Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Covers That Need RE-DESIGNING!

Please pardon the continued clunky spacing. Google Blogger refuses to cooperate and short of yanking out my hair, there's not much I can do.

Actually, if I thought yanking out my hair would help - I'd do it!

They tell you that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Well, sure - except that sometimes you just do. Some covers just plain ugly. Some are downright boring. Some are haplessly inane. Some are too embarrassing to be seen with. I've been know to tear the cover off a paperback so I wouldn't be offended every time I picked up the book. It was either that or not read the book at all. And, by the way, I'm not one who enjoys defacing a book. Even a paperback. Of course with library books, this is problematic. Wouldn't want to have the library police show up on my doorstep. But jeez, some covers just don't deserve to see the light of day.

Top Ten Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by the gals over at THE BROKE AND THE BOOKISH. This week: 10 Book Covers I Wish I Could Re-Design. Check out what other bloggers are saying today- after you read mine of course. Okay, grit your teeth. 10 Covers I Wish I Could RE-DESIGN: Actually, more than ten since I had to include a couple of covers for several writers who seem doomed to have either their publishers ignore the content of their books or just have plain bad taste in design.

1) Horrible, horrible cover. There's the close-up eye seemingly beloved of designers. You wouldn't know it from the cover but this is another fabulous book in the Jane Whitefield series.

2) The people publishing Robert Crais's books probably don't realize that women read his books - that's the only excuse I can think of for these uninteresting, boringly derivative 'manly' looking covers. Not that I would want a soft pastels or whatever, but surely there is a happy medium. I wouldn't even mind these covers if they were - at least - attractive in some way or emblematic of the brilliant, dynamic writing of Robert Crais. You KNOW how much I love his work. So I continue to read his books, loving them and hating the covers.

And another thing: never NEVER NEVER NEVER put a photo of a a designer's concept of what the main character looks like. NEVER!!! Even if it is only a partial face in close-up. (And not a great photo at that.) Draw it, if you must conceptualize either Joe Pike or Elvis Cole. AND that whole 'eye in the sky' routine is just plain dumb. Years ago when I was looking for a great book to read and I saw this cover of L.A. REQUIEM, I almost, ALMOST, didn't buy it - the cover was such a turn-off. Luckily I bought it anyway. It is one of Robert Crais best books.

3) Here's a mish-mash of a cover. Bad type choice along with the 'eye in the sky' motif which seems to be popular among designers who can't seem to think of anything else to convey...what? There is no all-knowing fiend in this book. Clarkson is one of the most underrated writers in the business and this is one of his most underrated titles. I loved REED'S PROMISE from the first thrilling page until the nail-bitingly suspenseful end. This is one of those books where I had to stop reading and take tension breaks - it was THAT heart-stopping. If you can find this book, ignore the absurd cover and read it. You will thank me.

4) When I first saw this cover I didn't know what on earth to make of it, it was and still is, one of the more hideous things I've ever seen. If I didn't know Jasper Fforde's work I would have put the book down and walked away shaking my head. The story takes place in an alternate sort of universe where most everyone sees everything in shades of grey - hence the title. There are those, though, who see one primary color or another. Hence the other colors choices on the cover. I don't know about you, but I have a hard time looking at this cover and not getting an instant headache. I never did bother to try and dis-entangle the items shown and try to make heads or tails out of them. It just wasn't worth the effort. My first instinct was to rip off the cover and stomp up and down on it. But I didn't.

5) They never did get the cover for Laurie King's brilliant first mystery in the Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell series right until the 3rd or 4th try. The trade paperback eventually, finally, had a good cover. And there's one now with a honeycomb design on black which works. But the initial covers for this classic was not only bad design, it was boring and completely un-reflective of the great writing within.

This green cover is no better. This is not a romance novel nor is the woman pictured on the cover anything like the Mary Russell described by the author. Laurie R. King is a truly wonderful writer and her books are nothing short of brilliant, especially these stories based on a legendary creation. I'm happy to say though, that lately, the covers of the stories have gotten better so maybe someone now is paying attention. I've just seen the new cover for this year's book THE PIRATE KING, and it's a winner.

6) It's possible that what happens with Lee Child's covers is that good design is seen as irrelevant because people will buy his books even with a blank cover. Although the British covers are usually a bit better - as if someone actually took the time to consider what the book is about and who Jack Reacher is. Though sometimes the Brit books rely too heavily on photographs of a tall, hulking man. Yet they always work better than the American covers which always feature HUGE type and vague photos of scenery. These are what I call 'brand name' covers and I understand what they're trying to do. But I still hate them. Love the books though, so I'll keep reading them.

7) All I can think is that the publisher had little faith in this book and didn't want to spend any money on design. I mean, what else are we to think when we see something so bland, so banal, so lacking in any hint of the witty, brilliant work lying in wait for the reader. Yeah, I'm using the word 'brilliant' a lot, but what the heck, it's the word that best expresses a few of these favorite books of mine. THE GRASSHOPPER KING most especially. Yet look at this cover, you would never suspect the immense pleasure you are about to find within these pages. This is a great book deserving of an equally great cover.

