Never judge a book by its cover. That’s what they say, but we all know that it is total BS. We all judge a book by its cover. There are thousands of books published everyday, we don’t have the time to peek on the inside and read the first chapter of every book on the shelf. We want some indication that the publisher or the author thought enough of the words inside to put a little time and creativity into the cover to entice me, the reader. And that’s exactly what a book cover is, an enticement. It’s advertising. Not everyone is going to read Publisher’s Weekly for the next big thing. People want something easy. Tell me the most about this book in the least amount of time and with the least amount of my own effort. The book cover can communicate so much about the book in just one look that I’ve seen books chosen by my students without even looking at the synopsis. That’s right, they don’t even crack the spine until they get home because it “looked good”.
Publishers know this because they pay good money to be put on display in bookstores and there’s lots of fanfare around book reveals on Instagram and Twitter, but even with all that common sense floating around there are still missteps. But I’ll get to those later. Here are my favorites for 2016.
Wink, Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke
Now this is a truly beautiful cover. If you have the hardcover you’ll notice that the flowers are raised from the cover and ripple under your fingers. It’s ethereal and whimsical and totally matches the kind of twisted fairy tale that is inside. My only problem with this book was that the synopsis inside was just four or five sentences, maybe 30 words total. It was too little information. I don’t want that much intrigue. Just tell me what it’s about.
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova This book is about a girl, a bruja (witch), who banishes her entire family to another real on her birthday (or as it’s called in the book, her Deathday). What better way to illustrate that than with a girl in sugar skull makeup. We imagine communication with the dead or other realms and that is the perfect match up for the story.
Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter I didn’t get a chance to read this one, but I’ve heard good things, even if it did’t interest me. The point is I could put this on my counter and someone would look inside. More than one someone. The story is about a girl in Brooklyn whose life parallels with the beautiuful people in penthouses. She lives with her bickering stepsisters and magic and intrigue befall her one night when she’s sent on an errand. It’s whimsical and the swan reflected on the water against the city skyline tells me a bit about what to expect inside. I love the red against the black and white so it really makes the font pop. It’s eye catching.
And the Trees Crept In by Dawn Kurtagich This is a horror story. I don’t really read horror, because I scare easily and this did exactly that. The title fits, because it is creepy in the highest degree. It’s kind of a pyschological thriller because you’re not sure if you’re in the present day or lost in the characters’ madness. In any case she’s alone in a mansion with her sister and she thinks that the forest outside is getting closer and closer. Spoiler alert: It is.
The girl depicted on the front is falling into the forest and I read it as falling into madness too. It’s a great illustration of the story. There’s also the play of moonlight in the coloring of the font and the backlighting of the girl. It’s all done very well.
The Blazing Star by Imani Josey There was a hashtag a few months ago, #blackgirlsonbookcovers and this one was tweeted over and over, and for good reason. Give me a beautiful girl, give me landscape and architecture, sparkle and glitter. The story is about a girl who touches an ancient egyptian artifact and adventure ensues. Can’t you read that from the cover, and the cover is all about the girl. I know that I’ll be traveling with this beautiful girl. I get to be her and I want to be here when I look at this cover. And there’s glitter. Boom!
Now that we’ve discussed the hits, here are the misses. If you didn’t already know an author has very little control over their book cover and/or title when they sign with a publisher. Now, I’m not sure why that is, but in some cases it is a tragedy. Case in point:
Peas and Carrots by Tanita S. Davis This book is about a young girl who, after years of bouncing around in foster care, comes to live with the family that her little brother has been placed in. The family has a daughter her age and tension ensues as they try to become a family. Now, with that synopsis and with a first glance at the cover what would you assume? Well, of course, the black girl is moving in with the white girl’s family. NOPE! I guess they thought they’d be cute and trick the reader and teach them something about stereotypes, but here’s the rub. What reader were you hoping to attract? Is it the suburban girls who need to be taught a lesson about the other side of the tracks? Is it the girls in foster care who need a mirror book to identify with? I would not be able to sell this book to either with this cover. It looks too much like an after school special. It looks like homework and the title is even worse. It’s cliche and twee and bleck! The font looks like the beginning of a children’s book. I had to wonder if the author was being sabotaged.
And another thing, if you’re going to use real models, try to get them to look like the actual characters. The MC is a short, black girl with a weight problem. The other is a curvy white girl with a hand for makeup.
Dance of the Banished by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch This a historical fiction book about the Armenian internment in Canada. Now, I’m sure you know absolutely nothing about that part of history, but the love story that is detailed in the book is quite good. If you’re into historical fiction I’d definitely recommend it. The problem is that the cover is atrocious. What is this, an oil painting? Are they doing a traditional dance? I’m having to work to interpret the art on the cover and remember what I said about minimal effort on the reader’s part. I can’t give this book away and it’s a shame because it really is a good book. When in doubt go with a bold font and be done. I think a lot of missteps can be avoided with good font work.
So, what were your favorites?