Judging a Book by its Cover REVAMPED
Today I want to look at book covers and talk about whether or not we should judge books by them. The obvous answer is no, of course, because what is between the covers matters most. But I am not sure that makes sense as an argument.
First, we do judge books by their covers, and in some cases, the covers are so beautiful an author can only be grateful to have them heralding his or her story. Because real covers are an art form.
Of course it depends on the cover- covers can vary from the sublime to the ridiculous. Fortunately, mine have been more often sublime than not, and rarely horrible.
Let's start with the sublime.
The above cover is, in my opinion, sublime.
It is the final version of the cover for my new book, Metro Winds, seen here in its full glory for the first time. The cover has gone through a few incarnations to get here, but oh what a lovely golden winged thing it is, now that it has arrived. I hope people do judge this book by its cover. For me it does what the best covers do- it does not try to represent the story it contains. It does not try to pre-empt it or to judge it or worst of all TELL it. It alludes to it. Isn't that a beautiful, gentle, graceful word? I like it so much I will write it again: Alludes.
To my mind, a good cover is both beautiful and alludes not to the story so much as the feeling or mood the story will evoke. It sets the scene.
The cover for Metro Winds was created by Zoe Sadokierski who works for Allen and Unwin. She is brilliantly talented and is not surprisingly up for a design award for the covers for The Wicked Wood and The Wilful Eye, both of which make up The Tower Anthology.
She is a true artist.
You can have a look at how Zoe goes about creating a cover here:http://www.dhub.org/judging-a-book-by-its-cover/
you can judge for yourself how well the Metro Winds alludes to the content it will enfold by taking a look at the sneak peak of the title story from the collection, at the end of this blog.In the meantime, if you have not seen them, these two covers make up the Tower Anthology,
These two books contain stories by a lot of different authors as well as from Nan Mc Nab and I (who edited them). I wanted something sensual with a dark fairy tale feel, and Zoe came up with these lushly beautiful covers. Again, not surprisingly, a lot of people have confessed sheepishly to me that they had liked the stories but had in fact first bought them BECAUSE of the covers! I said not to worry because I would have brought them for their covers too.
I can also tell you they were the cause of a lot of cover envy by other authors!
Let's move onto some other recent covers.
Below are three of the four exquisite velvet hard covers for the Little Fur books, executed by Marina Messiha who works for Penguin and who is, as you can see, another artist extraordinaire.
I can't tell you how much I love these original covers.
When the publishers first wrote to suggest furry covers, I was horrified. Please no gimmicky covers, I thought. (*facepalm*) Because to me too many bells and whistles suggest there might not be much content! But then Marina sent a mock up to me and oh the feel of the first Little Fur book was lovely. The cover design made my simple little drawing look sooo good, and it perfectly fitted the main character of the series.
I don't have a picture to post of the first velveted one, entitled Little Fur in Australia and The Legend of Little Fur in the states, so I am going to post a picture of the Australian paperback version of it. The Australian paperback is nice, being basically the same as the original hardback, but it lacks the tactile quality that made the original so extraordinary because it resonated so well to the essence of the gentle little elf troll healer that is the main character of the series.
I should here mention that ALL of the alternative covers of all of the books can be seen at this great website
The black and white pen and ink drawing below this image of the paperback, it is my original rough cover idea. Marina ended up using a detail of the final version to create the cover, and therafter when I inked the art for the covers, I knew I was drawing for that circle shape and what colour the cover would be.
The first Little Fur book with that velvet cover sold out within two weeks of release.
Penguin had printed a good run but they were as surprised as I was that it sold so fast, because they had based their print runs on projected sales of a book that was in a new age category for me. Looking back, I am pretty sure a lot of people brought the book for its cover, first. I mean if you were a parent or aunt or grandparent shopping for a book for a little one, wouldn’t you want to give them something that was beautiful as an object as well as a good book, if you had the choice? I had won enough awards that they could at least hope it might be a good story and I assume they did look inside to see how the writing was, but I have no doubt that the cover lured them into picking it up and holding it in the fist place. I don't know how many people of all ages I saw patting or stroking the original cover of that book, and then its sequels!
