Feb 17 2010 2:25pm

Cover Girls

First of all, my thanks to the team for inviting me to contribute to the blog.

I write YA fantasy novels, often with fairy tale themes. My second book, Aurelie: A Faerie Tale, has just been released in paperback with a brand spankin’ new cover. For the record, I’m pleased with both the hardcover and paperback art, but I especially love that they’re so different, considering that none of the words inside have changed. Now the game is to decode what my publisher’s marketing department wants to achieve by the switch.

Consider Exhibit A: the hardcover and paperback editions for Aurelie: A Faerie Tale.

Cover art by Julie Paschkis (left) and Larry Rostant

In its cheerful folkloric style, Aurelie’s first (Paschkis) cover reveals numerous story elements: three of the main characters, a goat on a tombstone, two dogs stealing sausages, and several critters who’d fit right into the pages of a medieval bestiary. The art promises a book about friends having adventures (with ice-boats!) in a world that’s not quite our own. Which is true.

The same two central figures, a young woman and a large bird, dominate the paperback Rostant cover, but the mood has changed. Here Princess Aurelie stands alone in her gorgeous dress, contemplating a snowy wasteland and perhaps her inner demons. It looks like a tale in which hard choices will be made, by a young woman confronting danger and cold and loneliness. Which is also true.

My conclusion: the paperback cover has to attract new readers to a text that’s been available for a year or more already. Parents, librarians, and other adult gatekeepers have had plenty of time to buy the hardcover. Now it’s time to convince a teenage girl to part with her cash.

The same dynamic, with the cover message shifting from “sweet! wholesome! entertainment! suitable for your twelve-year old!” to “ooooh, mystery…” played out with The Swan Maiden, my first novel for teens, and its re-envisioning in paperback, as per Exhibit B:

Cover art by Julia Breckenreid (left) and Ann Field

More personally, watching these book covers evolve has resurrected the same combination of intense excitement and anxiety I remember feeling as a teenager. Like changing schools, or moving to a new town, a second book jacket is a chance for self-reinvention, for “repackaging” the look or attitude you project. After all, it’s hard to make the neighbors, teachers, and peers who’ve known you for ages understand how much you’ve grown up. New people don’t see you through the prism of the embarrassing things you did in fifth grade; distance wipes that slate blessedly clean.

This happened to me, my junior year in college. In France, I gave up the jeans and sneakers that shouted “American tourist.” I became a person who wore scarves over my flea-market greatcoat and navigated Paris’s Metro with casual confidence. During that transformative time in France, I also learned that makeovers only go so far. I could (and did) change my appearance and accent to blend in with the locals. Throw a baguette or a bunch of flowers into my satchel and voilà, people stopped me on the street to ask for directions. But the change from unsophisticated country girl to blasé international city dweller had a limit, and I reached it when I signed up for a philosophy class. Arriving at the first session, I choked in a smoke-filled classroom where most of the students brandished lit cigarettes. Naively, I hoped the smoking would stop when the professor arrived. Alas, no. He pulled out a pipe and proceeded to light it before going over the syllabus. Zut alors! I decamped for the clearer atmosphere of the history department.

Likewise, I doubt my cover girls will ever sport seriously provocative skin, attitude, or dangling cigarettes. That’s just not our style.

Heather Tomlinson lives on a sailboat in southern California, where she reads and writes fantasy novels for teens. Her latest book, Toads and Diamonds, is forthcoming spring 2010 from Henry Holt.

Pasi Kallinen
1. paxed
I'd be much more likely to pick up Aurelie with the Paschkis cover than the Rostant cover; the latter feels a bit too generic, and I'm somehow reminded of those awful 3D rendered Poser-model covers.
rick gregory
2. rickg
Ah but, @1, are you a teen girl?

