Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

My book “Heir to the Underworld” is very far away from needing a cover, and yet, as soon as I got the offer I started thinking about what to do for the cover. It’s a toughy see, with fantasy elements and romance and a feisty young heroine, and I kept trying to think how to get that across.

A few years ago, (when the heroine, Freddy, was still a brunette) I had an artist I love, Nicole Chartrand, do a painting for me of my two characters Deg and Freddy.

This was the end result, which I LOVED:

Beautiful, right? I think it’s just a little too Adult Romance-y for a YA book, though, too much of a Clinch cover for the young adult crowd. Unfortunately. Because I do LOVE it.

Now, the question is, if this doesn’t work for a YA cover, especially one with historical/fantasy elements, then what does?

Well, I think for YA with a strong female heroine the “Dauntless Heroine Facing Towards Adventure (ie has her back showing)” is really effective. Especially if you’re on a short budget, as I’m sure most ePubs are. (“Heir to the Underworld” will be published by Sapphire Blue Publishing in a few months…)

What’s that, you say? You’d like an example of the Dauntless Heroine? Happy to oblige:

Nobody’s Prize by Esther Friesner
Well, I love the heroine’s hair here (shallow, I know). I also like the dagger because it’s a subtle way to show this heroine is a girl of action, and the chiton shows this is a historical book. Her pose is also really great, hand on hip, legs braced, ready for adventure, assertive. Again, subtle characterization going on here. The sea scape is also fairly well done and gives an idea of setting. We also get to see the heroine, but since she’s facing away the reader won’t be mad if her face isn’t how they pictured it. This image is nice and simple, while also really eye-catching. I would pick this up off the shelf to learn more.

The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan
Ok, so the guy looks a little emo. Overlook that for me, will ya? Another example of getting the character’s appearance right. Even down to the dead black eyes. I also like how faithfully they recreated the talisman thingy he had to wear, which is a big sign to readers that this book will have fantasy elements. And the crows and lightning in the background are nicely ominous, giving a good hint of the book’s tone. I also think the pretty boy on the cover will entice people to pick the book up and see what it’s about. The title font is also really good. Another sign this will be a fantasy book.

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles
Well, first off, mad props for not white-washing the cover model when the hero in the book is Latino. As we know, with YA there seems to be a strong white-washing trend. (See the kerfuffle over the book Liar). Anyway, I think this is a good example of a YA Clinch cover. The romance is obvious, but it’s still fairly PG with a hint that things could cross over into riskier territory. I think it’s an appropriate level of heat for the YA crowd. I also like the hint of the hero’s tattoo under his shirt sleeve. Nice and subtle. The simplicity of the cover also makes it eye-catching, and I think people would pick this up off the shelf.

And just for fun, here’s what NOT to do:
So, a little background. When Ironside by Holly Black was first released it had this cover:

Pretty yes? Fairly eye-catching. Reflected the tone and content of the book (which is part of a wonderful series that everyone should read). It was probably a little too subtle with getting across the fact there would be fantasy elements, but it’s still a good cover, I think.  Then, last year, when they were doing the reissue for this book, they got a new cover for it.

<——-This monstrosity
First of all, the hero, Roiben (that’s the skeezy looking white-haired dude pictured here) is supposed to be GORGEOUS. Like ridiculously beautiful. This guy looks like a troll doll, and what is up with his eyebrows?! And does he have a lazy eye? Look at me when I’m talking to you, young man! The pose between the two of them is also totally unnatural. She’s gripping his jacket so urgently and then they’re not even looking at each other. His long skinny fingers also creep me out. I would turn this around the other way just so I wouldn’t have to look at it. Cover FAIL.

And the one for her other book Valiant’s re-issue is equally cringe-worthy——->

Why is it so hard for this publisher to find models who don’t have crazy, caterpillar eyebrows, huh? I still can’t figure out if the black-tipped thingy sticking out of his hair is a horn or an ear. I think it’s an ear, but it’s really hideous whatever it is.

Disclaimer: These are classic examples of “Don’t judge a book by its cover” because Holly Black is a brilliant writer, and I have loved everything I have ever read of hers. She is brilliant, with great world-building, fascinating plots and fabulous characters. I recommend anything she’s written, even if the covers are hideous.

What are your favorite YA covers?

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