Just as an aside, I think one of the reasons that children’s books will continue to be presented in traditional print versions as well as Ebooks, is because reading a book is such a wonderful tactile experience. Of course, I would be glad to believe the buyer looked inside and thought what they glanced at worthy of the cover and their child, that a salesperson recommended the story, but I am certain the cover was the clincher. I think it is a pity the books in this series went into paperback, not because I am desperate to keep my books in that form- it is traditional for hardbacks to go to paperback in a year, but because the cover so suited its content. In fairness Penguin did keep all of them in hardback right up to when the final book in the series came out, which was a lot longer than is usual, and it does look nice in paperback, but I can't help but regret those lovely books that were the first version. And I am not alone. To this day, I still have book shop people and readers ask me where they can get "the velvet ones", and "why did Penguin change them?" They have their reasons of course, most likely economic- I am not sure, as a matter of fact. But nonetheless I think it is a pity.
In any case, I would have been very happy to have all of the Little Fur books judged by those first covers, and even by the paperback versions They are truthful to the essence of the books.
(Incidentally, you can still get that first book in 'velvet' hard cover by ordering from America where they are still being sold. I have no doubt that the American publishers were startled by how many Australians ordered it in because they wanted the furry book to match the others, and had sought out the set too late. I know they sold well because I signed many of the US version in Australia by people who told me they had gone to the trouble of importing them.)
Another sign that the covers were especially good, was the fact that the German, Czech and American publishers used the same velvet hardcovers, to begin with, which almost never happens.
It will be no surprise when I tell you that Marina won an Industry design award for A Fox called Sorrow, which is the second in the Little Fur series. She also did the gorgeous cover of The Red Wind, which you see below. It is composed of a pen and ink drawing on heavy GSM rough paper and the red hand drawn flame design I did, and some other elements she collected.
All I can say is, she makes me look good, and the CBC Book of the Year sticker than adorns the reprint doesn't detract from the design one bit :)
(I am working on The Cloud Road, which is the sequel to this, right now. It is almost finished and then I will have the plesure later in the year, of drawing all the roughs. But I will talk more about drawing and illustrating in a later blog.)
The next covers I would like to feature are the latest in the Obernewtyn Chronicles. Last of all is the current draft of the cover that will enfold the final book, next year. (you might be startled to see the title of the first one, but this was the Randon bind up of the first two books, which uses the same cover as the newest Australian Obernewtyn).
These are all the work of the remarkably talented Cathy Larsen, who also works for Penguin. She created all of the newest version of the Obernewtyn Chronicles, and though some of the books have been out for a very long time, they all sold like crazy once the new covers hit the shelves. I can ONLY attribute that to the covers. I was actually pretty resistant to new covers. I had loved the last lot, which were done by Miles Lowry, a wonderful Canadian artist. He had also done the Australian covers of Billy Thunder and the Night Gate and The Winter door in the Gateway Series.
Below is the US version of Billy Thunder, which they called The Nightgate.
Miles also did the original cover to Green Monkey Dreams, which is one of my own favorites among the books I have written, and I LOVED this cover.
Miles also did Alyzon Whitestarr. Here is the Australian and US covers for Alyzon Whitestarr. I think you can tell which is Miles'.
I would have liked the US cover better without the stars and confetti and if there was an industrial site behind her because to me this cover suggests something a lot lighter than I felt this book to be. Miles cover was not heavy but it was serious.
If you would like to see a very cool panoramic view of Miles' studio, take a look at this.
(He is also a poet and photographer, by the way) You can use the link to find your way to his website and have a look at some incredible art. The website itself is pretty cool too. I actually met him as a fine artist also in residence at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland. Just as a bit of trivia, it was Miles who told me the story that ended up being the central image of The Dove Game, which is one of the stories in Metro Winds.
I loved Miles covers for the Obernewtyn Chronicles, because to me they spoke of mystery rather than fantasy or science fiction. They were subtle compared to a lot of REALLY BAD FANTASY covers out there. I found many of the covers so repellent that I wanted to steer right away from anything that would put me next to them. But given how long the Obernewtyn books had been out, Penguin argued pretty reasonably that they needed a new face. Hence Cathy's lovely covers. I nearly drove her crazy with ideas and suggestions before she came up with this concept, probably in self defence! But one look at them and I was sold. In fact, her covers were so goog that Random in the states and Bloomsbury in the UK used them as well. But Random split The stone key in two, thereby creating another book, which we called Wavesong, and Cathy was so much in demand and so busy that he was unable to do the extra cover. So Random came up with this cover below.
I don't mind the cover, though I don't think it has Cathy's special touch but the lipstick is a problem. Somehow I do not see Elspeth being a lippie wearer...
Please note: you do not need this book if you have the Australian editions- it is the First half of The Stone Key and contains only a few lines of new material, because obviously a book could not simply be hacked in two. In needed the odd suture or two.
