February 14, 2011


Book covers have two jobs -- to attract potential readers and to give a hint at what the book's about.

I'll go so far as to say the cover of a book is a promise to the reader of what lies inside those pages.

And frankly, I'm pissed off about a couple recent covers.

My biggest pet peeve is about the book MILO (Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze).

Doesn't this look like a fun, silly book about a few kids having a good time on a summer day? It's not!

Is MILO funny? You betcha. But it's also heart-breaking. MILO is NOT about having a good time on a summer day. It's a beautiful book about a kid learning to come to terms with his mother's death. And when I got to the end, I cried my eyeballs out! That cover did not prepare me for the intense reaction I'd have to the book, and it pissed me off.

MILO is going to be so helpful to a child dealing with the death of a loved one, but will the child even pick up the book with such a silly, fun-loving type of cover?

I hope the publisher changes the cover to reflect the truth of this book for the paperback version so the right kids will get hold of it.


Cartooney, right? Total silliness? Nope. It's got a smart, savvy deaf character who tries to assimilate into mainstream high school.

Absolutely delighted to see there is a new cover for the paperback. Check it out . . .

Listen publishers, I know DIARY OF A WIMPY KID is selling more books than imaginable, but please, PLEASE don't portray every book as the next Wimpy Kid. Unless it really is like Wimpy Kid.

For example, meet BIG NATE by Lincoln Peirce.

This is a wonderful series that's "like" Wimpy Kid, except with a character that I feel has more heart and empathy. I love this series . . . and the cover is perfect for what's inside.

I've had librarians complain that the cover for HOW TO SURVIVE MIDDLE SCHOOL was a little too silly and misleading for some of the seriousness and heartbreak inside the covers.

While I love the singing hamster cover, I can understand and appreciate their point.

This happens in picture books, too.

I'm a huge fan of Marla Frazee's work. Did you see her new book, BOSS BABY?

It's hilarious and true with illustrations that enhance the story and humor. And it has a perfect cover . . .

Did you know Marla Frazee illustrated a book called MRS. BIDDLEBOX about -- to borrow the words of the amazing Judith Viorst -- a "terrible, no good, very bad day?"

The late author, Linda Smith, wrote this gem of a picture book -- one of my favorites -- while she was going through treatment for breast cancer.

Here's how it begins: "On a knotty little hill, in a dreary little funk, Mrs. Biddlebox rolled over on the wrong side of her bunk."

This book -- its honesty about a grim reality, perfect poetry and imaginative, dark illustrations -- helped me get through treatment for cancer eight years ago.

I love this book. And I love the cover . . .

But guess what? The powers that be at the publishing company thought it was too dark, too dreary. So they had Marla Frazee create a new cover . . .

I hope the new cover helps sales, but I will cherish my copy with the darker cover, the one that conveys a promise, a promise on which the book absolutely delivers.

Rant over.


Anna Staniszewski said...

I think you're absolutely right that covers should convey the tone of the story. I understand that sales are important, but I'd love to see more of a balance.

Karin said...

I agree 100% with you and Anna.
Like a bottle of wine, I often pick my books off what the cover portrays or in wine's case...the label.

Audrey said...

Bravo! Great post!

Sayantani said...

Really smart post - fantastic! There's been so much on the web lately about race and covers, I recently did a brief round up, thought you might be interested: http://storiesaregoodmedicine.blogspot.com/2011/02/judging-asians-by-our-book-covers.html
Would love your thoughts!

Selene Castrovilla said...

Very nice rant! Of course you judge a book by it's cover, we all do. And the examples you gave were well-chosen and heart-felt.

It is frustrating as an author to have no real say in my covers.
My first novel, Saved By the Music, has an "old school" cover, when YA books now have photos. Well, who knew. I pray that they make a paperback with a photo, because I'm so proud of my book.

People LOVE the cover of my novel The Girl Next Door. It's a sad girl staring out a window. Doesn't do anything for me, frankly, but people find it attractive. My son said, "I want to read it to find out why she's so sad." And indeed, she has a good reason...

It's a total package, whether we like it or not. And we're all trying to figure it out. I don't envy my publisher or art director
or anyone making the choices - because it's so easy to see the errors in hindsight.

Everyone is under a lot of pressure to perform in this very, very trying time for publishing.

Here's to books!

Selene Castrovilla

Wild About Words said...

Thanks so much for the GREAT comments and link!