What’s in a Cover?

This post was written by Miss Eliza of Strange and Random Happenstance.


When I was younger I wasn’t much of a reader, though I did love books. I’d spend hours just gazing at covers and making up what stories the book could tell. I was convinced that the book would be nowhere near my imaginings so I rarely looked between the covers, unless there were more pictures inside. Is it any wonder I grew up to be an artist, illustrator, and graphic designer (at least that’s what it says on my business cards)? I think not, if my early years are any indication of the forming of my life. To this day I have very strong opinions about book covers, as I know my fellow readers probably do. Though my opinions are now more informed on design principles then previously on my gut reaction. I also have developed designer quirks wherein a book cover can offend me because I hate a font or I’m seeing certain stock images reused, yet again. In fact spot the stock imagery is actually a game I play when I’m bored and it inadvertently led me to find out Deanna Raybourn and Lauren Willig’s cover photography is from the same photographer! The more you know.

What this all leads to is the truth of the matter, that a book is judged by its cover. I don’t know if I would have picked up Lauren’s first book way back in 2007 if it didn’t have the cover it did. Which is why, when the cover design changed in 2010 with The Orchid Affair, it was such a furor on her blog. Before tackling the cover change I need to first vent my rage about continuity in a series. If you’re a fan of a series you want it to look really nice on your bookshelf. You want it to declare loud and clear that it’s a series, and a series you love. There is nothing that I hate more as a designer and book addict then publishers switching things up so that I don’t have my complete set! The look can be ruined by format change, just look to Charlaine Harris, I have first editions of all her books in all four different sizes they were released in from paperback to hardcover. Or, as I will be discussing with The Orchid Affair, cover art change! Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy Series has ushered in a new look for each of the three volumes, from beautiful art to photography and now to “Disney” Princess. Therefore, for me personally, this change in Lauren’s books wasn’t going to be easily accepted.


The reason I love Lauren’s old covers is because they captured that combination of history and romance that I love in her books. The initial blue cover of The Orchid Affair was something you would picture on a standard romance novel, maybe a slightly trashy one at that, I mean seriously, look at that model. While Lauren’s books have romantic leanings, I would never categorize them as romance. Also, the cover falls victim to the headless heroine problem that has spread like a plague through romance and urban fantasy books in the last few years and incited the ire of many women as to how they are depicted on books. If we take the least inflammatory theory, that by removing the woman’s head she is able to act as an avatar where we can see ourselves in the books I call foul! Art has the same avatar qualities. Paintings were never meant to be realistic, but more an ideal of what the artist or the subject wanted their lasting image to be. We, I think, as readers can all agree it’s just as easy to picture yourself a painting as it is a headless corpse. Plus does anyone else just think of Hannibal and the Chesapeake Ripper when limbs start getting removed? Or perhaps zombie films?

Cover_3Lauren’s fans quickly stated their displeasure, over eighty posts declaring their dislike on the cover reveal alone. We, because yes, I was one of them, started harassing her publishers and Lauren held a little cover art contest on her blog to see if we could sway the publishers that the fans knew what they wanted. I submitted three entries into the contest, and I have to say, even if my pieces didn’t get that many votes, it was cathartic showing why I thought the change was wrong in a tangible way. Yes, the graphic designer in me felt a little release, like a cat stretching. While this outcry didn’t get the art based covers reinstated, at least Lauren’s publishers listened to the readers and we got a cover that was a happy medium. But, the lesson in this for true fans is, we are the constant, we are the guaranteed sale, and the point of new covers and new art and different formats is to capture and entice new readers. So when all is said and done, if this cover change is what enabled us to have twelve books in the Pink Carnation series, can we really complain? No we can’t. The art department was doing their job and we got another book, everything else just falls away… even if I still occasionally grumble about it to myself… and don’t get me started on the format change with The Passion of the Purple Plumeria!


25 thoughts on “What’s in a Cover?

  1. I remember this very well. There are some very talented fans who submitted over 30 covers in the contest Lauren so generously had on her web site. I just checked and they are archived on the web site. Great memories of that controversy!

  2. I’m with you, Miss Eliza! It drives me totally crazy when publishers do that, especially to an established series. I want them to all look the same on my bookshelf, darn it! I have one series, The Blending novels by Sharon Green, where they changed the spine on the last book of the 8. THE LAST BOOK!!! ARRRRRRGGGGHHHHH! Anyway (deep breaths, Sarah) I’m glad I’m not the only person who feels this way. Looking at your covers pictured above it appears that I got the new cover before Orchid even, my Blood Lily cover is different from yours. Fitting for Penelope, I think, but I do remember a moment of sadness knowing they weren’t all going to look the same. Keep up the great posts!

    • The LAST BOOK? How dare they! Oh yes, the Penelope paperback, where she’s not even wearing a dress proper for the time period, the waist is way too low. And overall ruffly and fluffy, not Pen AT ALL.

  3. I agree Miss Eliza! The original covers in the Pink series are the perfect blend of art and history. I love them because they are unique. The last few covers are nice but they don’t match the rest of the series…which bothers me a bit.
    I will check out the contest on the LW website later today.
    Great blog post!

  4. I am an audio reader, so I don’t have books on my shelf, I have them in my Audible account. Therefore, I don’t pay much attention to the covers. But, I think a change in reader/narrator is to audio readers what a change in cover is to visual readers. This post reminds me of when the reader changed in the series in Charlotte’s book, “The Temptation of the Night Jasmine.” The reader for all the other books in the Pink series is Kate Reading and she is amazing – my all time favorite narrator. I actually choose books to listen to because she’s reading them. In Charlotte’s book, there is a different narrator and she is terrible. She actually pronounced Eloise’s name “El-Was” throughout three-fourths of the book and then started pronouncing it correctly the last fourth and don’t even get me started on what she made Hen sound like. I think that is the reason I have listed to all the Pink books multiple times, except that one. Thankfully, Kate Reading came back in Pen’s book and has been with us ever since! If you’re ever looking for a way to enjoy your favorite books while doing everything else in your life (cooking, laundry, cleaning…), might I recommend audio books! They will set you free!

