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friedag

Questions about Book Cover Designs

friedag
2 years ago

Recently a family member of mine asked me if I had noticed a trend in book cover designs showing people (characters) with their backs turned to viewers. It had been in the back of mind for some time -- I'd say at least ten years -- but I can't say that I've considered it closely. I have no idea why it has become so popular or what it might signify to readers. Do RPers have any notions of why 'the back view' shows up so often on dust jackets and paperback covers? Is it a genre identifier, conveying that meaning at a glance?


Some examples:


The Rose Code by Kate Quinn (also some of her other books)

The Librarian of Saint-Malo by Mario Escobar


At first I thought most of these illustrations portrayed women, but the more I look I see there are just as many male figures. It shows up in children's and YA books, too.


A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Rising Man by Akir Mukherjee

Quite a lot of detective novels use a view of a man in a trench coat with his coat billowing out behind him; e.g. The Inspector Erlendur crime fiction of Arnaldur Indridason, such as Reykjavik Nights


A similar trend in the 1990s was what I always refer to as 'decapitated women covers'. They show women in opulent period dress (Tudor styles were shown, especially) with the focus on the bosom and/or 'stomacher' -- the face carefully cropped from the picture, with perhaps a bit of chin showing. Eventually, I think, this stylization became a signal to readers that the story inside would be historical fiction with emphasis on romance and period conflict.


If you have noticed these types of trends, do they mean anything in particular to you? Do they appeal to you and pique your interest?


I would love to know more examples that I have overlooked. Do you know of some?

Comments (80)

  • annpanagain
    2 years ago

    I didn't buy books with lovely cat pix for their covers but have them turned face forward on my bookshelf. I can't keep pets now or hang my oil paintings in this place so the covers are substitutes!

    friedag thanked annpanagain
  • kathy_t
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    Annpan - That's a really nice idea, using the cat-picture books as substitutes.

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  • yoyobon_gw
    2 years ago

    I didn't realize how strongly opposed I am to showing character faces on covers until I got a copy of City Of Jasmine which has both main characters' images .

    And, here's something I've noticed while looking for titles for our monthly game....most "adult" books always feature the characters on the cover.

    I wonder what percentage of fiction has characters on the cover rather than an interesting design.

    friedag thanked yoyobon_gw
  • vee_new
    2 years ago

    yoyo, I can't answer your question but much prefer an 'interesting design' to a picture of a character possibly because the image wouldn't resemble how they looked in my mind.

    friedag thanked vee_new
  • annpanagain
    2 years ago

    Vee, I agree and sometimes the author and I can disagree on what the character looks like!

    Agatha Christie said that Margaret Rutherford who was in several British films was her ideal Miss Marple. Really?

    Maeve Binchy mentioned that the actors in the Tara Road movie were well cast and I disliked all but one of them, as did my daughter.

    friedag thanked annpanagain
  • friedag
    Original Author
    2 years ago

    If I want to start an argument among reader friends, all I have to do is mention movie or TV show tie-in covers. Wow! The passionate opinions come out. I don't know which side is more vociferous. I know a book seller in Colorado who says the tie-in covers are the hottest and heaviest sellers in her store while the original-art covers often languish. That could be a regional preference, though. I wonder if different regions follow different patterns.

  • friedag
    Original Author
    2 years ago

    Yoyobon and Vee, just to clarify for me, what in your estimation are some of the elements in 'interesting designs' -- the ones that will make you take notice of them?

  • annpanagain
    2 years ago

    I should think that the tie-in covers with the stars of a movie or TV series would sell better because they are relatable.

    Just as an example in another area, my husband got some of the votes in a local election because he was recognised from being a reporter on TV news programs. Voters didn't know the other candidates!

  • vee_new
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    Frieda, an impossible question to answer!

    I did a quick check via Google and came up with dozens of places that provide eg's of book cover art/design. Apparently after you have written your great opus you just get in touch with one of these companies and they provide the background 'picture' with your name and book title stuck on the front. I don't know if this includes the blurb . . . "couldn't put it down" "my favourite book of the year" "lavishly erudite" "richly imagined" "can't wait for the next one" "read it in 20 minutes" . . .

