Top Ten Tuesday is an original weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. I thought this would be a fun way to share a condensed version of potential rambles and thoughts that I have.
This Week’s Theme:
Top Ten Book Cover Trends
As the initial point of contact, a book cover doesn’t necessarily have to tell you what the book is going to be about any more than it should supplement the synopsis in doing so. But sometimes it gets perplexing when we start to form judgments based on simply the face value of the cover. Here are some trends I’ve noticed spread across the genres. I thought about including the book covers that would fit these categories…but decided against it. In doing this, I hope that when you read the trend being listed, you can conjure up book covers that you’ve personally come across and can relate to it even more.
Feel free to hit me up with notable culprits of these trends in the comments below!
Pretty sure the genre most guilty of this is YA contemporary romance. At least for these no-face pictures, you can basically plug-and-play your favourite face into the character and live out whoever you think it might be. But it seems kind of cookie-cutter to me where it’s almost set in stone that the couple on the cover (using the synopsis as a guideline) is the be-all-end-all. So it’s almost as if you’ve read the ending (because potential happily-ever-after shipping is the most important trope, right?) and then you’re basically backtracking to the front to view the spectacle of drama leading up to it. Though, these are just my thoughts considering I don’t read too many YA contemporary.
Now, I’m not one to have read many novels where there is an evident POC protagonist but it’s still a steady issue for book covers where characters of colour are being depicted by white-skinned models or are graphically illustrated and enhanced to look a certain way all because of its superficial value and societal perception of thinking otherwise.
To further tangent this idea, let’s consider the recently trended hashtag: #WeNeedMoreDiverseBooks. There are diverse books if you know where you look. There are also diverse books that simply aren’t receiving visibility and exposure. Sale-value, for what it’s worth, is pretty superficial and a shitty criteria to mainly consider (not saying this is the only thing being looked at though). Crowd hype trending has made it known that readers want more diverse books. But where does it begin? It begins with accepting the idea that you can’t have it both ways: where readers want diversity but then become perplexed to see a POC being at the forefront. Take for example casting of movies. When someone doesn’t look like a viable candidate for a role. People scream expletives about why they imagined a certain character to be [often pointing to a white-skinned candidate instead].
The world is full of colour. You can’t possibly hope for diversity while allowing things like whitewashing to occur. It’s an inevitable cycle that won’t truly end…but that doesn’t mean the cycle isn’t malleable. Readers want more diversity but can often act in ways that turn off the idea of it (re: because questioning normalcy isn’t the cool thing to do). If-then, publishers (in my view) may not be inclined to deliver due to market reach and the scope of what people will want to see. But change has to start somewhere. And if we can’t remedy the core problem rooted in human nature itself, a symptom is as good as any place to start. Publishers need to be aware that whitewashing isn’t okay—just as much as the public eye is becoming more resilient to social equality. This isn’t the early 70’s (or whatever generation you want to consider). The movement of diversity in books is not a radical change by any means when there’s already a shift in thinking. Call it’s wishful thinking…but whitewashing is a step backwards, not forwards.
Because you’re as good as dead if you remain stagnant.
I haven’t even scratched the surface of this topic. Hopefully, everything makes sense in relation to each other. I apologize for it getting ranty. Onward….
Shirtless Industry Professionals Men
You’ve seen one…you’ve seen them all. No? Well, shit, I can’t explain why this is a trend anymore than just people wanting the eye candy. I feel as though people might not even care that they could be the most horridly described character in the novel but all is well in the world with the right set of protein-injected muscle.
When Blockbusters Get a Movie Adapted Cover
This one is a doozy. I understand why they do it—it’s a money grab. People who haven’t read the book but have seen the movie may be more inclined to pick up the block of pages if they enjoyed the screen adaptation. That’s fair.
Then there are genuine realists: the books are usually better than the movies. So people may dislike it because…well, it’s the lesser cool one as it now has actors you may or may not like on it and your perception on the original is simply tainted. Even if you aren’t going to admit it: what’s seen cannot be unseen. Basically.
But from a convention-goer and cosplay perspective, I actually have a lot of thanks to give to screen adaptations for bringing characters to life in such a manner that people can cosplay (or dress up) as their favourite character of choice. Basic source material, for the creatively challenged (raises hand), is often difficult to re-imagine into a life-sized, scaled prop or costuming. With characters in movies (and inadvertently the tie-in movie covers), half the work is already done and all that’s left is for costumers to replicate the images seen. Halloween called…they want a recall on the witches and bed-sheet ghosts. Apparently, people wan’t to get treats or party as Katniss and Peeta-Bread. So from this angle, I can sort of appreciate it? But that doesn’t mean I’ll go throw money at these covers though.
