Cover Changes: Faces vs. Things

Time to play Which Cover do you Like Better? I received two ARC (advanced reader copies) in the mail yesterday, both of which had one cover on the ARC itself plus a color printout announcing that the book had a new cover. Interesting! 

I tweeted the covers last night and wondered what caused the change. I wanted to share with you because the change in the cover art is remarkable. If you like faces on your covers, prepare to be disappointed. What's fascinating for me is that the new covers are for later books in a series, and represent a significant departure from the images used in earlier books. Have a look. 

In May 2012, Katherine Longshore's Gilt was released, with the following cover: 

Book A black and white close up of a woman's features with her eyes closed, and the word


This is the old cover for her book Tarnish, which will be released in June of 2013: 

A woman with dark eyes and dark eyebrows and hair looking over her bare shoulder at the reader, with a very ornate necklace going down her back


And here is the new cover, which matches the redesigned paperback cover for Gilt – the paperback will release in May 2013, just before Tarnished


Book A close of up a gold metallic pattern with the words


Book A closeup of gold filigree with metallic letters, the I in gilt dotted with another jeweled brooch


Quite a difference, isn't it? 

Old covers: 

Book A black and white close up of a woman's features with her eyes closed, and the word A woman with dark eyes and dark eyebrows and hair looking over her bare shoulder at the reader, with a very ornate necklace going down her back


New covers: 

Book A closeup of gold filigree with metallic letters, the I in gilt dotted with another jeweled broochBook A close of up a gold metallic pattern with the words


Both of these books are Tudor-set YA novels coded for “Ages 12 and up.” Gilt is about Catherine Howard; Tarnish is about Anne Boleyn. So both are aimed at a young female market. Which cover do you like better? Any young ladies within arms reach? What do they think?

Here's another presto-change-o example of cover art redesign. 

In October 2012, Fiona Pauls' Venom was released with the following cover: 

Book A close up of a woman in an ornate purple eyemask, touching her lips with jewels wrapped through her fingers


Here's the redesigned paperback version, due out in June: 

Book A montage of a Venice bridge with a silhouette of a  couple at the bottom, and the word


Much like Gilt and Tarnish, the sequel to Venom has two covers, one old, and one new. The old cover, which is on the ARC I received, looks like this: 

A close up of a woman with a veil over her eyes, against a backdrop of rivers with bridges on them


The new cover matches the style of the paperback version: 

Book Another mix image of a silhouette at the bottom, rivers and bridges in the backdrop, and Belladonna written in big red swirly script


Old covers:


Book A close up of a woman in an ornate purple eyemask, touching her lips with jewels wrapped through her fingersA close up of a woman with a veil over her eyes, against a backdrop of rivers with bridges on them


New covers:


Book A montage of a Venice bridge with a silhouette of a  couple at the bottom, and the word Book Another mix image of a silhouette at the bottom, rivers and bridges in the backdrop, and Belladonna written in big red swirly script


This is also historical YA romance, set in Italy. I can see that the second set of covers try to emphasize the place, but the images are so bland compared to the faces. 

You can see some of the other covers for the Fiona Paul series on her website sidebar.

I've always been fascinated by the differences in cover art between the US and UK markets, but these changes are so remarkable, I'm not sure what to make of them. The new Paul covers are drab and look like romantic suspense to me, but the new Longshore covers are very eye-catching with all the metallic backgrounds and the jewels. 

Which do you like better? Do you think the new set will appeal to the YA market more or less? 

Comments are Closed

  1. 1

    I particularly prefer the new cover to Gilt because I can’t see up anybody’s nose.

  2. 2
    Shae Connor says:

    On the first set, I like the new covers better. They’re intriguing and different, they fit the titles and genre better, and they match better than the originals, making them look more like part of a series.

    The second set, not so much. The old covers look rich and deep, though not much like YA. The new covers just look like cheap, thrown-together Photoshops. I actually like the Australia/NZ covers best, both for the art and for the YA feel.

  3. 3
    Staci Hart says:

    I think that the US market is so sex charged that having smexy teens on covers makes teenage girls go Conrad Birdie. I also think there are so many adults that read YA that the covers are marketed for a really broad range of girls to women.

    I’d be willing to bet that the sexification of women is far less prevalent in the UK.

    I scoured the internet while working on my own cover (I’m a graphic designer too), looking for data on covers in romance novels that compared sales of books with graphic covers to covers featuring people. I couldn’t find anything. Point being, I think this discussion is super fascinating!

  4. 4
    Jamarleo says:

    It seems that most of my older son and daughter’s (tween and young teen) choice of book series have recently started color coding their covers.  (such as the the Matched and Taken series) I assume it’s because most kids in a library or scholastic book sale settings have a limited time to grab books and if they recognize the artwork of a favorite book but see that it’s a different color, they’ll rightly assume that it’s a continuation of a familiar series.

    I also suspect- though in saying this I know it makes me look like a lazy mother- that if a random parent saw their kid checking out a book with the pouty-mouth-sexy-girl-out-of-appropriate-age-group cover, the parent might question the choice.  Since there is nothing overt about the alternate covers the parent will probably give it a pass.

