Showing posts with label covers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label covers. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bad cover of the week

I read Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn years ago, swallowing the book in one go at the library one summer afternoon. The book surprised me for taking the side of the boyfriend in this boyfriend-hits-girlfriend story. It's a good book about violence and anger*, one that breaks out of the typical victim cliche and successfully conveys the inner turmoil the book's main character Nick is faced with. This was the cover I knew:

Shows the turmoil, right? A rather appropriate cover, if somewhat weird and also clearly more geared towards young men than women (and indeed, the content is also more guy-oriented that girl-oriented, what with the male narration and the male frame of mind repeatedly on display). It's a strong cover, one that stuck with me for many months after I'd finished reading Breathing Underwater, particularly the crudely drawn monster who shares a head with Nick.

And then I accidentally (unfortunately) came across this reissued cover:

If I knew nothing about this book, my guess would be teen romance. Heck, even knowing the story, my assumption is that this a book told from the girl's perspective (though this may be my own generalization... in my experience, when there's a girl on the cover, she's the centerpiece). Even the tagline is somewhat misleading: "He promised he wouldn't hurt her. Was his anger bigger than his word?" It again paints the picture that the focus is on the victim, the girlfriend.

This reissue highlights one of the most frustrating trends in young adult fiction today, and that's the constant need to make everything a teen romance. Because publishers see little purpose in marketing towards young men (who, according to various studies, read far less than young women...), they try to market books as effectively as possible to girls. I guess they must think romance sells. A book with such strong messages about violence and rage like Breathing Underwater gets a bland, romance-oriented makeover. With a pretty bad cover photo, no less.

* To be fair... in my 15-year old review I wrote that the book was "too short, with not enough information and feeling". I think this was during my classics phase, when I expected every book to be like War and Peace. Whoops...

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The 10% Rule

I'm really sick of this.

You know when you're reading the back cover of a book, and it references something? And you're like, "Oh, that must be something pretty basic and simple! I mean, it's not like the back cover would have spoilers, right?" So it turns out that back cover blurbs actually have spoilers. Often.

Recently, I've found myself reading books that go into immense detail in the back cover blurbs. Now, I don't have any problems with the concept of a blurb. I don't think it's inherently bad to have a short, summarizing introduction. But giving away plot points or revealing character traits that aren't introduced in the book until very late...? Here I must draw the line.

A few weeks ago, I finished reading a novel that hammered home this problem. In the overly descriptive back cover blurb, it's casually mentioned that the main character lies about her name. This fact, it turns out, is only revealed on page 89. Even in a 500 paged book, that's pretty flipping late. Annoyed by this revelation, I wondered what could be done to avoid this in the future. Then it hit me: the 10% Rule.

Basically, the 10% Rule would state that the back cover blurb cannot include any reference to plot points, characters, ideas or concepts not mentioned in the first tenth of the novel. This would mean that a novella could have only a simple background description, while an epic fantasy novel could probably squeeze in a lot of information. We're so concerned about spoilers all the time but ultimately these blurbs can do more harm than a somewhat spoilery review. The reader spends so much time expecting events and characters and revelations, often times realizing that their effect is significantly diminished by the prior knowledge.

So readers, writers, publishers... let us join together to make our reading world a much more enjoyable and fulfilling place. Let us implement the 10% Rule and enjoy the surprises as they hit us. Because for heaven's sake: if the book spoils itself, what's the point?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Homemade eCovers

Long story short: my operating system can no longer use Sony's eReader library program (and good riddance, too...), leading me inevitably to Calibre. By resetting my entire Reader to Calibre's way more convenient standards, I've been finding myself having a jolly good time with the new order. One aspect of this is finding covers for all my eBooks.

The problem is that almost all of the freely available fiction on the web (my only source for eBooks) is extremely old (thus the copyright has expired). A lot of these books don't have normal covers. Same for various free short stories and self-published stuff. This is where it gets fun. Books need covers. So what if there are no good options? Let me have a crack at it!