    Just type in 'Book Cover Designs' and you will be overwhelmed by the quantity if not the quality.

    friedag thanked vee_new
  • yoyobon_gw
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    Opinions are just that.....not fire-starters.

  • friedag
    Original Author
    2 years ago

    Just to clarify.....A clever, creative, perhaps retro-looking design which never has an actual person's visage.


    Yoyobon, the above is what I received in an email notice of your posting. Your modification has confused me. I don't know why you omitted the first part. It was most helpful to me! Unfortunately, it's not unusual for me to be confused.

  • Kath
    2 years ago

    It's interesting Ann, because I have heard Agatha Christie didn't like Rutherford's Marple.


    With regard to film or TV tie in covers, I think the appeal is mostly to those who come to the books from the visual medium. I generally found that more customers preferred the non tie in covers.

    friedag thanked Kath
  • annpanagain
    2 years ago

    I certainly didn't think that Margaret Rutherford was an ideal Marple. Far too big and hearty. Not the fluffy type, sitting quietly knitting and thinking.

  • vee_new
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    I always understood that Agatha Christie wanted Joan Hickson to play Miss Marple, who proved to be a much better choice than Margaret Rutherford.

    Annpan, I saw MR at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in The Rivals in 1967, her last play. Her husband Stringer Davis appeared with her (it was in her contract that he would be in all her plays) At one point she dropped her handkerchief which he handed to her and quite unscripted she said "So kind, dear Sir". A small thing but I always remembered it.

  • annpanagain
    2 years ago

    Vee, Joan Hickson was the perfect Jane Marple. I have seen a number of other actresses in the role but she was the one I liked best.

    Do you go to live theatre still? I haven't seen a play for many years or go to the cinema either. It suits me better to watch TV or DVDs at home so that I can get up and move around but nothing is the same as a live performance.


  • vee_new
    2 years ago

    Annpan, I think the last time I went to the proper theatre was to see The Importance of Being Ernest at the Bristol Old Vic probably back in the '70's! Other than that it has been amateur Panto. There are no theatres around here and the only cinema is deep in the 'Forest'. Not far in miles but a very up hill and down dale journey.

    As a girl, living in Stratford, we used to go to the theatre more than the cinema! Not just Shakespeare but to the excellent winter shows . . . Royal Ballet, G and S, 'straight' plays. We were really spoilt for culture.

  • friedag
    Original Author
    2 years ago

    Often I mentally kick myself for not taking advantage of seeing more performances in 'real' theatres while I lived in London. The ones I did see were not especially memorable to me. It wasn't the fault of the performers or the productions most of the time. Usually I was just tired. A couple of times I disgraced myself by nodding off and waking up in a muddle.


    Contemplating further Yoyobon's observation about 'faces on covers' -- see, Yvonne, you made me think -- I do understand how limiting that might be, especially when the faces don't meet auithors' descriptions or readers' expectations. That's happened to me, too. Carolyn and others may remember the romantic suspense (think Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt) and Gothic suspense paperbacks of the 1960s and '70s. Such cliches! But I loved them. The covers seldom matched what was going on in the stories.


    Tie-in covers are not my first choice to buy, although I have to admit they may draw my eyes first. I have a movie tie-in cover of E von A's The Enchanted April that quite pleases me, still. It is now very shabby because I have read it so many times. I have other editions of TEA; my favorite of those covers is probably that of Penguin Classics, 2015.

  • yoyobon_gw
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    I've begun reading Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict and the cover is a design showing the back of both people...no actual photos ( thank you! ).

    However, Clementine is shown being shorter than Churchill which is absolutely not true....unless she is walking three paces behind him !

    Perhaps I strain at a gnat. LOL

    Even so, I found the cover of City of Jasmine so annoying ( face-wise) that I made a cover for it like we did in grade school !!!!



    friedag thanked yoyobon_gw
  • friedag
    Original Author
    2 years ago

    Yvonne, thanks for adding the image. I was half-expecting a bodice ripper-type lovefest. That cover is not particularly offensive to me, but I don't know anything about the story or the author.


