Don’t Judge A Book By…

April 16, 2011 at 10:20 am (General, Industry) (, , , , , , )

Stay tuned below for giveaway information!

We all know what comes next, right?

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Except, we do. All the time.

Almost always, the cover is either the first or second thing we see. We may see the title first, if the book is spined out on the shelf, but if it’s faced out it’s the cover that first has the chance to catch our eye. That’s what’s going to bring us over to the shelf, that’s what’s going to make us pick up the book and investigate further. It isn’t the cover that makes us buy the book- the writing and the promise of the story is what does that- but the cover is the bait.

And because the cover is our first impression of the book, we make certain judgments based on that.

We decide what ‘type’ of book it is, what the story is likely to encompass, who the target audience is, even what the tone of the book is going to be. The cover can make or break a book as far as getting it into people’s hands are concerned- and publishers are very aware of this. The covers are designed to make very specific impressions; let’s take a look, shall we?

Right off the bat, there are certain things you know about this book. The background of a galaxy tells you right away that this is sci-fi; deep space, given the darker colors, which already gives us a sense of isolation and tension despite the beauty. The positions of the faces give us drama- we know there’s going to be romance, but we also know that things are going to be complicated by coming from very different perspectives. We also know there’s a mystery here- from right to left (opposite the way most people scan the page), as the background passes through the gap between the two figures, the image changes from a galaxy of stars through some bright source and into something that looks more like water, which makes us wonder what else we’re going to find out in space. It also tells us that the target audience is female- boys may not be terrified to be seen with it, but the predominance of pinks and purples, along with the near kiss of the figures, means this is going to appeal much more to females than males. (Across the Universe, by Beth Revis)

Compare that to The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It’s striking (eye-catching) in its simplicity, stark contrasts, basic colors, a memorable design. It’s a strong image, a little military with the font and the clean lines, and then the bird with the arrow. We know right away that there’s going to be violence in this book; we know it’s going to be dark, we know the threats are going to come from multiple angles, and we know that arrow is going to be very, very important. Yes, the bird is as well, but even the way the bird is shaped draws the eye to the arrow. This is a cover that’s going to appeal to males and females alike. Just from the cover, we know better than to expect anything approaching light and fluffy.

We also see this in Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron. The dark colors draw us in, especially given the contrast with the prismatic blues and silvers. Our eyes like the shiny in conservative doses, especially because the prisms make it seem false.. The skeletal leaves speak to ill health, the rusting machine components speak to decay, and the portions of number- like computer code- fascinate us. What do they mean? Are they counting down? Counting up? Listing things off? Up near the top we see the blending become more intertwined, but the page is dominated by the key. Keys are, by themselves, fascinating things, because if there is a key, there must be a lock, and if there’s a lock, there’s an obstacle. Instant promise. The fact that this key is so ornate just draws us in deeper. The deep, cool colors make it gender neutral, so anyone who likes that bit of darkness, that edge, to their books is going to be drawn to this one.

Then there are covers like that of Andrea Cremer’s Nightshade– this is very much aiming at a female audience. It isn’t just that there’s a girl on the cover (though that’s certainly a piece of it). Ignoring the tag line for the moment, we see blood dripping from the T of the title, see splashes of color in the throats of the lilies that could also be blood. The girl’s make up, the shimmering sheen of the cover, the pinks and lavenders, all indicate that this is geared towards girls. The flowers and the make up indicate that there’ll be romance, even as the hard gold of her eyes lets us know that this isn’t going to be a typical high school drama at the lockers affair. Those eyes aren’t human, and the way they’re shaded at the edges, to draw that gold into greater relief against a cover with a mostly silver cast to it, we know there’s going to be violence- you don’t have colors hit each other that hard for a soft novel. We know, as soon as we look at this cover, that the main character isn’t human, she isn’t soft, and that there will be both blood and romance. (Note: the cover is being redone for the paperback issue; this is the original hardcover image)

Boys are harder to attract, on so many levels. It’s hard to get them in the bookstores in the first place, because we as a culture have this strange obsession against boys reading- that they have “better things to do”. Boys are much more self-conscious than girls about being seen with books, and many are worried that they’ll be made fun of. Covers with lots of soft colors or with glammed up girls across the front are unlikely to find their way into boys’ hands even if the story itself is designed to appeal to both genders.

