Thursday, September 9, 2010


Does it bother you when a character is shown on the cover of a novel?

I feel like it steals my imagination before I can create an image of the character myself.

I recently saw a book trailer for The Sky is Everywhere, and I found myself thinking

DON'T show them, DON'T show them, PLEASE DON'T ruin them for me

the whole time.

I feel that in this trailer they purposely keep things fuzzy and they do not try to nail down the image of the main characters. Which works for me, even if it feels a little contrived.

I also find that sometimes while reading a character stays a little blurry in my head, and when I think about it, I like it. I just read Shiver, and after putting down the book I tried to "see" the main characters Grace and Sam. While I had a hint of each, I can't say I really defined them fully in my head.

Here are some books I read recently where I didn't like to see the characters on the cover:

This is my Mary now, and I don't think I would have imagined her this way if there was another option. My Mary's hair and makeup are not that perfect. I also take issue with her clothes on this cover. To me it looks a little like a storebought Banana Republic sweater, not the kind of homespun knitting or clothing I would imagine in this world.

I found myself flipping to the cover while reading and thinking,

Okay, post-apocalyptic zombie reality I accept, but where did she get that sweater???

I also feel a little cheated that I didn't get to imagine Mary by myself at all.

Paper Towns. This is not my Margo Roth Spiegelman. She just didn't seem exactly like this to me. Maybe because it's difficult for one photo to encapsulate this troubled, complex character. She looks mischievous here and rebellious, but I don't think her darker side is captured at all in this photo.

For what it's worth, here are some that don't bother me as much:

The DUFF-- Haven't read it yet, but I like that you get a hint of the character, but not the whole she-bang. It's a sassy glimpse of Bianca, with the eyeshadow and the bubble gum, without giving away too much.

Dirty Little Secrets-- this image works for me. I may not have imagined Lucy exactly like this, but something about the image is authentic to the tone and the scope of the book.

Perfect Chemistry. Again, My Alex and my Brittany are slightly different, but this is such a great photo it doesn't ruin it for me. I like that you get a sense of the tenderness of their relationship-- maybe that's why.

After reading Sarah Enni's delightful treatise on The Katniss Problem I find myself so happy that Suzanne Collins never put a cover model on her books. Though due to Sarah's post I now think of Tania Raymonde as Katniss when I read. Which is okay for me.

When I glance over this list I wonder what the real difference is between the ones I like and the ones I don't. I think the context makes it or breaks it for me. If Mary's clothes/hair/makeup matched the world more I might not mind it, and if Margo looked less like a model and more like a character, I think it would work better for me.

That's my quick and dirty analysis.

So what about you???

Do you like it when the characters are shown on the cover? What are some covers that worked for you, or some that didn't??


  1. I'm definitely with you, no characters on the cover, especially photos of real people. The publishing industry doesn't get it -- surprise, I have a brain!

  2. I definitely agree with covers ruining my character image! What a great post.

    When I was a kid, I would wrap white paper around the book covers. That way, I wouldn't let ugly heroes or overly-buxom heroines or just plain poorly drawn protags get in my imagination's way. I recall hating the covers on every single Anne McCaffrey novel, Tamora Pierce novel, and Kate Forsyth novel. :/

  3. you know - using models or images of real people is super popular for YA right now. and honestly, I can't stand it! my favorite covers were for THE HUNGER GAMES. they made me think. And...i was able to create my own images of the characters in my mind.

    i would love if you'd help spread the word....i'm giving away a free query crit to the first 10 people today!

  4. So I can be a little ADHD, so I started playing the Jandy Nelson trailer before I read your comment on it-- and I thought the exact same thing you did! "PLEASE don't you dare show Joe, don't do it!!" Seeing Lennie (what little they showed) was okay for me, because she matched the description so well. But when you have a character like Joe, he is the ideal, so it's going to be different for everyone. That would've been sort of taken from me if they had shown him.

    (even of the tiny bits they showed, I thought the dude they chose had slim girly fingers, and I didnt like that.)(sorry, dude.)

    And I agree that full pictures of protagonists on the cover just doesn't work for me. Partial (like The DUFF- great example) is alright, but you totally nailed it. Context is key.

  5. It doesn't bother me so much when I see a model on the front of a cover, like The DUFF doesn't bother me at all. Although for my own book, I think I want to leave it up to the reader to decide what the character looks like. Not that authors get much say in the matter. As for TFOHT - I kind of liked that girl on the front. That book has another cover with a very different looking Mary on the front with very heavy makeup, so this one wasn't actually so bad wrt staying true to the dystopian society thing. The HG covers in other countries also have a picture of Katniss (and even Peeta) on them. Even if you get the US covers that don't, it still kind of sticks in your mind when you see it.

  6. sometimes it doesnt bother me. we have different covers to TFOHAT and also Papertowns here has a different model again. I imagine the charcters differently in my head even if they're on the cover anyway. haha. not sure why?

    also, i just love that trailer. really made me want to read the book.

    great post :)

  7. I never liked the idea of a person on the cover. It bothers the heck out of me because I enjoy having my own visuals and they are immediately tainted when they are plastered for me to see right away. Unless I've read it already and then the movie comes out and then they come out with new covers with the characters *ahem* Twilight *ahem*. That didn't bother me so much, but it would have upset me if I hadn't first read the books and at least got the opportunity to use my own imagination.

  8. Kittie- you're right, it's kind of demeaning.
    Susan-- covering the book-- best idea ever.
    Amie-- I agree about HG.
    Sarah- LOL about Joe from the trailer's girly fingers. Glad I didn't spot that. Ugg.
    Angie-- I found the other FOHAT cover you mention, and you're right. In comparison, this Mary is okay.
    Thanks Nomes-- that's smart. Just imagine something different.
    Melanie- I agree completely. It taints the visuals, but with something as ubiquitous as twilight-- you can't help but envision them as the movie actors at this point.


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