    Speaking of bodice rippers: Rosefolly, I think, once posted about some of those covers. As I recall, RPers gave them derisive hoots . . . but we also enjoyed making fun of them.

  • yoyobon_gw
    2 years ago

    I didn't suggest it was "offensive" as much as annoying. I prefer to NOT see the illustrator's version of the characters or the story.

    friedag thanked yoyobon_gw
  • Carolyn Newlen
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    Yoyo, you would have preferred the cover on the ebook of COJ that I read, then. It was dark green with a small silhouette of a girl's head and a spray of magnolias with a pocket watch in the center.

  • yoyobon_gw
    2 years ago

    Perfect !

  • annpanagain
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    Friedag, my paperback copy of a Mary Stewart mystery "Nine Coaches Waiting" has a spoiler of the end of a character on the cover!

  • friedag
    Original Author
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    Zounds! Annpan, do you suppose that spoiler was inadvertent or deliberate? If I had never read the book before, the spoiler would have been meaningless to me. But since I read Nine Coaches Waiting a couple of times before I acquired a paperback -- such as the one you have, it's possible I would've spotted a not-so-subtle blunder, or even a subtle one, if I was attuned.

    I have a paperback of D du M's The King's General that makes a similar breach of etiquette by revealing a pivotal plot element on the cover. However, I didn't notice it for quite a long while.

  • friedag
    Original Author
    2 years ago

    Yvonne, glad to see you found a cover to your liking!

  • annpanagain
    2 years ago

    Friedag, probably not deliberate. I think that sometimes the illustrators and people who write summaries on the back cover can't have read the book!

    friedag thanked annpanagain
  • yoyobon_gw
    2 years ago

    Friedag.....I'm glad you're glad !

  • friedag
    Original Author
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    Annpan, I bet you too can detect the illustrators/designers and summary writers who have only seen film/TV adaptations -- placing too much faith in the films being true to the books.

    I was heartened to see the edition of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie celebrating the 100th-year anniversary of Muriel Spark's birth . The cover has restored all six girls in Miss Brodie's set. Another edition I have shows only four -- two of the creme de la creme were conflated into two of the other characters for the film.

    There are probably many examples of that sort of thing!

    I have noticed the Retro-styled covers in practically every fiction genre I follow. "Everything old is new again." For all I know, Sci-fi and Fantasy covers may be trending that direction as well. Maybe someone can verify that -- Rosefolly, Sheri . . .?

  • Rosefolly
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    Frieda and others, I made an error in my earlier post. We were doing a book jacket-based jigsaw puzzle, not a crossword puzzle. My apologies.

    friedag thanked Rosefolly
  • kathy_t
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    Here is a weird little bit of serendipity. A few moments ago, I was searching my library website for a book title containing the word "jacket" to find a follow-up book title for Vee's entry, which contained the word "shirt" in the November Game thread. In the first page of results, the book shown below was listed. Since I have a trip to the library planned this afternoon anyway, I'll be checking this one out.


    friedag thanked kathy_t
  • friedag
    Original Author
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    Kathy, be sure to let us know what you think of The Look of the Book.

    I recognize several of the famous covers used on the cover of TLotB itself. I would like to see what else the authors show and discuss inside. The most instantly recognizable to me is A Clockwork Orange which I think was the paperback and probably had some connection to the film -- that eye was everywhere on university campuses circa 1971/1972, but the book was out years before that (possibly in 1965 or before). I don't have any memory of its original jacket -- it must have been ho-hum or I was too young to appreciate it at the time.

  • friedag
    Original Author
    2 years ago

    Whoa, Annpan.


    I should think that the tie-in covers with the stars of a movie or TV series would sell better because they are relatable.


    Apparently you posted the above comment five days ago, but I just received an email notice of it about 20 minutes ago.. The gremlins are at it again. Some of my edits are being delayed, too. Right under the time when a posting was made, it will say I modified it several hours or days afterward when I actually edited it maybe a minute or two after I submitted it. I don't know what is going on but I don't like thinking that I'm missing out on what you wrote!

