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Covers 1 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Covers 1
So, tomorrow, I'm doing a teen program about book covers. (Let's see if anyone shows up.) Just for fun, and to talk about how the cover influences who will read it and tries to say what it's about, I used a random title generator and one of my multitude of pen names, and just racked up covers in five different styles (really, image tropes), same author and title on each. Since this story is totally non-existent, all that exists is the cover.

So, in case my teens don't want to play, if you saw these covers (presumably, more professionally done) in a bookstore, what kind of story would you think you were being sold?

Cover Tests
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Comments
sueatducksfoot From: sueatducksfoot Date: October 25th, 2014 03:28 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow, this is cool. Each brings something new to mind, it's totally the cover/picture that sells it, not the title.

A. Teen novel, something about school/school drama.
B. I'm not sure. It's the one I'd least like to read.
C. Makes me thing of a ebola or maybe a story about some terrible disease.
D. What's out there?
E. Makes me think of a detective novel. (It could be I just finished a Doctor Who Detective story :P)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 25th, 2014 03:37 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, the title's complete nonsense, which I why picked it. ;p

A reads teen to me, too, though thankfully, the headless girl covers seem to be disappearing.

I can't decide if D is more horror (the font) or literary (obscure landscape image with large title). Maybe it's literary horror?
sueatducksfoot From: sueatducksfoot Date: October 25th, 2014 03:46 am (UTC) (Link)
I like your idea of literary horror. I wouldn't be something I'd read, I don't like horror. :P
ladyelaine From: ladyelaine Date: October 25th, 2014 03:43 am (UTC) (Link)
A. Annoyingly mainstream teenage school drama, to draw in the bowheads and jocks who never read otherwise.

B. Wha...?

C. An ancient history conspiracy theory dystopian thriller!

D. A coming-of-age autobiography in which someone dies and lessons are learned.

E. A young adult romance, possibly with paranormal overtones.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 25th, 2014 04:07 am (UTC) (Link)
E is definitely inspired by covers in that genre -- girls wearing elaborate gowns in ridiculous settings. (In this case, she is actually on the moon.)

B... my inner story when I was making it was rom-com, with the rich, society girl falling for the "raggedy" boy (who probably comes from a slightly less affluent suburb) and has to, I don't know, explain to her parents why she's dating a baby hipster?
ladyelaine From: ladyelaine Date: October 25th, 2014 05:38 am (UTC) (Link)
Baby hipster! Lol! What do you feed a baby hipster? Do they need cedar bedding and an exercise wheel? How long do they live?
sonetka From: sonetka Date: October 25th, 2014 04:51 am (UTC) (Link)
Let's see ...

A) Trying very hard to be realistic novel about teens going to rundown high school and their depressingly realistic lives, complete with multiple narrative voices and absent fathers, absent mothers, surprise pregnancies, bullying, and juvie.

B) Princess Diaries knockoff about the spoiled but sweet queen of high school falling for a cute, moody outsider boy.

C) Teen dystopia which will involve sorting everyone into a select number of categories and the protagonist, who doesn't fit in anywhere.

D) Nostalgic teen romance about first love, probably with "we had to part, but I'll always remember That Summer" bittersweet ending. Protagonist loses virginity about 3/4 of the way through.

E) Darker teen romance, probably involving either historical or fantasy elements, involves a quest of some sort and probably a boring subplot with a magical artifact or amulet or something.

This reminds me of how hard the librarian at my son's school had to work to sell the boys on the Whatever After series, since the covers look like Grade A Pink Brigade Bait. My nine-year-old ended up reading them and loving them (mostly because of the brother who kept causing havoc throughout) and ended telling me "It's really true that you can't judge a book by its cover! But these should have different ones because they look like there aren't any boys in them."
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 25th, 2014 11:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
C) Definitely the covers I was aping. :D (I did a list of FIFTY recent dystopias a few months ago. Fifty. They don't all have odd-symbol covers, but if one does, it's a fairly sure sign that it would have been on the list.)

It's really true about bad steps in marketing. I'm pretty sure that's why the UK has adult HP covers. (American adults apparently fall either into the "I don't read children's books! The horror!" camp or the "Yeah, I'm reading Harry Potter... you wanna make something of it, bub?" camp.)
sonetka From: sonetka Date: October 26th, 2014 03:52 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh God, please write a blog post comparing the dystopias. Or several. I would love to read it (I might even have liked to write it, but I'm currently cutting through the roughly 103rd fictional work about Anne Boleyn I've obtained for my blog and yeah, there's no way I'd ever find the time to read all the dystopias).
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 26th, 2014 04:27 am (UTC) (Link)
Maybe. :D In the meantime, the list is here.
author_by_night From: author_by_night Date: October 25th, 2014 01:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
1. It's an average misunderstood high schooler, who perhaps learns something about a classmate, OR they learn the "truth" about him/her.

