What’s in a Cover?

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

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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.

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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!

Greetings from Miss Eliza

This post was (as the title suggests) written by Miss Eliza of Strange and Random Happenstance.

Greeting_1Ashley and I met because of our mutual love of Lauren Willig. Sometime last year she asked me what I thought of a yearlong Pink Carnation re-read leading up to the final book’s release. Seeing as I’ve been doing the monthly dream casting, the mugs, as well as the side banner design, I think you can guess my answer to her question. As soon as I was on board and throwing my design skills at her, she asked which book I would like to moderate. I said without hesitation, The Orchid Affair. Ashley was well pleased because that meant she got to do my other favorite book, The Mischief of the Mistletoe. The reason I chose this volume in the series is because I love how it brings Napoleon and the ramifications of the French Revolution back to the forefront. For five books the narrative hasn’t stepped on the shores of that benighted country. We have grown accustomed to flowery monikered spies in English drawing rooms. We have been removed from the reason these spies exist. This volume brings it all back, and in fact I would say more comprehensively covers what happened to France during this turbulent time period than any of the previous volumes.

Plus, there’s the whole fact that I really connect to this book on multiple levels. Let’s look to my background, I was raised in a publishing family, so there are the books, I have a BS in Art, hence loving the salons, and I have a minor in Theatre, covering the commedia dell’arte. What part of this book wasn’t written for me? Oh, and my last name, Lefebvre, French (kind of)! Plus I’m related, not in a direct line, to François Joseph Lefebvre, who happened to be the Duc de Dantzig and was one of the original eighteen Marshals of the Empire created by Napoleon and whose portrait at Versailles looks eerily like my Dad. This book touches every aspect of me, from genetics to interests to my very livelihood. Then there’s the fact that this takes the series in a new direction, it breaks the mold of what we have come to expect but still has the wit and humor that we’ve come to demand of Lauren’s books, and yes, we are a demanding fanbase.

And in a roundabout way it’s all because of Lauren that I have become a book blogger, Strange and Random Happenstance, check it out! The reason I started book blogging was quite literally to get Advance Reader Copies of books. Because, there is something so fun and more than a little bit gloat worthy of reading a book months before it’s out. Also, seriously, ARCs are pricey to buy on eBay, not that I’ve done that or anything she says with shifty eyes. But the ARCs I coveted above all else were Lauren’s. So yes, I made a blog to get ARCs from Dutton, but it has evolved and taken on a life of its own. I have been able to forge connections with some of my favorite authors, many of whom I now consider my friends, and help get the word out about their awesomeness. Because, seriously folks, it’s our jobs as readers to support our favorite authors, and that’s why Ashley and I (to bring it full circle) are more than willing to take a year out of our lives to celebrate Lauren. Everyone should know of this awesomeness and I hope to spend the next month sharing it with you.