  • yoyobon_gw
    2 years ago

    I rest my case......here's another version of the cover for City Of Jasmine ( see my other post).......Yet another couple shown on the cover. Ugh. I'm going to say it somehow cheapens a book when I see these covers.


    friedag thanked yoyobon_gw
  • sheri_z6
    2 years ago

    I can't speak to sci-fi covers, but I've found that the most recent fantasy books I've read usually have the main character in full face (Ilona Andrews, Grace Draven, Jeffe Kennedy, Naomi Novik, Gail Carriger) although some covers have gone completely without people on them (Alix Harrow). The more I thought about it, the more I realized I'm not that aware of covers anymore, especially when reading on my iPad.


    Generally speaking, I don't like covers that use the movie or TV series images, it just feels like a very obvious and obnoxious way to get people who don't read much to buy the book (which evidently works, so my opinion is worthless here) but that said, I do like the new Dune cover. It certainly doesn't hurt that Timothee Chalamet and Jason Momoa are front and center ;)

    friedag thanked sheri_z6
  • friedag
    Original Author
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    Yvonne, neither of the covers you've shown make me eager to read COJ nor, by transference, anything else by Raybourn. I don't especially like the first cover, but I don't really dislike it -- it's just bland and unmemorable to me. I agree with you about the second cover somehow cheapening the book(s) in my mind. It's too bad, probably. I know you and many others like Raybourn's writing and storytelling style, so she must have other things going for her.

    The visceral liking or disliking of any book cover/jacket is a peculiar thing, isn't it?

  • annpanagain
    2 years ago

    Friedag How odd that you got an email like that! I have also noticed the times can't be right for posted comments. I ignore the times and scroll until I find one I haven't read.

  • sheri_z6
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    I saw this on Facebook today and though it fit nicely with Frieda's original question. Evidently some book store employees noticed the trend.



    friedag thanked sheri_z6
  • kathy_t
    2 years ago

    Just dropping in to say that the book about book covers that I checked out of the library (The Look of the Book) was a disappointment to me. Too erudite for my purposes - too much talk from which I gleaned too little information. It's back at the library now.

    friedag thanked kathy_t
  • annpanagain
    2 years ago

    I came across a Georgette Heyer fan site where there was a display of covers for An Infamous Army, the novel about the events around the Battle of Waterloo. One of the title changes was quite unintentionally funny to my English sense of humour.

    friedag thanked annpanagain
  • vee_new
    2 years ago

    Annpan, what was it?

    I have seen a cover illustration for Pride and Prejudice showing a soldier leering over the shoulder of a scantily-clad maiden . . . but at least she was wearing a bonnet 'though it barely covered her flowing locks.

    friedag thanked vee_new
  • donnamira
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    Like Kathy, I was also disappointed in The Look of the Book. The lavish illustrations were not well organized or used effectively, there was way too much assumption of what the reader might know of art history, and too much use of terms without defining them. The glossary in back was inadequate. The author is a well-regarded & successful book designer, but I found it a struggle to follow his arguments and ended up not quite sure what he was trying to tell me. Or maybe, my aging brain has reduced reading comprehension. :) Anyway, I had planned to purchase the book, but fortunately the library had a copy, which has saved me from wasting my own $$. I ran across another on the same topic, which I will try next: The Illustrated Dust Jacket, 1920-1970, by Martin Salisbury.

    friedag thanked donnamira
  • friedag
    Original Author
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    Donnamira, like you and Kathy, I haven't had much luck with books by professional designers and trying to comprehend their explanations of why certain dust jackets and covers are outstanding examples in the view of designers themselves. Their arguments are too esoteric for me, I suppose.

    I'll look for The Illustrated Dust Jacket, 1920-1970, by Martin Salisbury.

    I am much more interested in what attracts the attention of average readers who are not designers. I have always suspected readers, such as myself, have emotional responses to covers that help them choose what they want to read next, even when they know absolutely nothing about a book, its title or its author. Or even whether it is on some best-seller list or is recommended by some reviewer or blurbed by another well-known writer/celebrity.

