“Okay, I know this cover looks stupid but I promise you this is an awesome book.”
“Yeah, that emo girl isn’t really representative of the story. In fact … she doesn’t even have bleach blonde hair. It’s actually brown.”
“What do the flowers mean? Uhhhh….”
“I DON’T KNOW WHY SHE’S WEARING A DRESS EITHER!”
You know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you? It’s because we’ve all said something along these lines, often accompanied by a snarky eye roll. The YA coversphere isn’t exactly permeated with fantastic cover art that stands out, unfortunately. You walk into the teen section of your library or bookstore and you know exactly where you are, and not because of some giant sign announcing your location, either. Step over into the land of fiction, and voila, you’ve stepped into a country where the cover design gods have clearly given their blessing.
The same goes for my favorite cover design websites, like The Book Cover Archive. Don’t go searching and expecting to see YA cover art over there. You won’t find it.
I have a point here, I promise. And it’s this: Publishers, teens deserve good cover design, too.
They deserve more than trying to jam-pack every element of the story and plastering it all over the cover in a haphazard and hyper-marketed way. Simple design that packs a punch (pun totally intended) like Steve Emond’s Wintertown is a great example of simple. (Side note: I really want this poster-sized and hanging in my living room.)
Teens deserve books with cover art that won’t encourage incredulous stares or embarrassing side-glances. They need covers like Jon Skovron’s Struts & Frets that aren’t afraid to use illustration and think outside the red/black/ornately flourish-covered box. Teen A leaning over to see what Teen B is reading based on awesome cover alone: good. Teen A making crazy-eyes at Teen B based on cover alone and wondering why Teen B didn’t use a brown paper bag cover instead: bad.
They also deserve book covers that experiment with type treatment. There’s no law that says a YA cover’s title needs a font with swashes. The Spoiled series artwork is a perfect example of fun (and fabulous) covers that pay homage to the series’ story-lines and characters. What I love most about these sassy covers is that while they’re hitting their target demo perfectly, they did it without flouncy dresses and flowers.
Teens also deserve covers that are gender neutral. When I was in junior high, I always wanted to read books that weren’t marketed for me. I wanted to read Koontz and King. I sat in the general fiction section browsing spines for big letters, emblems and symbols. These types of jackets encased stories that weren’t specifically marketed to either gender, and pulled in cover-lovers by presenting something visual that meant something in some way. Like The Hunger Games covers, they seem to whisper the message, “Anyone can read me. Guy, girl, young or old. Everyone should read me.”
Side note: It is a bit iffy to say that every cover could be gender neutral, because there are just some books that aren’t set out to attract readers of a particular gender. For example, I don’t think you’re going to find a bevy of male teen readers rushing out to purchase Girls Don’t Fly any time soon.
I can only hope that publishers are starting to re-think the way they market and design their books for teens. This isn’t to say that they need to start looking like fiction covers. We don’t need big bold letters smacked onto every book like one of Patterson’s mass market paperbacks. The rules of good design need to apply to every genre, from literary fiction to comics to YA and beyond. Teens are smart–and they deserve art that’s smart, too.
And most importantly, bad cover design not only does a disservice to the audience you’re trying to reach, but adds another potential barrier to what lies beneath its cover–the story at its heart.
— Capillya Uptergrove blogs at That Cover Girl. She’s currently reading Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta.