Friday, March 18, 2011

Thoughts on YA Book Covers

Sean Willis says that YA covers are embarrassing to the genre. Phoebe North points out that they're targeting a certain demographic and, hopefully, making promises about the content within. As a reader who is highly influenced by covers (way. too. much. seriously.), this conversation is super-interesting to me and I wanted to join in.

I'm in my twenties. I read YA. Like, all the time. And am I embarrassed about carrying around, say, Elizabeth Rudnick's Tweet Heart? Well... it depends. It depends on where I am, who I'm with, and how I happen to be feeling that day. Covers give a certain message about the story underneath and while, as Phoebe points out, that message is intended to be something of a promise about what is contained in the story, one snapshot can't capture 60 thousand words. The incredibly complex The Hunger Games is not summed up by that gold-on-black image of a mythical bird. The cover gives one idea. In the case of Tweet Heart, it promises a cute love story. In the case of The Hunger Games it promises something decidedly darker -- if I had to guess I'd say a science fiction story set in a future world. And I wouldn't be far off, but is that how you describe The Hunger Games to somebody? Uh, no. Because while there are plenty of science fiction/dystopian novels set in a future world, only one of them is The Hunger Games. And Tweet Heart? I'm not going to tell someone it's a cute, light love story. No, I'm going to tell them IT'S A NOVEL WRITTEN IN TWEETS!!! AND ONE OF THE CHARACTERS LOVES STAR TREK!! (Obviously I'm trying to sell the book to... myself.) But you get the point. Cover does not equal story. It's a representation, sure, but it's the rare cover that actually captures the essence of a novel.

The cover's job isn't to sum up the book. It's to get you to look closer, to pick up the book, to buy the book. It's an advertisement for a product that is, essentially, black marks on white paper. While the best covers pick up on a particular part of the story, that's not a requirement and, in fact, it doesn't always help. Until you've read The Hunger Games, you don't know how significant the cover image of that bird really is. Sometimes it's only after you've read a novel that the cover becomes amazing.

All of this is maybe (definitely) getting away from the question if are YA covers embarrassing? Really though, there's not one answer for that. Maybe you cringe when you walk into the YA section and see all those glossy, shiny covers with girls in pretty dresses. Maybe you love covers that are a big more ambiguous, a bit abstract or artsy or have illustrations instead of photographs or any one of a dozen other cover styles out there. Personally I love YA covers. Sure, there are a few that make me shake my head but for the most part I think they're the best covers out there. But then, I'm partial to the genre in the first place, and that plays a big part, I think, in our reactions to a cover.

So what do you guys think? Are YA covers embarrassing? Do they do the books justice? Love them or hate them? 


  1. I've gotten much more accepting of YA covers since I left academia. I used to get embarrassed reading a YA book with a cheesy cover on the bus, but I've learned not to care anymore. Still, I do wish YA covers followed adult cover trends more (more artistic covers and less cheesy photographic covers and close-ups of models' faces)--there would definitely be more adult readers of YA that way. I think adults often draw sweeping conclusions about the entire genre based on bad covers. Then again, some of the covers I find the most atrocious sell the most among teenagers, so I guess my opinion doesn't count for much!

  2. I agree with Stephanie -- I think that YA does deserve more "adult" covers, and most of the design feeds way too much into marketing and stereotype. Hence all of the Sad Girls in Pretty Dresses. But because I'm knees and elbows deep into YA, I'm not much more prone to not bypass a novel based on a cover -- I love the genre way too much. An adult passerby in a bookstore? Not so much.

    I also commented on the posts you mentioned at the top of this post. The covers for Not That Kind of Girl (Vivian) and Forget You (Echols) make me want to run and hide.

  3. Stephanie To be honest I love photographic covers so much more than illustrations, but like you I think it would be nice to have some more "artistic" YA covers. The cover for Ruta Sepetys' BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY is a great compromise I think. Also though, I wonder: why are we even thinking of adult YA readers? Should we be? This is, after all, a genre FOR TEENS and I'd hate to see it become a genre for adults that just happens to be ABOUT teens.

    Yes, the covers are very obviously geared towards marketing/advertising/whatever-you-call-it in YA.
    & the two covers you mentioned... haha. I haven't read either of the books (though I started NTKG and should finish it), but I do think there is probably a "better" cover out there at least in the fact that it would be more representative of the story instead of fairly generic.

  4. I would like to be grown up and say that I don't judge a book by it's cover, but that would be defeating the purpose of this post and also it would be a BIG FAT LIE. However, I don't think a lot of YA covers have covers that are as bad as say, the entire mills and boon collection. I'm not a shy person, I don't care what people think of me reading YA, same as I wouldn't be phased by reading a book with a stupid cover say, on the morning commute.

    Plus, I think like Thatcovergirl (LURVE HER) says, i'm more accepting of covers in the genre because I love the stories inside the covers, so I know that even when a book has a real bad cover *cough* vampire academy *cough* that i will still probably enjoy it.