    • Actually I think a change in narrator might be worse then a cover change. Because it’s like they’re changing the voice of the books and giving you an obviously sub-par sub (El-Was, really!?!)

    • I have to agree that Kate Reading is the best narrator I have heard and that the pronunciations in Charlottes book was a big, “huh?” So you can just imagine how she would have butchered the Indian names if she had done Pen’s book instead.

    • EVERY TIME that narrator would say “El-Was” I would very loudly correct her in my car! THE most annoying thing EVER…

  5. I remember The Cover Controversy! I will admit that when the cover was first revealed I was a little bit disappointed that the historical fine art that first drew me to the series was gone but I didn’t think it warranted the outcry on Lauren’s website. Some of the comments were a little bit much and all because what – their book sets wouldn’t match – we have some serious OCD people out there. I think the final Orchid Affair cover (and subsequent covers) is beautiful in its own way. Very different from the previous books but it was time for a change. I probably wouldn’t have picked up the series to begin with if the covers looked like this from the start but someone else might have only found this series because the cover looked like this. And I’m a big believer in “don’t judge a book by its cover” 🙂

    • We should all try not to judge a book by its cover, though keep in mind sneaky graphic designers like me make our living by exploiting this maxim. Why else would they make me take a psych class?

  6. I also remember the cover contest on Lauren’s website. My favorite of the contest covers was the one using Ingres’ portrait of the Comtesse d’Haussonville at the Frick museum, which I had not seen before at that time. Some months later, I visited the Frick for the first time and saw the Comtesse’s portrait and knew it looked familiar but couldn’t place it initially. I remembered just as we were getting ready to leave and explained to my husband that we had to go back so I could see the portrait again and I bought a postcard of it which hangs above my desk to keep me company while I’m writing.

    • That was a lovely entry. In fact, I think it won! As I recall the only problem I had with that entry was, having taken so many art history classes, it was too identifiable a piece for me, I loved that Lauren’s books had beautiful but non-famous artwork.

      But can I do a second hell yes to The Frick! Seriously, in my opinion it is one of the best museums out there. Firstly, amazing, seriously amazing house. Secondly, the paintings are some of the most famous out there, the Ingres, they have a Vermeer! Isn’t the one room done by Fragonard? If I could I would totally move into that museum and pretend I lived during Edith Wharton’s time, even if I was unfashionable north on the island. Also kudos for getting the postcard, I think I might have one around somewhere, but that giftshop, it is a dangerous place to visit, I think last time I was there I ended up with a biography on Lady Hamilton and a set of globe ornaments, which sit with my Jane Austen books now.

  7. I hate the headless heroines, and absolutely loved the earlier art covers, but my greatest disappointment was when they stopped issuing in Hardback. I buy them in 1st edition Hardback to keep for my personal library, soft cover (to re-read and to loan) and audio for when I am working on a quilt project and still want to get some reading in. When they stopped issuing the hardcover editions it makes my books not look right on the shelf. They are not issuing her stand-alone books straight to paper so why, just because it is a series, did that have to make that decision 2/3 of the way through? Now unless they issue a special edition hardback set, I will have to figure out how to turn the soft covers into hardbacks of the correct size and somehow create a dust jacket to try and create a continuity that the earlier books had from the start (and I also know it’s still not going to look right). Well, how’s that for a Monday morning rant?

    • I approve of this rant! Because it mirrors many of my own thoughts. I totally agree the sad feeling of when they stopped being Hardcover, and only for the last three? That’s like extra cruel. As for Dutton/NAL’s decision, my guess is twofold a) Lauren’s books sold better in paperback and b) they were going to have her end the series sooner rather then later. As for her standalones being Hardcover, different publisher, different choices.

  8. I’m late to this discussion, but also remember the rants on Lauren’s website. I loved the earlier art covers and echo Debra about the demise of the HARDBACK – talk about the look on your bookshelf! I guess publishers don’t really think or care about these things, letting money be the bottom line. It’s also interesting how little input the author has in cover design.

    I asked a question on Mary Balogh’s blog about the covers for her surivors’ club series. The first book, The Proposal, was a beautiful hardback with a portrait of the heroine, Gwen, dressed appropiately in period costume. The second book came out in paperback, and The Proposal was reissued at the same time with a hunky male on the cover. I asked Mary if this was her vision of the hero, Hugo, and she replied absolutely not, that she hated that cover, and the next two that looked similar. She then said she had a new publisher and the covers of the next books in the series of seven would be back to period covers. Of course, as already mentioned, this does play havoc with display. I buy and keep the books of my favorite authors.

    Thanks for a great post!

    • Oh yes, authors have no control over covers! Sometimes that’s a good thing… but usually it is not. My family being in publishing for years when we stopped publishing but still represented certain authors, it was amazing the struggles we’d have to try to get ANY say in what the cover would look like.

  9. It’s funny, this book is where I had to start switching to the ebooks (fiscal and practical “I can’t store them all as much as I would love to” concerns) so I didn’t have a clue about the cover until recently!

      • I have the old-school, ink-technology ones.. I spend so much time with the glare of a computer screen that I need my reading time to NOT be back-lit! So usually I don’t even get to see the covers.
        Which, I’ll admit, makes me sad. I love some of these covers.

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