bad. Not great, but not bad.

This is how I tend to use covers on the very few occasions I shop in an actual bookstore (which I find less and less convenient and almost never satisfying). First of all, the books are displayed by the SPINE, so the title has to appeal enough for me to want to pull the book out and LOOK at the cover. Who has time to pull every book off the shelf?

Then I use the cover mainly as a warning system. I don't try to decide if it's good or not. I just make sure no warning bells sound. Does it look "dark"? I dislike dark stories, so if the cover is "dark" I generally put the book back. Ditto if I see a woman in a chainmail bikini. I don't mind a nice-looking model in my car ads, but if the woman is practically undressed or set in a provacative pose, then I assume she is there to take attention OFF the car. My assumption on a cover: she is either the subject of the book (RALF) or she's there to draw your attention away from the real subject (which must be lame if they feel the need to lure you away from it, right?)

For the record, I don't like to see men shirtless either, unless there is very good reason. Baywatch gets a pass. Everyone else? Get some clothes on, you make me feel cold!

While they don't make me put the book back immediately, I do get a "yellow" flag in my head if I see a dragon, unicorn, or fairy on the cover. These, to me, shout "gimmick". I can understand for some, they act like magnets and make you more interested. There is something that works like that for me, it's just not dragons, unicorns, or fairies.

If you want to GUARANTEE I do more than just glance at a cover, put a submarine on the cover. Or a dolphin. Or just about anything related to the sea. This doesn't make me BUY it, it just makes me interested enough to turn the book over and read the synopsis. THAT is typically where an author has to prove him/herself. Which is really rather sad, since I know how impossible it is to simmer a novel into just a few paragraphs. I do typically open the book and read the first chapter before I buy, so that gives the author a better chance, but there are an awfully lot of chances BEFORE that point for me to just put the book back on the shelf.

Shopping online is so much easier and better in so many ways, and also a lot less dependent on book covers. I think this is a good thing. Too many great authors languish for lack of great covers while too many mediocre or downright bad authors are racking up sales figures that have nothing to do with their skill, but everything to do with the artist's. I know it will probably never happen, but I would be all for generic book covers like they use on Cliff Notes.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Eep, I posted a blog then got too busy all day to check for comments!

Imladrisnine, I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who isn't crazy about the HP covers! I've always felt a bit traitorous for holding that opinion. I'm not familiar with the other series you mentioned, but I'm glad when publishers do invest in improving cover art. And I think uniformity in a series is important.

Kessie, I know it's an investment in getting true artwork for a cover. And sometimes photos can be worked into something grand. But there are just some covers I think demand "real" artwork and to not include it is cheating :(. And a Harry Potter cover with a dragon? I'm gonna have to look that up...

"Unknown"--I agree on the spine/title thing. I am generally drawn to books based on title, and have at times realized I never even looked at the artwork. But since I've been more involved in actually creating cover art it's become more important to me. Although, this post is partly to illustrate why I *don't* judge books by their cover art when it comes down to it.

I will say I love dragons on covers, but it's because I love dragons. It is NOT a guaranteed sale though--not by any means.

I find the opposite though, about shopping online. I am more drawn to the cover image online. It's right there, with EVERY book. In a bookstore, I'll grab a book based on the title I see on the spine and turn right to the BACK to read the blurb. I guess that's another reason I'm more aware of them, too, as I mentioned above. Not just because I'm helping design them, but because I have seen more now that I shop for books online so much.

Caprice Hokstad said...

Unknown? Sheesh. Last time Blogger LOST my post, this time they can't figure out who I am even after I enter my password and prove I am not a robot? I wasn't trying to be anonymous. Blame it on Blogger. Surely you don't have two ocean-obsessed friends, do you? If you do, perhaps we should meet...

Kat Heckenbach said...

Hah! I had a feeling it was you, Caprice. Yes, the ocean obsession is what gave it away, but didn't want to be presumptive :P. Too funny. Blogger can be so weird.

Caprice Hokstad said...

Let me clarify what I mean about online sales being less dependent on covers. First of all, 97% of the time, I don't go to Amazon until I have already decided to buy a book. I very, very rarely "browse" for books and when I do, it is only after I use a bunch of search terms to narrow the field before I ever look at any of the covers. Many great covers never have a chance for me to see them. And that's just fine by me. Keyword tags and subgenre labels work MUCH better than covers in finding a book I will like.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Ah, yes. Point taken. I agree that on Amazon I'm not looking at covers that much, since, like you, once I'm there it's generally to look up a book I already know about. But I find books a lot on blogs and such, and seeing the covers *there* does make me notice them.

Plus, when I do go to Amazon to look up books I'm already interested in, it's not like the bookstore where I see the spine and flip to the back. The front cover is *right there* for every book.

Whether they influence me or not, I have to admit covers have been more "in my face" since the availability of online shopping and book reviews on blogs. But yes, you're right, online shopping is very different--no browsing.

imladrisnine said...

Totally an aside, but the cover for Becky Minor's Windrider compilation (the hard copy)was finalized tonight and it looks fantastic. Can't wait until she can unveil it!

Robynn Tolbert said...

I knew it was Caprice.

Kat, both these books are $10 for Kindle versions. Are you telling me they're worth $10 for Kindle versions? 'Cause if you are, I'll buy them.

And you should see the cover Iguana is cooking up for me. I'm so happy so far!

You'll probably hate it.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Imladrisnine--I'm SO looking forward to Becky's book coming out in print. I have the ebooks, and love them, but there is just something about print :).

Robynn--Read a sample of each of the books. I think you'd like The Secret of the Rose better than Daughter of Smoke and Bone. But I don't know--you have a tendency to surprise me :P. And I CAN'T WAIT to see your cover.