I should mention that I did also love these Tor covers for the first three of the Obernewtyn books, and the one for Ashling won the illustrator a prize.
The quality of this image is not great so below is the artwork, so you get a better idea of how lovely these covers were.
There are some truly horrible Scholastic covers for the first two books in the Obernewtyn Chronicles which came out a long while back in the UK. Somehow it did not surprise me a bit that the books did not sell with those covers. I don't have a pic of those but Scholastic UK also did Scatterlings and this is the cover they gave it below, which I loathed. It looks like George Jetson designed it, and it gives you some idea of the approach they took to the covers for Obernewtyn and The Farseekers.
Below is the Oz cover, which I liked.
finally, just so you can see the breadth of what can be, here are a random few of the other Obernewtyn series covers
I liked this one enough to buy the artwork.
I LOVED these covers, though the first is a slightly revamped version I like less than the original, but the artwork is a detail from a painting called The Last Supper- actually it is women cleaning up after the last supper because they were not invited.
Just to finish, because I could go on and talk about every cover, here are some of the many covers The Gathering got over the years, starting with the original. The second is the most recent from Penguin, which I quite like. The third is the one from a subsidiary of Penguin in the states. The last is the gorgeous Japanese translation, which I loved best of all- its cover contains a detail of Anne Spudvilas's original cover, which I also liked very much. The red bit is a foldover that comes off.
This one above looks like he has a bagel hanging around his neck!
I didn't like this cover much- too cartoonish somehow.
Finally, just for variety, I would like to show you a couple of really interesting covers of anthologies.
To conclude, I want to reiterate that IN EVERY CASE without fail, the covers I liked sold better. I suspect this is because they resonated most effectively to the stories and who should know them better than their writer?
So when it comes to judging a book I have to say, I would never judge a book by its cover, but I very often pick one up because of it. Then I turn it over and read the blurb, keeping in mind that the blurb is often NOT WRITTEN by the person who wrote the book. But last of all, I look at the first few pages. I ALWAYS do this if a book is by an unknown or little known author, or by an author I have only read and liked once before because I am wary of author's second books.
Weird to say it, but getting published really messes with your head and sometimes a writer needs to write another two books before they get back on track. Some never recover- seriously. Because being published is where you go froma totally private thing you do for love to the WORST ind of exposure, and that can be a bit of a shock to the system. The writing will be the deciding factor in these maybe cases. If the writing is bad, I don't buy the book. I know the story will not hold me unless the writing is at least decent. Great writing will hook me, but unless there is something about the story that appeals, I might not buy it this time, though I might next time.
If it is a writer I love, I don’t care about the cover. I will buy the book no matter what, though I really like it when the cover is a good one- look at the covers of China Mieville’s books- they are superb and somehow they reflect his intellectual brilliance.
(One of the things I do like about E books, though, is that when a cover is so awful it embarasses me, and it can happen with fantasy and sometimes with science fiction, I can read it on Kindle and no one will see the cover!)
The motto to this blog? A good cover helps and a bad cover can be the kiss of death, unless you have a solid track record, in which case, hopefully you will also have enough sense and the control to veto it.
Finally, as promised, a sneak peak from Metro Winds, the story, in the collection of the same name, originally dedicated to Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network Lawyer, Fernanda Dahlstrom, (though she was still at uni when I began this story...)
So there was a girl. Young but not too young. A face as unformed as an egg, so that one could not tell if she would turn out to be fair or astonishingly ugly. She was to be sent to a city in another land by a mother and father in the midst of a divorce. The one thing they could agree upon was that the girl should not be exposed to the violence they meant to commit on their life. There was a quality in her that made it impossible to do the ravening that the end of love required.
‘She must be sent away,’ the father had said in civil but forbidding tones.
‘For her own good,’ the mother agreed. ‘My sister will have her.’
The girl stood between them, wordless and passive as a bolster, as it was arranged that she be sent to the city where her mother had spent her childhood, this girl who had lived on a remote coast of a remote land in a solitary yellow house listening to the chilly grey sea that rushed straight from the ice pole to pound on the shore beside her bedroom window.
Red-nosed and blue-lipped, bare-armed and bare-legged in a faded shift, she had played amongst rocks where crabs scuttled through pools of clouded sky, but on the day of the departure, she wore a navy blue dress and jacket lined with grey silk, dark stockings and patent leather shoes, all of which had been purchased from a catalogue. The heavy mass of silken hair had been wetted and bound tightly into two braids. She watched her white night shift being folded into a dark boxy suitcase, although the mother and aunt had agreed that once she arrived she would be provided with a wardrobe befitting her life in the city.