After all, that's the point of packaging - to attract the people whom the marketing folks think will buy and like the book ('like' because if someone likes the author's work they might buy older titles or the next titles by that author). I wouldn't buy either cover, but then I'm not a preteen or teen girl, I'm a middle aged guy. In that sense, the covers do a good job by clearly signaling what the book *isn't* (dark, grownup fantasy, etc) as well as what it is.
3. goodfellow_puck
rickg - I'm not a teen aged girl anymore, but I certainly read fantasy then and I agree with paxed. The second cover is technically well painted (though her torso looks a bit off to me), it's boring, generic, not very well composed and with no color to pop it off the shelf. The character looks bored herself, so why would I want to read her story?

Conversely, the first cover has great composition, color and atmosphere. It pulls from the look of a traditional fairy-tale print style and looks FUN. Vibrant. I would have easily picked up the first one as a kid, but glossed over the blah of the second. On the second set of books, I like the overall concept of both, plus the color in the first, and the dynamics of the second.

I enjoyed this thoughtful article! It's interesting to see the process and hear what the author thinks. Though the end about France seemed a little stuck on.
4. Liene
Hmm, well, I am a teenage girl, probably a little older than the target market, but still technically a teenager, and I'd be more likely to go for the first cover as well. It makes the book seem so much more fun and entertaining than the second, which is veering into a sort cliched angst that automatically turns me off. Still, fascinating article, I wish the author good luck with her book sales!
5. topangamaria
The cover that set my heart pitter patter
is the paperback of Swan Maiden...WOW!!!
And that's even though the original cover
was so delicious. Neither of the Aurelie
covers puts me off, not at all. A very
interesting comparison analysis!
Anita Croft
6. AnitaCroft
I enjoyed this article and found the comparison interesting. I read a lot of books with fairy tale themes, and I love love love the Paschkis cover! It just looks like a lot of fun. I do find the Rostant cover boring and generic though. I would probably pass it up if I spotted it while browsing, but of course, I'm not a teen girl.
I love both of the covers for Swan Maiden. The first one is enchanting, and has great color. Both of them seem a bit mysterious and are very pretty!
Aimee Stewart
7. Foxfires
What a wonderful article - and fascinating glimpse into the world of book covers! As an artist (who specializes in digital art), I find this immensely intriguing. I, too, prefer the first Aurelie image with the eyecatching blue/yellowgold combo. The second one, alas, does not capture my interest.

Both of the Swan Maiden covers delight me, both for different reasons.

I've often wondered how publishers go about deciding what they will put on the covers of their books. I have stood in book stores, and puzzled over it for long lengths of time. I have also wondered how much say an author has, over what is portrayed on the front of their pride and joy.
8. Duncan Long
These are beautiful covers (and I appreciate so much that TOR is giving coverage to cover artists). I would have to disagree about the cover looking like a Poser piece. Perhaps the post was made from a computer with a poor monitor, but that is some beautiful work and hardly the stiff, plastic look that most of us have unfortunately come to associate with Poser (not all artwork that begins with this software turns out that way, fortunately -- but too much does).

I am surprised publishers don't do "split runs" with covers, marketing two different illustrations on the same novel to see which style, color, and so forth pulls the best. I suppose after umpteen years and hundreds of books, editors and marketers have a good feel for such things. But I would like to see a more precise way of doing things.

I also had to wonder if brighter colors might not appeal more to a generation raised with color TVs, DVDs, and color-boosted photos in most magazines. Are we marketing for past generations rather than the present?

I've attached my "Exhibit A" -- the colors I suggest might appeal to today's teenager.

Freelance cover illustrator for HarperCollins, PS Publishing, Pocket Books, Solomon Press, American Media, Fort Ross, Asimov's Science Fiction, and many other publishers. See my cover illustrations at:
9. IronOre
Tor easily has the best covers of any books I buy. No matter if they are hardcover or paperback. Keep up the good work.
Alison Sinclair
10. alixsin
As a young teen, I would probably have classified the first cover as one of 'their books' - ie, books that adults thought children ought to read - and the second would have appealed because of the intricate patterns in the grey and white, and the eagle. Birds were a potent symbol for me at that age.

A studied avoidance of any whiff of literary worthiness - at least outside the classroom - meant I missed a number of very fine books. On the plus side, it meant there were treats in store for later.

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