A picture is worth a thousand words–and I freely admit choosing my books (at least in part) by their covers. Some publishers’ services like
NetGalley even ask members to give book covers a thumbs up … or down. I’m drawn to book covers that don’t illustrate the book’s plot, but rather paint an impressionistic portrait of the book. So, for instance, the cover of Chris B Midwives’ shows a distant farm veiled in a blizzard–not a laboring momma or midwife in sight, nor any hint of the tragedy that the blizzard causes. And Iain Pears’ Stone’s Fall is all shadowed silhouette of a woman, without a mention that the story is about a the rise and fall of a wealthy businessman. But in the case of both of these titles, the jacket copy was straightforward.
But what I find intriguing? maddening? is a cover that provides a beautiful visual impression, but still leaves the reader clueless after reading the book’s blurb. The Girls by Lori Lansens is a perfect example. The cover is sweet: four feminine feet dangling from a dock into a pond covered in water lillies. The back description tells us the book is about “Rose and Ruby, sisters destined to live inseparably but blessed with distinct sensibilities that enrich and complicate their shared experiences …” and that readers will “find it hard to resist falling under [the girls’] spell.” So maybe a coming-of-age story about sisters growing up in rural America, right?
Except I also happened to know when I ordered the book that those girls were conjoined twins because I heard this review on NPR way back in 2006. I wonder still why the publisher wouldn’t at least allude to the girls’ condition on the book–either with cover art or back copy. And while the book isn’t in any way titillating, it is provocative. We come to admire Ruby and Rose’s spunk, but we also get a glimpse of their sex life and their death. It’s not for the faint of heart, and I wonder how many readers picked the book up … only to put it down after a hundred pages.
Cover art and story blurb are an odd couple–in order to entice readers into the book, their marriage must be balanced and nuanced, as well as forthright.
Just like all good marriages.
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10 thoughts on “A Good Marriage”
I, too, love covers which are subtle and don’t bash me over the head with the content of the book. Your “Midwives” example is wonderful. And I really enjoyed a Ted talk by a famous cover designer, who recommended the less obvious approach – he showed a title called (I think) “Dry” in which the words were dripping wet.
In my genre, however, I fear sometimes readers want something a bit more… straightforward. But there are so many romance covers which feature a beefy guy (and possibly a woman in his arms), I wonder how readers can possibly distinguish between them. So for now, I’m sticking with my philosophy that women’s fiction can draw broader inspiration.
And I do agree with you: for The Girls, the reader should be given more context. The blurb, after all, forms part of the reader promise and vagueness can surely lead to disappointment.
I’d love to know the TED talk you watched, Pauline. And, yes–romance writers are probably pigeon-holed with their cover art, don’t you think?
I also love covers and have to say that they influence my choice of books – if I’m hesitating between two books after reading their blurbs, I have to admit that I end up choosing the one with the cover that inspires or attracts me the most.
Me, too–I find that the cover art is so influential. I’ll bypass books with a “meh” if the cover isn’t compelling.
Wow. What a stunning example of the disconnect between book cover, jacket, and story. I am so intrigued by Lori Lansen’s GIRL – because of the conjoined twins storyline. I think if the cover alluded to that – it would grab my attention. Although, her current cover is beautiful…
Okay, so. After some thought – this is what I’d do: New jacket copy.
It is a lovely cover, Julie–just no hint of the situation, which is confusing.
I wonder why Lori Lansens chose that particular cover for her book GIRLS? It is so misleading and I am not sure how I would feel buying the book only to find out the true subject matter. I think the book jacket should let the reader know what is coming inside – not the entire plot – but a truthful teaser of sorts to grab interest. I buy most of my ‘new’ books on Amazon – so when the cover grabs me I can peek inside and read reviews. When I buy books in a shop, it is usually an independent shop that sells some new, but mostly used. I can spend hours going through the different categories, looking at covers, reading the back material. You have to dig more there but it is like a treasure hunt. Love the examples you gave in this post!
Do writers choose the covers? I don’t know how that works–it might be left in the hands of marketing. Did you read Girls? I’ve always wanted to talk to someone who had, the situation was so unusual. Thanks for stopping by, Barbara–isn’t Julie Valerie’s Blog Hop the best?!
The cover really is lovely. Maybe the publishers were worried about readers being ‘put off’ by the subject matter???? Suck them in first, then it’s too late?
I think you’re probably right, Sandie–but it would be a shocker since the subject is a bit delicate at times!