‘She can’t go with nothing,’ the mother murmured to herself as she closed the mouth of the case. There was little enough in it, yet how could she be blamed for the lack of clothes or beloved toys to pack, or much-read books? The girl could not be forced to accumulate such things.
The mother glanced at the girl with a pang of unease as she straightened, but reminded herself that the child’s destination was a very old and sophisticated city, and not some dangerous wilderness, so what need was there for anxiety? She wanted to cup the girl’s face and kiss the cheeks and eyelids tenderly, but only rested her hands lightly on her shoulders; felt the fragility of them; noted absently that her own fingers were stiff as dried twigs.
‘You will see,’ she said vaguely.
There was no need to invoke good behaviour, for the girl was calm and biddable and, remarkably, did not practise deceits. When a question was asked, she saw only that information was required. The consequences of her answer or the uses to which the information she gave might be put did not concern her. Being asked, she told. If she did not know, she said. This might have made her blunt and tactless, but she seldom spoke unless asked a direct question.
What would the girl’s aunt make of her? the mother wondered. Rather than leaving her plump sister embittered, the lack of a husband or children had softened the centre of her until she was sweet enough to ache your teeth. She had been full of delight at the thought of having a vessel into which she could pour the rich syrup of her emotions.
‘I shall adore her and she will be happy,’ she had written.
The mother frowned at the memory, for it seemed to her the girl was too deep and odd to be content with mere happiness. Once, seeing a storm brooding, she had gone seeking the girl, only to find her standing at the edgy rim of the sea, hands lifted to the bruised clouds like a child wishing to be taken up. What sort of child is it who wishes to embrace a storm? she had wondered in appalled awe. The girl’s lips had been drawn back from her teeth in a rictus that looked at first to be an expression of pain, but was only what laughter had made of her.
Even so, one could not say to one’s sister that the child had a capacity for rare and frightening joy, and so she had simply agreed that they were bound to get along. That, at least, might be true.
Stowing the case in the boot of her car, the mother thought how often over the years she had tried to convey her disappointment in the girl in letters to her sister, who had only congratulated her on her good fortune with an extravagant wistfulness that left no room for a confession of the fear that she had borne, not a flesh-and-blood child with fits of ill temper that must be humoured and fears that must be soothed, but a sort of angel. And not the soft fat promiscuous angels of Italian frescoes, but a wild untameable creature of dry feathers and blazing sunlight and high wailing winds.
Neither the mother nor the father thought of the girl with intimate possessiveness. It was not the man’s nature to wish to possess anything other than abstract ideas, for he was a doctor and medical researcher. And the woman found it impossible to love a child who required neither forgiveness nor tolerance. A mother needs needing, she told herself, to excuse the guilt that churned her belly from time to time.
The girl sat docilely in the car on the way to the airport, hands folded loosely in her lap. ‘Are you afraid?’ her mother asked after they had checked the bag and learned of the seat allocation.
‘No,’ the girl said simply.
The mother swallowed an aimless spurt of anger, knowing that for anyone else, being sent into the unknown would be reason enough for fear. Perhaps the girl had nothing with which to people her nightmares because she lacked imagination. The mother felt a shamed relief when the time came to say goodbye, yet at the same time it seemed to her there were words that should be said.
I should understand something, she thought urgently.
When the girl turned to pass through the door to international departures, the woman found herself remembering with sudden shocking clarity the lumpy slipperiness as the midwife pulled the child from her womb and swung it up onto her flaccid belly; the rank animal stench of the fluids that flowed out of her, and the purplish swollen look of skin smeared with white foam and strings of bloody slime; that black hair and the dark bottomless eyes that looked through her skin and into her soul.
The airport doors closed with a smooth hiss, severing them from one another. The woman stood for a time looking at the ambiguous smear of her face in the dull metal surface, feeling grief, longing, fear.
The girl spent much of the journey gazing out at the sky, surprised at how substantial the clouds appeared from above. For of course she had only ever seen their undersides, which must have been grazed to flatness by the mountains they passed over. When the sky darkened as the plane entered the long night, a steward asked if she wanted chicken or beef. She never ate meat but the travel agent hadn’t thought to ask when booking the ticket. It did not matter. She liked the way hunger gnawed at her belly from the inside with sharp little teeth.
When she slept, it was to dream an old dream of wandering in dark tunnels searching for something she could not name.