    Maybe it can boil down to simple wordless recognition of genre, (for example, I can spot a gothic suspense novel across a room). It could be nostalgia. Perhaps it is caprice. I've found it quite hard for me to articulate, and many of my fellow readers also admit it is hard for them to put into words -- spoken or written. Of course, there are some who can state it more eloquently than the rest of us! I'll keep reading and trying to understand. Maybe it's a complete mystery. I like mysteries.

  • Carolyn Newlen
    2 years ago

    Have I mentioned that I read once that what we loved most about the gothic romance/suspense books was the houses.

    friedag thanked Carolyn Newlen
  • friedag
    Original Author
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    Carolyn, thanks for reminding me. On gothic covers, it is all about the house! Then there is the one lighted window -- it has to be a high window, at least on a top floor but preferably in a turret if there is one.

    The funniest cover I've ever seen shows the typical 'young thing' (this time clad in a costume that looked straight from Star Trek) fleeing from a house . . . no, wait! Is it a house or a rocket ship? There's an obligatory light high up in the nose cone if the rocket ship was standing upright. I'll never give a spoiler, however. Actually, I don't remember what the cover was meaning to convey.

    Speaking of cliched covers: In the 1950s and '60s, my father enjoyed hard-boiled detective books (e.g. Mickey Spillane and Erle Stanley Gardner) and thrillers, such as those by Ian Fleming. He kept them up on a high shelf in his closet. However, I had big eyes and readily observed the main tropes: usually a man with a gun -- always fully clothed -- and a scantily attired or naked woman with strategically placed bits to suggest her most alluring features. I asked my father why the men had clothes on but the women did not. My mother overheard this uncomfortable exchange and said that she had to smother her laughter over daddy's disconcerted explanation.

    To think, though, the same men who thought the covers of books aimed primarily at men existed with good reason, but bodice-ripper covers because they were aimed at women were abominations. Oh well! The double standard still exists, but it seems to be watered down nowadays.

  • Carolyn Newlen
    2 years ago

    Frieda, your story reminded me of the morning when our six-year-old daughter ran down the hall and asked her father if he knew baby calves grew in their mothers' tummies. He was putting on his jacket to go to work, froze, turned white, said, "You need to talk to your mother about that," finished putting on his jacket, and fled the scene.

    friedag thanked Carolyn Newlen
  • annpanagain
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    Friedag, here is a good one for the collection of covers where the illustrator hasn't read the story. False Colours by Georgette Heyer is about twin golden-haired gentlemen but the cover has a single dark-haired Regency type portrayed.

    No one like that is in the book! False indeed!

    OT...I am hoping some of my library requests come soon. We expect Xmas and Boxing Day to be over 100F.

    I planned to have my three immediate family over for lunch, which they are providing, then rest for the weekend with books and a ton of chocolate. My eldest GD sent a joke which backfired. She made up a hamper including a small Xmas plum pudding and ready made custard but the pudding is made of chocolate, not a pudding mixture as she imagined!

    friedag thanked annpanagain
  • yoyobon_gw
    2 years ago

    I thought the Maisie Dobbs series and the Veronica Speedwell series both had really attractive cover designs which were distinctive .


    friedag thanked yoyobon_gw
  • vee_new
    2 years ago

    Annpan, difficult to imagine eating Christmas pud, plus all the other seasonal goodies in temps nearing 100F!

    Here it is somewhere in the high 30's - low 40's and we have seen NO sun at all since Friday 10th Dec . . . we are sitting under a 'blocking high' which either gives bright clear days or, as in our case, fog and murk.

    And what with this new strain of COVID raging about people are cutting back on Xmas do's and even family gatherings.

  • annpanagain
    2 years ago

    Vee, the Xmas meal is more likely to be seafood and cold meats with various salads rather than a hot meal these days. We save the roasts for Xmas in July functions!

    I rarely eat Xmas pud but would have it with ice cream.

    We have Covid under control by keeping the borders closed and anyone arriving has to go into quarantine. We were going to open up on February 5th but would have to wear masks in certain places. Now there is an online meeting of State leaders today to discuss the situation with the latest strain. It is hard to keep up as we run through the Greek letters...

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