Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Covers, part 1: Changes in book cover design

Going through the Createspace process has got me thinking of cover design for my novel, even though the version I’m printing this month (courtesy of the Nanowrimo prize) will just be printed for personal use and not published for public release. I have noticed that covers have changed a lot from what they were just a few years ago. In particular, it seems like covers with pictures of people have become much rarer. Many covers now show objects meant to symbolize something important to the story. If people are shown at all, we often only see parts of the character, such as just the feet, or everything but the head. I have seen several articles suggesting that symbolic objects are preferable on covers because they allow the readers to visualize the character in their own minds. For me, though, having a picture of a character never stopped me from visualizing the character for myself. Does anyone else lament the relative scarcity of people on book covers?

This blog posting is the first in a series of three on my thoughts about book cover design. In this post, I’ll look at two examples of books I first read and enjoyed many years ago and examine how their covers have changed over time. In the second post, I’ll examine recent covers from historical fiction books set in medieval times and explain why certain ones are especially good. In the third and final post on covers, I’ll turn my attention to possible cover designs for my own novel.

The first book cover I’ll discuss in this post is Children of the Night by Mercedes Lackey. Around the time it was first published (1990), I read a copy of the book with the following cover:

1990, Tor
The drawing of the intrepid, leather-clad heroine Diana facing the menacing clawed creature fit very well with the book.

A later cover showed a more mysterious-looking Diana on a foggy city street with huge, threatening eyes looming over the scene.

2005, Tor

Unfortunately, the new cover for the Kindle edition doesn’t show Diana at all. Like many books today, the cover only has symbolic objects related to events in the book: a guitar dripping with blood and a microphone and speaker bursting with loud sound waves.

2014, High Flight Arts and Letters

In this case the cover wouldn’t make a difference in whether or not I would buy the book; I would buy any new title featuring the character Diana Tregarde even if the publisher put a picture of a very full cat litter box on the cover. However, I would much rather see Diana or other characters on the cover than a collection of symbolic objects, even if they are related to the story.

The second book whose cover design changes I will examine here is Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery. This is the second book of the Anne series, but it is the first one I read before I went on to read the entire series. When I was about sixteen, the age of Anne at the start of Anne of Avonlea, I came across a copy printed in 1909, the year the book first came out. It had a picture of Anne on the front, with her hair styled in the manner of the time. I still have this copy and re-read it from time to time.
1909, L. C. Page & Company

There have been hundreds of editions of Anne of Avonlea since then, so I cannot present them all here. I will just show representatives of various covers over the years since it was first published. Here is a more or less chronological list – in some cases, a cover may have first appeared earlier than the edition I found listed on Amazon or Goodreads.

1936, Grosset & Dunlap

1946, Ryerson

1949, George G Harrap and Co

1964, McGraw Hill

1971, Grossett & Dunlap

1984, Bantam

1987, Troll Communications L.L.C.

1998, Cherish Classics

2004, Scholastic

2006, Scholastic

2008, Davenport

2009, Ignacio Hills Press

2009, Puffin

2010, HarperFestival

2012, Tebbo

2013, Createspace (black and white plant)

2013, 1st World Publishing

2013, Createspace (forest)

2013, e-artnow

2014, Aladdin

2014, Createspace

2014, Sourcebooks Fire

2014, CL
Glancing down the list, it is clear that most of the earlier editions featured pictures of Anne, sometimes alone and sometimes with other characters. My favorites are the covers by Troll Communications (1987) and Cherish Classics (1998), which I think are particularly successful in capturing the personality of the main character.

Since the book entered the public domain (at least in the United States), there has been a proliferation of new editions. A few still show pictures of Anne, including the 2014 release by Sourcebooks Fire that features a new drawing of Anne along with drawings of a church and flowers. Other books show people, but not necessarily people who look like the actual characters as described by Montgomery. For example, the 2013 release by e-artnow shows a generic photo of people of that era. (Or at least, I think it is a generic picture. Without having an actual copy of the book, I cannot tell whether the individuals in the photo were selected for some reason, such as showing real PEI residents of the time period.)

Many of the recent covers do not show pictures of characters. One cover from 2014 (Aladdin) shows numerous symbolic objects drawn in white on a red background. Other covers show objects that are not especially symbolic. Several feature pictures of plants or natural scenes. The plants and the scenery could pass as being from PEI, but they could also be from elsewhere. Perhaps the most disappointing covers are a 2012 release with a generic pile of books shown on the cover and a 2013 cover showing only the words of the title and author within a decorative border.

Anne of Avonlea is such a wonderful book that I would encourage anyone to read whatever copy is available, regardless of the cover. Some recent covers have been creative and beautiful, but there have also been many that for me have not worked as well as most of the past covers featuring images of the beloved character Anne.

Both Children of the Night and Anne of Avonlea are superb books, but very different from the types of books I usually review on this blog. I chose them because they have both been in print long enough to acquire multiple covers and illustrate the changing trends in cover design. In the next posting in this series, I will specifically examine the covers of recent releases in historical fiction set in medieval times.

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