I don't have much (any) artistic talent. I don't have particularly complex picture editing programs. But here's a glimpse of some of the covers I've made the last couple of weeks, for your entertainment:
Sci-fi/fantasy/other collection

Favorite to make - short stories
Mythology/folklore collection
My favorite homemade cover (original photo here):

And these two, that actually look a little like textbooks I've had in the past. It begs the question though, why I ever downloaded these books from Gutenberg... Picking out these pictures was cool, though (physics and chemistry), and it was plenty nice trying to decide exactly which color shade and font (sadly limited with the new operating system...) fit the book best.

This is fun.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Distinguishable publishers

I respond to this New Dork Review of Books post about whether or not readers notice who publishes the book they're reading at a bit of a delay, but after starting to write a whole essay in the comments box underneath the post, I figured I should instead organize my thoughts properly and respond in kind.

Greg Zimmerman essentially wondered whether or not the publisher of the book you're reading affects whether or not you'll read it. It's a thoughtful, interesting post in which he concludes that there's one such publisher for him (McSweeney's), and later in the comments (after numerous readers named their own publishing favorites), that most readers have the one. Still, the ultimate conclusion seemed to be that readers don't actually pay too much attention to the publisher.

But I disagree. And I also agree.

Greg rightly raises the idea that readers can't name who published their favorite book of the year. This is true in the U.S. or Britain, where there are hundreds of publishers and publisher imprints to keep track of. It's true that most readers don't consciously pay attention to publishers. A reader won't reject a publisher because they're the same guys that published that piece of crap book last year. We're not aware enough for that. But to suggest that aside from one favored publisher we don't pay attention... I say: nonsense.

These are only three examples of publishers, but with each one it's fairly easy to identify the "brand" (so to speak). First up: Vintage. Easily distinguishable for me based on book shape, paper type and overall aesthetics, I have found that Vintage books are often good. And I have found that I'm also more likely to pick one up because of that previous sentence.

NYRB Classics
NYRB Classics: a little more obvious. This publisher makes certain its books all have the same general design and feel. Heavy cream paper, wonderfully distinct spines, brightly colored blurbs and titles and that most distinguishable title box on the front cover. So easy to spot on the shelf, even without the little trademark NYRB oval at the bottom. A 100% success rate with this publisher so far, and dozens of good words from various bloggers. How can I miss this one?

Lastly, one publisher that while not entirely identical in style (the way that NYRB books are...), every reader will always recognize. Who doesn't notice that small, often orange penguin peeking up at them from the spine? Who doesn't spot the placement of the penguin somewhere on the front cover, the words "Penguin Classic" stamped across the front, "Penguin Modern Classic" scrawled across the back, or even just the standard symbol glued anywhere on the cover? Always distinct, always obvious. You always know when it's this publisher, whether you like their translations and editions or whether you don't.

This game can be played with just about any publisher. The fact is that no matter what we tell ourselves, we recognize publisher brands. We typically know exactly who published a book as we hold it, turn its trademark pages, and bend its distinct cover. One only need look at how each reader has that favorite. And then another favorite. And then another.

Greg is right: most of us probably can't name the publisher of our favorite book from last year (actually, I can. Vintage: The Master and Margarita), but that doesn't mean we don't subconsciously care. I'll be more interested in anything NYRB or Open Letter publishes because I've had good experiences with them in the past. I know I love Oxford World Classics editions translations and annotations, even if their aesthetics aren't amazing. Penguin Classics can be a hit or a miss, but I do like Penguin's young adult imprints. Does this mean I'll buy every book by the publisher? Absolutely not. Do I take into account these things when debating whether or not to buy a book? Probably a lot more than I think.

A few more examples of easy-to-distinguish publishing houses:
Open Letter
Oxford World's Classics (old editions)
Persephone Books