Friday, August 21, 2009

Misleading Book Covers

Recently there was a hot controversy about the cover of Justine Larbalestier’s new release, Liar, because the image of the person on the cover didn’t match the way the viewpoint character was described in the book.
Her U.S. publisher, Bloomsbury, ended up changing the cover, delaying the release of the book.
How important are book covers to the success of a book?
I would say, very important, for teen books especially. When I speak at schools and libraries, I talk about the process of cover selection and design and show various versions of my book covers. When I ask teens, “Do you judge a book by the cover?” the answer is um, yes.
Watch a teen browsing in a bookstore some time. The book cover is what persuades—or dissuades—a teen to pick it up. Then they’ll look at the flap copy, maybe read the first page, and flip through to see how dense it is.
Because covers are very important at the point of sale, this has sometimes lead to misleading covers. For example, you don’t want a cover that says “pompous, boring and wordy” or “totally incoherent” even if the book inside matches that description.
Have you ever felt betrayed by a book that doesn’t keep the promise that the cover made? Here’s a possible example. BTW, this book was not written by Dan Brown.

John Green makes a strong argument that misleading covers are a bad long-term sales strategy. The idea is not just to sell to the largest audience, but to sell to the right audience that will like the book and sell it through word of mouth.
The Demon King is out in the Netherlands. The Dutch cover is very cool—but it doesn’t really match the book.

The book contains no dragons, no sailing ships, no cool wizard staff like this. The cover does promise fantasy. Oh, yeah—the title is different, too. The Dutch title means, “Black Magic.” I’ve been getting fan mail from the Netherlands, and nobody’s complained about it, though somebody did write and ask why the title is “Black Magic” in the Netherlands, and “The Demon King” in the U.S. Answer: I don’t know.
Next post: more on covers


smaileh said...

The Netherlands cover looks like it would be more appropriate on Wizard Heir--which is what I thought it was before I read your accompanying text. Personally, I don't pay too much attention to covers now, but I do remember when I was younger becoming angry when a character on the cover was blonde but the book described her as a brunette--it felt like a betrayal. (I still remember a paperback copy of a Victoria Holt novel that did that to me.)

Sandy Lender said...

I heard a horror story of a cover where the heroine was depicted with a third arm (oops). That's just sloppy work, in my opinion.

When you get into elements that don't match up to what's in the book, it's not necessarily a matter of misleading potential readers, but folks in the art/PR departments that haven't read the book making marketing decisions. I spoke with an author who had a great, eye-catching cover on a mystery novel...cover had a lighthouse in the dim light of evening on a rocky coastline. She explained that her novel didn't take place on a coastline. She had no say in the matter. So she ended up with a cool cover, representative of a mystery, but not representative of the story. I'm not sure how I feel about that. As an author myself, I'd be pleased that the cover catches attention, but, on the other hand...who's book is it meant for?

Sandy Lender
"Some days, you just want the dragon to win."

Sandy Lender said...

I stopped in this evening to say "hello" and tell you I'm looking forward to meeting you at Context this weekend. I'm gathering info for good questions to ask you during the Writing Fantasy panel Friday night. ;)
Sandy Lender
"Some days, you just want the dragon to win."