  5. 5
    StarlightArcher says:

    Well, I usually prefer thing to people, but in the case of both Tarnish and Gilt, I think the later option are better. These are apparently aimed at the wee-teens & something feels wrong about giving them something that waves neon streamers screaming *bodice ripper in training*

    As for Venom & Belledonna- again I prefere things, but that’s mostly because seeing old outdated outfits/hair/makeup on book covers always makes me cringe. However, since the 2nd set is so blande (and the weird shadow people aren’t helping) I’d have to go with the 1st set.

  6. 6
    hapax says:

    Another example would be the redesign of the covers of Stephanie Perkins’s (TERRIFIC) sort-of series of teen romances : http://naturalartificial.blogs…
    which emphasize the sense of “exotic” locations over the flirty romance elements.

    I like the newer covers in all cases from an *aestheetic* stance (and I think that they will work better for e-books) but I miss the hint of what the book is actually *about*.

    Of course, I’m very far removed [cough] from the target demographic.

  7. 7
    Indolence_Unveiled says:

    I have to agree with liking the non-people ones for Gilt and Tarnish but the people ones for Venom and Belladonna. The non-people Venom and Belladonna covers don’t even look very well Photoshopped.

    My sister is 13 and has a vehement hatred for covers with people on them, probably in part because she reads romance novels (all my fault) and their covers are not exactly anything you’d want other middle-schoolers to see. (In many cases, they’re not even something I want to see.) And I think it’s also likely that part of it is that she just doesn’t find most of the cover models attractive at all, which certainly doesn’t help when choosing books to read. So much better to have no people or just parts of people.

  8. 8
    Amy Raby says:

    It seems to be a trend lately for YA covers to be very simple and show neither the setting nor the characters. For example, the Hunger Games cover which has the Mockingjay symbol on it, and the Graceling cover which displays a sword. Both of those were bestsellers, so maybe simple, somewhat abstract covers are perceived to be winners in that market?

  9. 9

    I’m very interested in this discussion, because I love my first covers (e.g., The Chocolate Kiss), but the sales reps with my publisher say they aren’t “working” for the booksellers (too chick lit, etc.), and so they’re going with a people cover for book 3, The Chocolate Touch.  (This:…

    I almost always prefer figurative covers over people covers, but a lot of people have said THE CHOCOLATE TOUCH cover more clearly spells “love and Paris” to them.  So I remain very curious.

    Definitely prefer the second set of Gilt/Tarnish covers and would be much more likely to buy them.  I’m not sure what Penguin/Philomel is doing to poor Fiona Paul with the paperback covers, though.  It makes me want to strangle her publisher for lack of respect for her work.

  10. 10
    Lynnd says:

    I also prefer the new covers for the first set and the old covers for the second set.  If the new covers for the second set would not include the people, I would probably like them more.

    @Laure:  I really liked the old covers for the Chocolate Thief and the Chocolate Kiss.  Having been to Paris several times, the cover for Chocolate Touch says “touristy cliche” to me and if I didn’t love this series already, I would probably not pick up the book because of the cover.  That would be a shame because these books are great, not only for the characters (primary and secondary) and the plots, but also because they really evoke a lovely sense of Paris itself (the City really is a character as well).  I hope that the new cover style will work for others so that more people will discover these books, but it is just not to my taste. 

  11. 11
    Barb in Maryland says:

    And did you notice that the curvy title font on the new cover of Paul’s first book makes the title look like “Vengm” not “Venom”??  I had to stare at it to see that the 4th letter is NOT a ‘g’—that’s the flourish to the ‘n’ nestled under the ‘o’. And the cover illustration itself is just boring, too.


  12. 12
    Liz H says:

    My brain is fried at the moment, so I can’t place it exactly, but the new Gilt and Tarnish covers remind me of another series. The other series has darker colors (greens and golds?). Anyone?
    The font on the original Gilt/Tarnish didn’t match the images at all. I join the crowd, and definitely prefer the latter (even if they’re making me want to pull my hair out, because I can’t remember!).
    I really don’t like any of the Paul covers. The woman in the first has her eyes turned to a really weird angle; it looks painful. As for the second, could they really not find better photos of Italy? Venice at sunset and that was their best? Oy. The font for the author’s name also doesn’t match well. Overall badly done.

  13. 13
    Chicklet says:

    I actually prefer the new, face-free, covers in both sets. The publishers may be doing it just to differentiate the books on the bookstore shelves; it seems like lots of books in the YA category focus on the model’s face, so eliminating people altogether, or incorporating silhouettes into a city landscape, stands out. And if these are YA books, they’re probably trade paperbacks, which would make the faces in the earlier covers be pretty much life-size. That’s a big face to carry around in your backpack or hold up in public; it’s very noticeable, and the new covers are more… circumspect? Discreet? Something like that.