Pausing the Image: Wind, Billow, Floating, Defying Gravity
I combined them all because they’re like…almost the same thing. In most cases, there’s something dynamic and striking about seeing an image as if it’s a pause in time.
When In Doubt: Add Lens Flare
Word is that there’s a subsection in the Book Cover 101 Handbook that states: “when in doubt, add lens flare.”
I’m not chirping its value. I don’t hate it. I don’t love it. It’s just there (even if they’re in the most unusual place where it doesn’t make for there to be light.)
EXCESSIVELY LARGE AND IN-YOUR-FACE TYPOGRAPHY
I’m talking about the covers that basically are end-to-end filled with text and weird, quirky, unnecessarily large typography. Sometimes, the texts fit around a certain image or illustration as well. And sometimes they’re in all-caps…and I’m just sitting here thinking: “STOP YELLING AT ME.” No? Just me? Damn.
Images, Emblems, or Symbols of Textual Importance
Not sure if this is really a trend or if it’s just simply purposeful designing to incorporate and follow a series of interconnecting themes on the title page. Personally, while it often may not result in the most striking cover…it’s the one that does certainly make the most contextual sense after the book is read. A definite bonus is when the book spine follows the same pattern or detailing of an image.
The Creative Value of Magnifying Parts of the Body
Half a face? Headless body? Random limb? Quarter of a face? A patch of skin? Just an eye?
I’m waiting for a cover to just feature a picture of an ear that leads into some alternate world or maybe even a nose being…a nose. Other body parts need love too, not just the eye (which I’ve recently seen a lot of). Or maybe there just wasn’t enough in the budget to pay for the actors full reveal. Now that’s a thought. But the biggest letdown is when characters are seen in full profile (with or without their head) but they’re not even the same person as described in the novel.
Females in Extravagant Dresses and Gowns
Poor girl who becomes a martyr? Let’s give her a billowy dress.
A girl doing laundry, going to work and doing regular people stuff? Let’s give her an expensive ball gown to do it all in.
But hey, maybe it’s the norm for people to want to live a life of constant corsets and poofy dresses. I’m not judging (yes, I totally am). Someone needs to write a novel about the poor seamstress who has to go through the hassle of making all these clothes. Seriously.
Note: I generalized females particularly (instead of opening it up to characters; i.e. those of the LGBTQ niche) because they’re the ones on covers that’s socially acceptable to see. That’s another rant on it’s own so I’ll save you of that.
This took excessively long to write because of that one topic above. So while it is Wednesday, the importance of the whitewashing topic required a posting. There was more, actually, but I had to cut some out. Hope this imageless post still works out for you!
35 thoughts on “[Top Ten Tuesday] – #24 – Top Ten Book Cover Trends”
You’re section on white washing is intriguing! I think you could do a whole separate post on it!
Haha, maybe! To be honest though, it wasn’t only until recently that I was informed that there was a term for it. I mean I knew it was happening…but I definitely felt like even if it was addressed, nothing was really being done about it. I’ll definitely sleep on it though, I’m not sure if I’m the most articulate about this topic!
I completely forgot about whitewashing but it’s definitely a recurring theme in book covers. It’s not even a recent trend, this one’s been around for decades. I remember reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Earthsea” as a kid, and last year I was floored when I found out the protagonist is a POC. I always pictured him as a white dude because that’s what on the cover. Apparently, the author complained about this but nobody listened. Twenty years later, the same things are still happening.
I do confess I have a soft spot for ballgowns, though. I get annoyed when I read the book and realize that fancy ballgowns they make no sense whatsoever in the context of the story, but I still pick up the book because they’re pretty.
That’s what was most surprising to me when I recently found out about whitewashing. I mean I guess I “knew” it could happen but I guess you’re always hoping that it doesn’t.
I’ve often heard that the publishing industry is predominantly (and I regret to say this but unfortunately) white-skinned driven to the extent that it’s often difficult for people to even dabble with the topic–as if they don’t know how to talk about such an “issue”. This sort of thing implicates diversity in books and basically actions like whitewashing, to me, is like a slap on the face–and that being a POC is still marginalizing.
Ballgowns sound like quite the bait-and-switch for you! But yes, it is funny at times when characters may/may not wear said dress and if they do..it’s likely not even the same one as imagined on the cover.
Your posts are always so thoughtful. I love them! 😀
Thanks Chrissi, I hope this inspires some discussions on your end as well!
