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Confessions of a Cover Snob

Last week I ran across Brian James' article on judging books by their covers and it got me to thinking. I try not to be a cover snob. I do. I try and fail and try again in the hopes that one of these days I'll learn my lesson. This is a near-constant topic of discussion within the circle of friends and family members I'm constantly pushing books on. A bad cover that conceals treasures within forces you to go on the defensive. I suppose it just hones my bookselling skills but I hate the number of times I've had to say, "Don't let the cover get to you, it's a freaking awesome book. You will love it!" Oftentimes I actually love these covers, but for one reason or another, they're hard to hand other people. The Mercy Thompson series is at the top of this particular list for some reason. I love Daniel dos Santos' cover art. I really do. I'm particularly fond of the cover of Blood Bound.
She just looks like Mercy to me. I love the composition, the way she's standing, the tattoos (even though she doesn't have them all), the whole bit. But Mercy the character wouldn't be caught dead in that particular state of undress. Not out and about at her shop anyway. And when I'm introducing the whole urban fantasy genre to an unsuspecting newbie, it can be hard to get the general gist of the complete and utter awesomeness of the Mercy books across when they're staring doubtfully at the covers.

The same goes for the number of times I've not picked up a book that a large part of me wanted to just because the cover was unappealing in some way. Case in point, the cover for Sharon Shinn's Archangel.
I avoided it for years. Years! Because I thought the girl on the cover looked stupid. And what was up with the feather and the orb and the look on her face? Like she was about to give up the ghost or dissolve in a series of ecstatic shivers. I just couldn't get over my initial impression. This despite the many positive reviews I'd read. It's a powerful instinct, that first judgement call. And now, of course, Archangel is right up there with the Sevenwaters books and Robin McKinley when it comes to my top comfort reads. Serves me right. But I still maintain the Rachel I know and love would never look that overcome by anything. Glowing orb, indeed...

Lastly, there are the simply silly covers. The ones that drive away good readers because they simply can't imagine something weighty or worthwhile or even intriguing inside. It requires too far a stretch of their admittedly stretchy imaginations. Most recent example of this form of cover snobbery--Moira J. Moore's Hero series. Behold:














Too cartooney for words, right? I mean he looks like Lancelot himself and she's polishing his boot for crying out loud! Like some awful parallel version of Beauty and the Beast gone horribly awry. Combine the covers with the titles and I'm near tears trying to get them into good homes. Because these books? These books are good. They have heart. They're funny and extremely moving at times. They have a hero and heroine deserving of your love. Sometimes you pick up a book with a lame cover and you get burned, it's true. But sometimes you make out like bandits. That's how I felt when I went ahead and took this series home.

In his article, James looks at the cover issue from an author's perspective and notes that:
An author's relationship to a book after it's published is a strange one. By the time it hits store shelves, your involvement with it is long gone. It's out in the world on its own. A common metaphor for the experience is that of a parent sending their child out into the world. Taking that metaphor, the cover would be the child's clothing. You want your child to look presentable and you want them to express themselves. Too often books, like kids afraid of not fitting in, are simply dressed to look like everyone else even if that's not who they are on the inside.
What a wonderful analogy as well as a nice reminder. There are so many books deserving of better covers to really show us wishy-washy readers just what's inside and why they're worth taking home with us. For each off-putting cover out there there's an author hoping you'll see past the awkward exterior to the heart of gold inside. May we all be a little more openminded and a little less snobbish in the future.

Comments

  1. I completely agree with you about trying not to be a Cover Snob, because honestly I look at a book cover before I will read the back of it. Lately I've been reading books that a friend has lent me, and I'll tell you, some of those covers are just outrageously boring, but the books themselves were either good or outstanding.

    I'm trying to read the backs of books before I judge now, although it's still quite hard to do at times. It's easier when I can read other's reviews online, gives me a little push in the right direction.

    Great post, very insightful.

    Jenni @ Falling Off The Shelf

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  2. Yep. Though the Archangel cover made me get the book (well combined with the blurb it looked interesting), and I really love the Brigg's covers as art, it bugs me as not a great representation of what's inside (same with the Moore covers). At least with the Moira Moore covers, the latest one looks better. Sigh. Anyway, despite what I think, and I've complained about covers in my reviews, in the end it's up to the publisher how the cover will look. Authors get little to no input.

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  3. Sometimes you just need to be a snob! I love artsy covers like the one on The View from Saturday.

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  4. Samantha R11:38 AM

    I think when book covers are GOOD it's great...there are even some really amazing covers that the story ends up not doing them justice. :)
    I just recently had an episode of really bad cover snobbishness, lol. It kept me from reading the series until the 4th book came out, by then I couldn't ignore it (and the good reviews) anymore.
    Needless to say I really liked the book and learned my lesson in that case, but I still think I'll end up suffering from another case eventually, lol.
    That is also the sort of thing you have to deal with if you like to read romances. Like any other genre, you have to sort through it to find the good ones and the good ones can be hiding behind some of the most horrendously not appropriate covers. Talk about kids fitting in, indeed! :D
    Thanks for the article, I agreed a lot with your examples.