So for this, publishers rely on things like Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. It’s a bold cover, strong colors, red and steel blue-greys and dull bronze. We know right away that this is steampunk, which is something boys can really sink their teeth into because it’s machines and grease and shop class on a grand scale. (No, I’m not saying girls can’t sink their teeth into steampunk, but we’re talking about boys for the moment.) The wings give us flight, but there’s something almost skeletal about them, unfinished- there are obstacles and threats visible even from the cover. Boys are less likely than girls to pick up books with portraits on the cover, but on other issuues of the cover, at least it’s a boy (and he isn’t so pretty that a boy will a: make fun of it, or b: feel uncomfortable with it). This is something a boy feels safe picking up and being seen reading.

So, AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION TIME: what cover has jumped out at you recently? What about it made you take that closer look?

Leave me an answer before midnight EST on April 23rd, and you can win a copy (might be ARC, might be finished) of one of my favorite covers so far this year: Veronica Roth’s riveting debut Divergent. (US only, sorry- postage is expensive). But seriously, isn’t that cover amazing? And all you have to do to win this amazing book is:

1. Follow this blog: lots of book reviews, meditations on writing and the book industry, and lots and lots of pretty covers.

2. Tell me about a cover that has captivated you recently, and what about it caught your attention. What did you like about it? Why did it work? Make sure you include a name and an email in the comment so I can contact the winner.

That’s it, folks, and that amazing book can be yours!

Update 4.24: And, thanks to, we have a randomly generated winner from the comments! Thank you so much to everyone who participated, and keep an eye out for more giveaways in the future. Congratulations, Danah! You’ve won the ARC of Divergent, and will be shortly getting an email from me to arrange details.

Until next time~

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World Disaster: Here’s How to Help

March 11, 2011 at 6:10 pm (General, Uncategorized) (, , , , )

By now, most everyone has heard of the massive 8.9 quake in Japan and the devestation following in its wake. Hundreds of people are dead, scores of thousands more are missing, and even more are injured. Countless homes have been destroyed. Nuclear power plants are offline but still hot- a rather terrifying prospect- factory fires are burning out of control, and tsunamis are rippling out across the entire Pacific Ocean. With such a breathtaking array of destruction, it seems astonishing to think that anything can be done to alleviate the disaster.


There are a lot of ways to help, and I encourage you to explore those options, but here I want to tell you about an amazing organization called Shelterbox. As the name suggests, they give out literal shelters in a box: tents, food, water, clothing, medical supplies, the basic necessities to tide people over until the heavier relief efforts can kick in to rebuild. What they do is amazing, but it costs money- each Shelterbox costs about $1000.

About a fortnight ago, the fabulous Maureen Johnson woke up one morning and decided to make a difference, so she put it out on twitter and her blog that she would award on ARC of her forthcoming The Last Little Blue Envelope to one random donor and make up the difference to equal one Shelterbox. The response from readers, authors, agenrs, and editors was HUGE. The endeavor stretched across two days with a multitude of prizes and successfully raised SIX Shelterboxes.

In the wake of this tragedy, she’s at it again. You can check out the details on her blog. To donate, go here. You can choose any amount you can afford to give, because every little bit helps. Five bucks, ten bucks, it doesn’t matter if the donation is small if that’s all you can spare; that’s five or ten bucks closer to putting a family in a shelterwith food, water, clothing, and first aid. After you donate, post it up on twitter with #thelastlittleshelterbox or #nameoftheshelterbox . Winners will be drawn at random after 5am EST on Sunday March 13th. I know it’s short notice but it takes less than a minute to make a secure donation that can do so much good.

What are the prizes, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you.

First up is Maureen Johnson’s ONLY ARC of The Name of the Star, forthcoming this fall.

Kierstin White kicked in a signed ARC of Supernaturally as well as a signed hardcover of Paranormalcy.

Then Ellen Hopkins offered up a signed copy of Fallout and a signed cover of this fall’s Perfect.

Like Holly Black? She’s pitched in a signed copy of Tithe and a set of White Cat/Red Glove.

Or, if you’re a zombie-lover, there’s Carrie Ryan’s signed hardcover of the nearly-released The Dark and Hollow Places.

There’s also a copy of Small Town Sinners being offered by Melissa Walker.

Jessica Day George added to the frenzy with a signed ARC of her next release, Tuesdays at the Castle, and there are more being added through the day as more and more people come out to join this amazing cause. When I checked in earlier this afternoon, enough money had already been raised to purchase one Shelterbox, so keep it going!

So make a donation, make a difference, and get a chance to win a free book. Proof that books really can change the world.

Until next time~

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