2. A modern Romeo and Juliet, only Romeo is a cool guy from an "old money" family who doesn't have to try hard for anything (hence carrying a briefcase while wearing shorts, sneakers and sunglasses), and the Prom Queen is "new money" who has to establish her place. Their parents are very much the same way, and so of course there's a divide.

3. Postmodern book where the characters have weird names like "Sausage Platter"; lots of symbolism, very little realism, assigned in high schools and colleges across the nation.

4. A rural Pastor's daughter returns home, trying to make sense of her past, which wasn't as cookie-cutter Christian as the townspeople assumed. Perhaps historical fiction, perhaps not.

5. Ten years later, Waspina Mc Wasperson returns to the scene of something that happened her Prom Night - a secret that could ruin lives.

Edited at 2014-10-25 01:46 pm (UTC)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 25th, 2014 11:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ahem. Is it bad that I'm starting to want to read 2?

#5... Oh, yes. I can see that. And with almost that text.
jo_anne_storm From: jo_anne_storm Date: October 25th, 2014 03:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
The first two are obviously have a high school setting. A, with the beheaded body, I would assume romance (the head is cut off so that girls can imagine their crush in the place of the hero). B, with the cartoon figures, makes me think that it will be romantic comedy (cartoon covers always make me think comedy) featuring a two people who come from "different worlds". Prom queen and outsider musician. Both of these are probably targeted to pre-teen or young teen girls.

E is a mystery novel...

I'm not sure about C or D. I would possibly pass over them in a store if I saw the covers.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 25th, 2014 11:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
I read in the course of this that the "headless girl" trend may well have ended (good riddance, though I get the idea).
marycontraria From: marycontraria Date: October 25th, 2014 05:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
This reminds me of a really interesting presentation that I attended at Congress (um... like a social sciences/humanities mega-conference) last year about the different cover treatments of L.M. Montgomery's novels over the years. It's fascinating how the way that a publisher chooses to portray a book can drastically affect who actually wants to read said book and why.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 25th, 2014 11:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
Did you see the one where Ann Shirley is a buxom blonde co-ed? (Though click back a few to "Huck Finn" for the winner take all bad on this list.)

Anyway, that's the idea -- publishers are trying to match the right reader with the text. If they have a great hard SF story and stick -- oh, say, a bright red high heeled shoe as the central image... they're going to miss readers who'd really like it, and quite possibly attract readers who will hate it. (They'll also get a pretty cool subset of readers who like hard SF and pretty shoes.) Those symbol covers, I finally realized -- the simple, kind of obscure symbol is like a club recognition. I was watching a video for the Mockingjay promotional juggernaut, and there's a hidden mockingjay pin in it, and I thought, "Oo! There it is!" So, those are books that are making a community, the ones that kind of have those extremely identifiable images that don't mean anything out of context. At least that's what I think.

On the other hand, I'd expect the one with the plains to be "talky" and without a lot of gut impact, and the pink cartoony one to be at least a little funny, probably in the "Angus, Thongs..." mode, and the purple dress one to be moody and angsty... all clues about whether or not this is a book that is geared to, well, me, or if somewhere along the line, the imagined reader had quite different taste.

Edited at 2014-10-25 11:23 pm (UTC)
gabrielladusult From: gabrielladusult Date: October 26th, 2014 02:32 am (UTC) (Link)
Without looking at any other comments. The first two look like YA or Juvenile fiction with the first being more angst-y (Fault in our Stars - like) and the second being more like a opposites attract teen romance. The third looks like maybe a post-Apocalyptic (Hunger Games) type story, the fourth gave me the most trouble, it could be anything, but my gut seems to want to say pseudo-religious non-fiction, and the last looks like historical romance.

I'd probably be most inclined to look at the back/inside cover for a description of the third.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 26th, 2014 04:39 am (UTC) (Link)
You'd almost have to -- it doesn't say anything, does it? :D

The fourth one, yeah. If I stuck an "Amish" woman on it (in quotes, because I read an Amish response to Amish romances, and a teenage girl giggled and pointed out that the model had her dress on backwards), it would totally skew that way, wouldn't it? Though the title would have to be The Plain Truth.
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