Very thoughtful and interesting post! I really enjoyed reading this. I can say out of all of your points – the movie adaptation irritates me the most. Rarely is the movie better than the book (for me) and I would never buy the book with a picture of the actors on the cover. But, that’s just me.
Definitely a fair statement to make! I don’t imagine many original followers of a pre-blockbuster novel to even consider purchasing an additional copy just because an actor is now tacked onto the cover. Well…I guess there are fangirls/boys who might. But purists will stand united!
It’s funny you should mention you want a cover of a nose being a nose.
Here you go. The US cover of The Humans. And yes, I will literally mention this book as many times as I possibly can because I want everyone to read it. Matt Haig should pay me for advertising. Haha.
MAN….I was totally just throwing out some idea to! That’s pretty amusing that the US cover is a nose, though. What could it mean?!
Haig should give you praise for all the times I’ve (and possibly many others) have seen something of his in passing.
The narrator (an alien who’s taken over the body of a human) makes mention of noses and their strangeness several times in the book. How weird they are, how much they protrude, etc. At least it means something. 🙂
I’ve convinced quite a few people to read that book and they’ve all loved it, so I feel like a good book nerd and fan of his work.
Oh, that sounds like familiar territory actually! I feel like I’ve come across some novels that have the same kind of elements: the whole initial discovery of the human anatomy (for starters at least) is usually full of wit and hilarity!
It is wildly funny especially since he is naked at first and running down a very busy street. Cars are honking at him but he has absolutely no idea as to why they are doing so. It’s hilarious.
I HATE move tie-in covers. Just no.
That’s fair! I think the only true benefit for traditionalists is the exposure the tie-in cover will garner for new, potential readers. More people involved in the fandom can’t be too bad of a thing, right?
This is a good post and I don’t think you need any visuals as you make your points very well – we’re all readers after all!
I completely agree about whitewashing. It’s incredibly annoying.
Movie tie-ins is my other pet hate – it’s such a lazy way of covering a book. Plus, I hate it when I’ve been collecting a series and then the covers change to reflect the tv series etc. I want consistency. Is that really too much to ask? There, now I’ve had a little rant as well!
I’m glad you were able to make sense of everything!
I think whitewashing just needs greater exposure and people being informed about it because I honestly found out only a short while ago. Of course, as a POC myself, these are things you wish wouldn’t happen…so I kind of ignorantly shut out the possibility at times so I can still retain some faith in humanity.
I’ve never heard of many book covers reflecting the television series–that’s interesting! And while I don’t see the value in producing a new cover just because a movie comes out (since people who want to read it post-movie will still find a copy somehow…) I guess to the minority who aren’t intense like the rest of us will grapple onto whatever copy they can find–and I guess the ones with the movie tie-in is pretty accessible.
I can just see the ear cover, white background with a detached ear at its center, I’m thinking a van Gogh biography.
Quite possible! We can work on the sales pitch but I think we might have our next trending organ.
I think the artist who do these covers could really do some things if they played around with these cover trends. I would totally love to see a Belle (the movie that came out this year) like book cover. I actually think the idea of the girls in dresses doing laundry or chores would a nice cover, it would definitely get my attention. If publishers stepped out they could get so many more readers in different genres. The opportunities that they are missing on because of their lack of variety and diversity is a travesty.
I can definitely understand the publisher perspective of not wanting to step outside whatever bubble they consider “the norm”. It is a business after all. My hopes is that with the recent success of the need for diversity, there’s a noticeable dent in the statistic of books “written by” and “about” diverse topics and characters; particularly in the children and young-adult genres. Readers have asked for it…now let’s see if publishers deliver.
I get annoyed with the hand wringing of publishers and authors talking about this is a business so x (aka stop asking for this while we still sell you stuff you really don’t want while ignoring what you ask for). They want me to be excited about what they are putting out but don’t want to do anything different or exciting. I want to be optimistic about there being more diverse books coming out into the scene but I am not. Many people said they wanted diverse books but now seem to have went back to not reading any diverse books. I do hope that they put out way more diverse books because I can see all the great things they could do.
That’s the flaw with sheep being sheep–people can say all they want but until they actually act on it (i.e. actually go out and change the sales statistic of diverse books; or even attempt to read one)…it’s an unsupported campaign. This isn’t to say that the efforts of bringing it to attention is poor–gosh no, keeping it relevant is definitely a good thing–but the follow-up is important as well.