8) What would think this book is about? First thought: some kind of cozy. Maybe taking place in New England? Such a nice little picket fence. Well, you'd be totally wrong. THE OUTSIDER is a gritty, sexy, dynamic, heart-breakingly romantic western with a gunslinger hero to die for. It is as different from the 'average' historical romance as you can get. The first time I read it a few years ago I was completely enthralled and actually cried at the end. I'm not a person who 'normally' cries over books, but this heart-stopping ending...WOW! A ridiculous cover that belongs on another book and does nothing to convey the dark and shadowy nature of this book.

9) Well, this sort of thing is fine if your reading audience is male. But I don't get it being used for a book meant for a female audience. And another thing, Susan Elizabeth Phillips is just too good a writer for this nonsense. I'm really surprised that publishers are still doing this sort of thing. I mean, really, it's the kind of cover that helps give 'romances' a bad name. I wouldn't be caught dead reading this in public. It's a shame really, again I say that Susan Elizabeth Phillips deserves much better.

10) Another silly cover. A blue line of type across the model's lip makes her look as if she's got a mustache. Check out how the woman's arm looks slightly dislocated. The hand appears too small and as if it's been air-brushed to within an inch of its life. Why? Fun colors yes, but the kind of cover that makes me wince.

I didn't bother mentioning most Harlequin covers which are generally just plain awful. But that's understandable. Budget-wise they probably don't have much left over for cover art. One of my least favorite things: when the heroine and hero have blond hair and the cover shows them with dark hair or vice-versa and/or long hair when it should be short - that kind of thing. I mean, is anyone bothering to read the character descriptions? This has nothing to do with budget.

I'm not one either for close-up photos of faces on a cover unless it has something important to say about the book and is not just there to 'prettify'. Really, there aren't that many teenage models who have interesting faces. I also don't like realistic blood-splatter on covers. I'm shrugging my shoulders about this, because of course, it's all about the author and the writing, no matter what. I'll certainly keep reading favorite authors even if all the while I'm grimacing over their covers.


  1. Your critiques of the covers are wonderful.

    The one about "The Outsider" made me laugh out loud; what were they thinking?

    Yes, I do think publishers aim mystery covers for men. Luckily, there aren't any women being tortured on these covers, as publishers promote those, as they think that makes books sell--to whom I have no idea. I shudder to think who is attracted to those covers.

    All good criticisms. The eye as motif? Yikes.

    You should be designing covers or on retainer as a consultant.

  2. Wonderful post. And I almost fell for "The Outsider" because I am a sucker for cute, British covers - until I read your description. A gunslinger? Hardly one for me.

  3. Kathy: Yes, I should definitely be a consultant. Ha! Thanks, kiddo.

  4. Dorte: Oh, I love THE OUTSIDER, it's one of my very favorite books. The cover fooled you - huh. Maybe they think you'll buy it and by the time you read it, it will be too late. :)

  5. One thing I have always disliked in the new "Sell that book!" kind of marketing publishers inflict on us is the author's name appearing in GIGANTIC letters above the titles. As you say with Lee Child - it's the author and not the book itself that is being sold.

    Here's an amusing story related to this annoying practice. The main branch of the Chicago public library used to have an awful lot of low wage paid shelvers. Many of them apparently didn't read books or even understand the simple concept of alphabetical order. It was really sad. Why would I say this? Because in four out of five books where the author's name appeared above the title (and likewise on the spine) the books were shelved not by author's last name but by the FIRST WORD IN THE TITLE! Someone must've been training the shelvers to look only at the spine of the book and to shelve by the second word on the spine – whatever it was. Never mind about knowing the difference between an author and a title. Just look at the spine and shelve by the second word. When I pointed this out to one of the reference librarians she merely rolled her eyes. Jaded cynicism is rampant in libraries too, I guess. It was both hysterically funny and sad. Evidence on how people in low paying jobs don't even remember what they were taught in elementary school. Or maybe they just didn't care what they were doing.

    This no longer happens because it is an ALA practice to put the entire last name of an author on a small label for works of fiction. About 95% of the books in the main branch underwent this transformation and it's thankfully much easier to find books by the proper way - the author's last name.

  6. Lee and Robert Crais' books are being sold as a brand. Great for the authors but not doing much for good design. Oh, I'll let you in on a secret, I don't think the nice ladies who work at my local library read much either. I've tried to talk to them about books I'm enthusiastic about and they look at me as if I'm talking a different language. They do their jobs well though and I have no complaints. But it's an odd place to be if you're not a reader.

    Well, John, you know libraries don't have any money to pay anymone more than the basic so I suppose basic is what they get.

  7. Sometimes I wonder why on earth publisher pick such boring covers, or covers that look almost identical to others. Certainly there are lots of starving artists out there willing to create new and fresh cover art.

  8. Anne: I've always believed that it costs the same to design a bad cover as it does to design a good one. You need someone in charge who knows what he or she is doing - that's it. AND you need a culture which doesn't reward copycat work.

  9. I'm kind of intrigued by that Shades of Grey cover. It doesn't make sense. I like the Grasshopper King cover.

    Here is my list: http://hawthornescarlet.blogspot.com/2011/04/top-ten-tuesday-stop-embarassing-me.html

  10. LBC: It does stop you in your tracks. Dead in your tracks. Ha! I think they were going for the tubes which delivered some of the paint colors if I'm remembering the story correctly. And the killer swans or someting. Who knows.

    Thanks for stopping by. :)


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