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We’ve Already Covered This: New Trends In YA Cover Design

2012 October 23
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YALSA’s upcoming YA Literature Symposium will explore the future of young adult literature. The symposium begins on November 2nd, but we wanted to get a head start here at The Hub, so we’re devoting October to 31 Days of the Next Big Thing. Each day of the month, we’ll bring you forecasts about where YA literature is headed and thoughts on how you can spot trends and predict the future yourself.

Whether you’re looking forward or back, this is a great time for young adult literature. Not only is there a quantity of quality literature out there to pick from, there is also an interesting study in book design. Some young adult book covers become instantly iconic, while other stories that stand the test of time go through many cover trends and represent a survey of publishing style. Here are a few things I’ve noticed lately when stepping back and looking at the shelves:

  1. Back to Black. Teen covers are dark. From The Hunger Games to the Twilight saga, the canvas that YA lit imagery is painted on is black. Not only are newly designed books following this trend, classics like Caroline B. Cooney’s The Face on the Milk Carton are getting a stark, dark makeover.
  2. Gender and Genre — Neutral Covers. Some of the best YA fiction crosses genres. Adventure, romance, dystopia, and fantasy can all co-exist in the same story and appeal to a wide range of readers. But how do you design a cover that will appeal to all of those readers and not spin the story? Pick a symbol. Make it simple, memorable, and powerful. Slap it right in the middle and allow the readers to decide what they want to see in it. DivergentLegend, and the Witch and Wizard series are great examples of this trend, as is the ubiquitous Hunger Games series.
  3. Hunks Sell History. There’s some great narrative non-fiction being published, especially when it comes to historic figures and events. One of the most enthralling true stories I’ve encountered is The Notorious Benedict Arnold. Revolutionary, rebel, traitor, and if this cover is to be believed, major hottie.
  4. Intricate Illustration. It seems like for the last few years there has been a big push towards photography on the cover of teen titles. I think it’s interesting that this coincides with the rise of the camera phone and the ability for a generation to realistically render and instantly preserve any image at any time. There also seemed to be a sense of establishing identity and using the slick realism of photography and computer manipulated imagery to designate teen literature as distinctly separate from younger fiction. But recently some gorgeous illustrations have been gracing teen covers, and part of their sophistication lies in the details. The opposite of the stark, symbolic cover style mentioned above can be seen on books like Wildwood and its sequel, Under Wildwood, as well as Summer and BirdFingerprints of You, and Deadweather and Sunrise.
  5. Two Trends To Be Tired Of. Girls in gowns and backs of heads. It’s going to take more than a pretty dress to convince me that a book is worth my time, and too often lately I feel like covers are showing me a character in a ballgown when that may be far from the most interesting thing about her or the story. And why bother to show the back of a character’s head? It’s a pale power of suggestion, and at the same time could alienate some potential readers and start to look dated quickly.

What trends in cover design have you noticed? What would you like to see more or less of?

– Mia Cabana, currently reading Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

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One Response
  1. Michelle permalink
    November 2, 2012

    Ugh, I’m totally over the girls in pretty dresses running through the woods.

    I love that you mentioned the “neutral covers”. It definitely lets the reader decide about various aspects of the book and its characters.

    A trend I’ve noticed are smilely faces: Have a Nice Day by Julie Halpern; Suck It Up and its sequal Suck It Up and Die by Brian Meehl; Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt; and Happyface by Stephen Emond.

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