YA Cover Fatigue

These days, it’s impossible for me to spend time on Goodreads, NetGalley or book blogs without seeing at least a few YA cover girls – pretty, slender girls, often in big, flowing dresses with their gorgeous long hair rippling in the wind or flying out behind them as they run through a forest or float underwater. Some covers focus on specific features – eyes, hair, mouth etc. and the models are almost always white. You could actually categorise the covers according to type.

There are the big dress covers:

I always wonder – how often do the protagonists actually wear the kinds of dresses you see on these covers?

The underwater covers:

Covers using shots taken from behind (featuring more big dresses and one utterly useless pair of wings):

And of course, the close-ups:

They’re almost all attractive, often beautiful covers. And I hate them. Firstly, they’re so boring, simply because they’ve become so common. These pretty-girl covers are now so ubiquitous that it seems they’re just as much a part of YA novels for female readers as teenage characters and a YA plot. That idea was suggested in a fairly recent article in the Huffington post, where the author, Mary Pauline Lowry, realised she had made a mistake by not using one of these archetypal covers for her YA novel and going for something that better-suited the story instead. “YA readers are part of a tribe;”, she says, “and YA covers signify that the book is special, meant just for members of their tribe. “This is ours, not yours,” the book cover declares.”

Lowry also raises some excellent points about the models used for these covers – they promote and perpetuate standards of beauty that few girls will actually be able to attain. I think that issue would make a great debate in itself, but for now I’m just presenting my more personal reaction to these pretty-girl covers. Honestly – aren’t YA fans getting just a little bit tired of this trend? Don’t you want to see something more original? Or are you content in your cover-love, just as thrilled by the latest cover as you were by the last? Is this trend the birth of a stable genre feature, much like the sword-wielding hunks and lush landscapes you see on covers for epic fantasy?

The pretty-girl covers certainly do seem to be the ideal marketing for female YA fans – beautiful covers drawing your attention to the kind of book you’re likely to enjoy. Which brings me to the other reason I don’t like these covers – they function as a marker for a certain type of YA, written for a certain kind of female audience, of which I am not a part. To uses Lowry’s image, I’m not a member of the tribe. YA fans see a book they will probably like, while to me the cover says very bluntly, “You’re probably going to hate every minute of this.” I take one look and keep browsing. It’s a weird feeling, since I actually think the covers in themselves look pretty good. But if I read one of those books I’d expect to find the following:

  • Too much romance for me to stomach, most likely involving one or two males from a mythological species.
  • A female protagonist who is likely to annoy me by being stupid, whiny, self-absorbed, or all of these things and more.
  • A plot fit for a Mary-Sue – socially awkward/alienated girl who assumes she’s unattractive turns out to be the hottest thing around

Bascially a repeat or a least a reminder of the nightmare that was Twilight (you can see why I’m not a member of the tribe). I know it’s wrong to generalise though, particularly since it seems that the pretty-girl cover is becoming a requirement for many YA novels and doesn’t necessarily suit the story. It’s just an attempt to increase sales. I always wonder if the protagonist actually wears the big flowing ball gown featured on the cover. One recent example that really bothered me, was the recent rejacketing of the Mall Rats series by Lily Herne. The first cover was great – it was suitably creepy and mysterious, it was directly related to the story, and I thought it looked pretty cool:

With the rejacketing, the series got some really boring pretty-girl covers, presumably to fit the trend:

The models are beautiful and at least they fit the descriptions of the characters they portray, but if I didn’t already have an interest in this series, I wouldn’t have bothered with it because of what these covers imply about the story and the intended audience. And yet I know that the Mall Rats series isn’t the kind of thing I avoid when I avoid books with those YA covers. In fact, I’m sometimes intrigued by YA plot summaries only to be put off by some pale, pouting waif in a giant dress telling me I’m actually not girly enough to enjoy that novel. It’d be nice to see a bit more variation in cover art, like the following, which drew my attention both because I think the covers look good, and because they weren’t the usual clichés:

Does anyone else feel this way? Or am I just being a book snob? Do you prefer to read books with pretty-girl covers? I don’t feel bad about judging books by their covers in general, at least in the sense that covers are typically used to identify a particular genre and draw the attention of the intended audience. And most of the time it doesn’t matter if I don’t like the pretty-girl covers, because I probably wouldn’t enjoy the books they enclose anyway. So am I being too hard on the cover girls?

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7 thoughts on “YA Cover Fatigue

  1. The problem with the pretty girl covers is that’s what the marketing department sees sells, so that’s what they want.

    Authors (generally) have ZERO say in their covers.

    Personally, I’m a fan of the more graphic covers you posted. I like starkness and simplicity (Hnnah Moskowitz’s upcoming Teeth is a fave – http://www.goodreads.com/book/photo/12024430-teeth)

    But yes, YA covers can make me pass on a book. I must admit that I put off reading the utterly wonderful and amazing Above because I just thought oh god another twee fairy book, so I am as judgemental over this crap as you are…lol. Sadly. (Thank goodness someone recc’ed it to me, because the fact that I may have missed out on that book because of the misleading cover makes me sad.)

    • Yeah, I figured that might be the case regarding marketing departments vs. authors. I imagine some authors might feel compelled to go with the pretty-girl cover anyway, just to get readers to take notice.

      Teeth has a great cover 🙂 I pretty much passed on all the books here with girls on the covers, except for the Mall Rats novels of course. I know I’m must be missing out on some good stuff too, but I think it better to wait for someone who knows my tastes to give me a recommendation!

  2. I’m not a YA reader and the covers you highlight above warn me to stay away. So I’m guessing that they’re a beacon to YA fans to pull them in. It’s a smart move by the cover designers.

    The original Deadlands cover looks interesting and, based that alone, I would check the cover blurb to see what it was about. The latter ones. Nope. Then again, I wouldn’t be in the YA section of a store and it probably wouldn’t come up as “recommended” in the online stores I frequent.

    And those last seven covers looked interesting too. At least I would check to see what they were about.

    But other genres get locked into a cover formula too. Romance is probably the most notorious. Every one of my wife’s books (historical romance) look the same to me: bare chested dashing man embracing a large breasted (or plunging neckline) woman. Paranormal romance has its formula too. Let’s see those teeth, vampires! And urban fantasy likes bare backed women with tattoos.

    Sci-fi can be guilty too. All of Alistair Reynolds’ book covers apparently have to have a spaceship in the foreground with a planet in the background.

    • Yeah, from a marketing perspective it’s a generally good move, but sometimes it’s misleading and may discourage readers who would actually like the book, or attract readers that expect something else.

      This trend reminded me of romance covers as well 🙂 I’m mostly just focusing on this one because it’s so new, and YA gets a lot of ‘cover-love’ from readers whereas the genres with well-established cover types don’t. those pnr covers kind of annoy me too though!

      The Reynolds thing I can understand. It’s a bit boring, perhaps but the covers look nice enough and it instantly draws the knowing gaze of his fans. It’s more like his cover style than a general sf trend. Authors like Terry Pratchett, Tom Holt, Scarlett Thomas and Iain (M.) Banks have similarly noticeable designs for their book covers.

  3. Pingback: Feeling YA Cover Fatigue? | Puku.co.za

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