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  5. I have most definitly passed on a book because of its cover. And been drawn to one for the same reason.

    Though I love fantasy, as a middle aged mom, I'm just not going to carry around a book with a half dressed hunky guy on it. Just wouldn't feel right, for me.

    And I prefer to use my own imagination (and hopefully the writer's talent) to "see" the character as I want to.

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  6. I avoided Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series for years because of the cover art. Glad I got over it, because it's my favorite series!

    Have you read any of Brandon Sanderson's stuff? Just got finished with his first book in the "Mistborn" series and I really liked it!

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  7. Great thoughts here. It made me wonder when we started picking up on book covers? Books just used to have blank covers (leather or not), with spines that included the title. When did cover art first pick up speed & popularity? I might have to go do a little research on that. It's just kind of interesting to consider, because they really do have a rather profound affect on what we think of the book at first. Thanks for making me think about this a bit... :)

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  8. *raises her hand and confesses* Yep, I have done the exact same thing as you concerning books. Even though, we all know not to judge a book by it's cover, it's just too hard not to. I ignored the Sookie Stackhouse series for the longest, because I thought the covers were childishly weird. After I finally broke down and started reading the series (now I'm hopelessly hooked), I admit the covers did grow on me eventually.

    Good post, very well put!

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  9. jennilovevirgo, yep. I've learned you can hardly ever tell for sure what's inside based on the outer trappings. I'm pretty leery of reading the back because they so often give something important away and I hate that. Thank goodness for online reviews, right?

    Janice, I'm glad that cover worked for some people because I adore the book. And I'm anxious to see what the fourth Moore cover looks like. Will it match the style of the 3rd? Definitely a step up. And you're absolutely right. Authors have no control. They can only cross their fingers and hope.

    Janssen, that is a great cover! I often wish they never bothered with including people on them at all so as to avoid disappointing a majority of readers who have their own perfect mental image, never to be matched outside their heads. :)

    Samantha, you make such a good point! I wasn't thinking about it from that perspective but you're right. Sometimes the insides are a letdown and that is no fun at all. Off to bookshelves to see if I can come up with some specific examples of that...

    SusieJ, I know what you mean. I recently came across these cute book covers at www.hideabook.com, made just for that purpose and gave one to my MIL so she wouldn't be so embarrassed carrying around some of these books I give her. *grin*

    Kristi, I'm ashamed to say I've been avoiding the Jordan series for the same reason. It's about time I give the first one a shot, isn't it? And I haven't read Sanderson's stuff either. I have a copy of ELANTRA, though, and need to crack it open.

    mjmbecky, what a good observation. I find myself so often drawn to the more classical reissues that frequently come out because they are simpler and less assaulting on the eye. I'd love to hear what you find out from your research!

    Donna, you're among friends here. :) I probably would never have picked up the Sookie series if not for a trusted friend who pressed me to get them. I started with library copies and quickly moved to purchasing my own. Such a fun series.

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  11. Anonymous5:21 AM

    Great post Angie! I've just added Archangel to my To Buy list. It has been on and off my list for a few years now. Despite the reviews, I just can't get past the cover.

    Another book I've skipped is Eon by Alison Goodman. I've read some terrific reviews, but the cover really bugs me. I'm hoping the paperback cover is different.

    After reading your post, I started to imagine how nice it would be if Moira J. Moore's books were reissued with different covers. I'm surprised ACE hasn't done this. Reissuing books with new covers seems to be popular now and I agree they'd probably have a hit with this series if they changed the covers for all of the books.

    Karen

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  12. This was a funny post! I, too, fall victim to cover snobbery. (And, yes, I am the victim, hehe) I will definitely be more open minded in the future. =) I also enjoyed your sort of General Conferency ending. =)

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  13. What a great blog. I love this idea and have added the books you mentioned by Moore to my list. Maybe you can make this a feature on your site? Good books with bad covers? Or bad books with good covers?

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  14. I meant what a great post. ;)

    BTW: There's an award for you on my blog.

    http://talesofwhimsy.blogspot.com/2009/07/take-bow.html

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  15. Karen, yay! I don't think you'll regret it. Definitely let me know what you think. It's interesting what you say about looking forward to the paperback edition. They seem to frequently be changing the cover art for a paperback edition and it's always interesting to see which different direction they go. And I completely agree. The Moore series would sell MUCH better with good covers. Anything would be better!

    Cam, ah you caught that. I didn't realize it had that feel till after I hit post and then it just made me grin and I left it.

    Juju, thanks so much! I hope you do get a chance to read the Moore books. They're just fun and I'm very attached to the two main characters. The 4th one comes out Aug. 25th and I'm so excited! Good idea about making it a feature. There's certainly plenty of material out there to work with. :)

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  16. I have to deal with the same problems when it comes to lending out certain books. I can't convince my friends to read them if the cover looks terrible. Sometimes I'm embarrassed to be caught reading them in public. I'm so ashamed of myself for being a cover snob but sometimes the covers are hideous!

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  17. xalwaysdreamx, that's the worst, isn't it? No one should feel embarrassed about the book they're carrying around. But people judge and sometimes it's hard to avoid. Argh.

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