Today I’m starting a new series of posts, “Judging Before Reading”, in which I explain what makes me add a book to my TBR. In these posts I’ll talk about covers I like and don’t like, what are my buzzwords, and what will probably make me decide I don’t even want to give a chance to a certain book.
This is a post about covers I don’t like.
On Judging Books By Their Covers
I tend to do that. I think we all judge books by their cover to a degree, but I’m aware that I’m far more likely to add a book if I like the cover. However, if the premise sounds really interesting and/or I like the author, the cover won’t matter – I’m shallow, yes, but not that much.
Here are some cover trends and mistakes I’d love to never see again, anyway.
I get it, you’re a generic YA high fantasy book. But shouldn’t the cover try to convince me otherwise?
Red Queen is the only YA book who got this right, but after it became popular, “a fake-looking crown on a boring background” was suddenly a trend – a really boring one. Ash Princess tries at least to make the crown look interesting, but this cover still looks very generic to me. Four Dead Queens tries to bring something new with the position of the crowns, but the illustration isn’t good enough to avoid the “deformed crustaceans” look. And lastly, Three Dark Crowns is undeniably one of the most boring covers in the YA age range. (But it can get worse! Just look at how ugly One Dark Throne is.)
The thing about crown covers is that they make me think the book is a high fantasy I’ve already read too many times, with a bland m/f romance, a vague dystopian feel because there always needs to be a rebellion, and an even vaguer worldbuilding. I know I’m less likely to add a book if there’s a crown on the cover.
Tacky Round Things
This is so Divergent-era dystopian. I’d love if YA grew out of it the way it grew out of its fake dystopian romance phase four years ago. This theme isn’t as generic-looking as the crown on a dull background, but I can’t say it is much better. Seafire isn’t ugly, but I think it could have taken the compass rose theme in a much more interesting direction. Defy the Stars looks boring but has a nice color scheme, and The Last Magician is saved only by the fact that there are snake skeletons and you can’t go too wrong with snake skeletons (it almost manages to be boring anyway, though).
Unlike crowns, this kind of covers isn’t limited to a specific genre (Seafire is pirate fantasy, Defy the Stars is a romance in space, The Last Magician is a time travel story) but to me it looks dull and overused. It carries that “YA book you’ve already read before” feeling, and I know I’m less likely to add a book with this kind of cover to my TBR.
Did You Mean It or Was It A Mistake
This is a vague title, but sometimes I see a cover and wonder whether that was the intended effect. Like, I’m pretty sure the US cover of The Kingdom of Copper wasn’t meant to look like someone was just abducted by aliens, but because of the unfortunate placement of the dome and the light, it does. The Belles is a great idea ruined by the fact that the cover model is out of focus in her own cover (why?! The cover of The Everlasting Rose, however, doesn’t have this problem and it’s gorgeous). And Not Even Bones is a remarkable example of boring. Look at the most fake-looking blood drops ever. Look at the empty space and tell me if that’s not wasted potential. It looks so sad.
Covers with a good concept and a mediocre or terrible execution don’t make me less likely to add the book (I loved The City of Brass and of course I’m not going to miss the sequel because of the alien abduction), they just make me sad. They could have been so much better, and to this day I kind of want to remove Not Even Bones even though I know I’ll probably love what’s on the inside.
I’m Trying to Be Throne of Glass
I didn’t like Throne of Glass. So…
I actually don’t think Ship of Smoke and Steel is a terrible cover – it looks interesting, and the ghost-like appearance of the girl makes more sense here than it does in Throne of Glass, because this story involves ghosts – but, like the new Flamecaster cover, it looks very generic. “I have long swords and a wonderful tight gap” generic.
The new cover of The Winner’s Crime is also trying to be Throne of Glass, but in another way. Instead of copying the cover of the first book, it’s a shameless copycat of The Assassin’s Blade. The old covers were better.
It’s kind of like using Throne of Glass as a comp title. I’m going to hope it’s misleading marketing and read the book anyway if I find it interesting, but I can’t say it’s encouraging.
People on covers aren’t necessarily a negative thing for me – there are some covers that get it right, like the aforementioned The Everlasting Rose – but faceless bodies are always ugly. It’s mostly a romance problem, but sometimes I also find SFF books like that. Palimpsest is an example of an off-putting book I would never have bought if it hadn’t been written by one of my favorite authors; Syncopation is remarkably ugly even for a romance book, and Chord is… an armpit. Why did that happen, I don’t get it.
I’d read a lot more romance if it covers weren’t so often either half-naked faceless people or models almost kissing.
Even if these books end up being favorites, I won’t buy a physical copy, because I don’t need or want ugly half-naked people or armpits on my shelves.
What are some book cover trends you don’t like? What do you think of these? Have you ever read a really good book that didn’t deserve the (not really good) cover?