But I do hear you; the next great novel/series is out there that fits a lot of the things we, as readers, “hope” to see. Yet big box corporations have extrapolated that it could just be some passing fad and history dictates that we’ll go back to the generics: the same contemporary, young-adult, dystopian stories with more-or-less the same basic mechanics. And I get it–those will be sellers. But honestly, it’s not like readers are asking for them to stop production of other things. Quite the opposite, I’d say. The investment in diversity is so open-ended that there’s really no right way to do it–and the only true wrong way is if it’s not attempted at all.
The shirtless men covers kill me! No matter how good the book sounds, it’s so hard for me to get past a harlequin romance-esque cover. I’d much rather see a design with more thought and creativity.
I hear ya.
I’m sure this is the transcribed meeting from production somewhere:
“So…the story is called Death and Taxes. It’s about a sexy paranormal accountant….how do you think we should design the–”
“–just throw on some brooding guy with tatts on the cover. We’re done here.”
Not a big fan of in your face type either and the never thought to look at the way females wear dresses. Very interesting take on that theme
Sometimes it’s just difficult to make sense of the title when it’s written in all sorts of directions!
I feel like a lot of the times the females in dresses on the cover don’t even end up wearing said cover-dress at any point of the novel…and even if they do, it’s not even important!
Wow. In depth analysis without images to boot! In my reading life, I’ve only encountered one book that whitewashed a character on the cover: The Eternity Cure by Julie Kagawa. Though she’s long changed it due to the complaints that she’s gotten. But perhaps, thats because I’m not really that well-read. I rarely venture out of YA, and when I do, I tend to stick to popular fiction.
Great post, as always. 🙂
(It was possibly due to my own laziness in finding images to fit each category that I didn’t include any, hahaha.)
I don’t come across that many whitewashing incidents on covers either, but it’s always something that’s going to be in the back of my mind (as a POC myself). I’m just perplexed as to the thought of whitewashing a model when an easier cop-out is to just have a simple design with typography or go minimalist.
And thanks, glad to hear you were able to make sense of the discussions!
I have to agree with you completely about the movie inspired covers. This is one that I forgot to include on my own list. Including the actors on the book cover really does taint one’s reading of the book. Once you see a face, it’s nearly impossible to un-see that face.
I’m also one for aesthetically pleasing shelves and these covers do nothing but detract from the general splendor of a well-kept bookshelf.
Really enjoyed your post!
Not going to lie though, I’m one to use an actors face as a base template if needed when I read character descriptions. So sometimes it’s not always bad to have a model/actor on a cover–it’s just when, as you say, you cannot un-see said face…then problems of enjoyment start happening.
Glad you found something worthwhile to read into in this post!
Thanks for this, I laughed out loud at the alternate universe ear!
I can’t say I’ve noticed much whitewashing, I probably read the wrong books, but I can understand why it’s a problem. I do remember as a child a Chinese princess on one of my books looking remarkably Caucasian, but that’s about it.
I must say that I get annoyed when people accuse an author of whitewashing when the character’s race isn’t mentioned, then when a movie comes along and the character is cast as white and people get offended. I most recently saw this for the character of Lavender Brown in the Harry Potter series.
It happens in the reverse as well, for example there was apparently uproar when Rue in the The Hunger Games was played by an African American child… I always pictured her with darker skin, whether it’s in the book or not!
Maybe I just don’t see race as such an important thing as other people, probably due to where I live. I tend to make the characters whatever I like unless it’s specifically stated!
I hate romance covers with half naked men on them! I’ll only read romances on my Kindle for this reason! I refuse to take such things out in public!
Glad to hear you found some enjoyment in my rambling nonsense! (My mind is weird, I know.)
I think the primary issue in the whole race-actor debacle might be an issue of purists wanting the source material to be accurate. It’s funny you should use Rue as an example because it’s amazing how people still get angry even if casting puts an effort into casting diverse actors to fill the roles–even if it’s somewhat off the mark.
Realistically, I’m sure race isn’t the most common description used in text (I find, at least). It’s when they begin to describe the hair, the skin-tone, etc. that people begin to become nitpicky with it all–which is totally fine. But when there’s minimal descriptions on physical appearance, readers use whatever they know in imagining the character. So when a movie comes along and casting is done…let the rage commence.
I can’t imagine if people would be more embarrassed to carry around half-naked character(s) on the cover of their book or a known pseudo-erotica like 50 shades…
You thought yours out so well. I completely agree on the whitewashing. It’s what I was thinking about with “models who look like the characters they’re portraying” but didn’t go into detail.
Thanks! Especially with the North American/European mindset (even from a POC POV such as myself), it seems almost “standard” to default characters who lack description to be caucasian. Damn.