  14. 14
    katherinelynn_04 says:

    This is one of the nitpicks of FYA ( the big-face fancy dress cover in YA. It’s overdone; everyone has it, and it’s not attractive. Especially if you can see up someone’s nose. I prefer the second set of covers on both, but prefer the new cover for Venom more than that of Belladonna. As an adult who reads a lot of YA, I appreciate that those wouldn’t be embarrassing to walk around with (or purchase).

    I’d say out of the new covers that Venom is my favorite, it’s still evocative but gives a bit of story to it, while the old covers are just a random girl (who often doesn’t even meet the description of the girl in the book). It has depth to it, and seeing it I would think the story must have some as well.

  15. 15
    Tam says:

    What’s up with those fonts, though?  I’d like the second ‘gilt’ and ‘tarnish’ covers better if I didn’t have to squint to try and work out what the words were.

  16. 16

    The original Gilt cover is kind of O-facey, and seems really inappropriate for a YA novel.

    I think both sets of new covers are more interesting and less cliche than the originals.

  17. 17
    Marina says:

    Could this have something to do with whitewashing? Every once in a while a story breaks out that the cover shows a white person, when the protagonist is not white. And then the pusbisher has to apologize and change the cover at best, or ignore the whole thing at worst. Maybe they figured it would be easier (not to mention cheaper) to leave people out altogether instead of trying to find the right model every time. 

  18. 18
    Emily A says:

    Not one of these cover looks YOUNG adult. They all look too old for me. I should definitely have kids eventually, since I have the adult “I think that book is too old for thing down.” Actually my own mother never limited what I read only what I watched on tv, so no trying to judge here. Anyhow I think the Gilt and Tarnish covers are shiny and more appealing. They’re blinged out. I still wouldn’t have them I think since books about Anne Boleyn aren’t my thing. Hey shouldn’t the first book be about Katherine of Aragon the first wife, vs. Catherine Howard the fourth wife?
    On the next set of covers again the original covers look old to me. I really like the Venom one, I like the way the characters are posed. The Belledonna has a nice backdrop, but I hate the clinch. After reading Smart Bitches and Jim C. Hines, the power dynamic bothers me. Plus her hand look really weird on her back. Not sure I would have noticed as a teen.  I don’t like the backdrop in Venom though. I guess more attention to detail would have been better for both covers.
    Still I have to say I prefer the new covers, except for yours Laura Florand. I liked those cartoons. I thought they were distinctive.

  19. 19
    CateM says:

    My roommate and I vote loudly for the new Fiona Paul covers. We think they look less stereotypical than other Y.A. stuff (we both have younger sisters who are reading Y.A. and lots of the covers look similar). We were split on the guilt/tarnish cover set. Although since it’s her 21st birthday, I should probably give her extra votes.

  20. 20

    I prefer the new covers for Gilt and Tarnish, though I find them both a bit boring. I wish that they incorporated at least one more detail, just so they didn’t look like somebody found a stock photo and slapped the text on it. The original covers were way too nostril-y for me (plus, I couldn’t help wondering how the Tudors had access to nose-hair trimmers).

    I hate the new covers of Venom and Belladonna. They just scream, “My niece just bought a copy of Photoshop, and I’m saving money by letting her design my covers so she can build her portfolio.” Hate, haaaaaate the clinch on the new Belladonna, and as for Venom, I would guess that it was Science Fiction just from the cover, if I didn’t know it was supposed to be historical Italian. I think it’s the color palette—it kind of obscures the details and looks more like a Wraith ship from Stargate Atlantis than a Roman catacomb (or whatever the hell that’s supposed to be).

    I much prefer the old covers for Venom and Belladonna, but then I’m a sucker for masks on book covers. I will buy the most ridiculous shit if it has a pretty Venetian mask on the front.

  21. 21

    Thank you, Lynn. That is really nice to say.

    And thanks also, Emily A.  (Not sure how to reply to 2 people at once here.)  I think reactions so far are about 30% of people for the new covers, 60% for the old.  It will be really interesting to see if we can detect any kind of greater “pick-up” rate in bookstores for the new, which I think is what they’re hoping for.  That is, is it better to give people something different when that means they’re not sure what it is, or is it better to give them what they expect?  (The cliché.)  Or if possible, to use the cliché with a slight twist on it that makes it distinctive?

  22. 22
    Jane Lovering says:

    The second covers, every time.  Those original covers for Gilt, and Venom, is it just me or do the women both look as if they are in the throes of having sex?  Not really what I’d want my young daughter to be seeing (or my young sons either, if it comes to that). Prefer something a little less…personal.

  23. 23
    Gry says:

    For the first set, I hate, hate, HATE the first cover of Gilt. The first cover of Tarnish is OK, I suppose, but frankly, not that interesting either. I like the new covers much better.
    For the second set, bot the new and the old covers are OK, I suppose, but no great feelings either way there

  24. 24
    LG says:

    The new covers for Gilt and Tarnish are boring – although the jewel colors are pretty. The Fiona Paul covers just have problems all around. I know nothing about the books, so when I saw the first covers, my initial thought was “small press erotica,” particularly with Venom. The new covers are an improvement in that respect, but they still look like they’re aimed at an adult audience (maybe adult historical fiction?). And there is absolutely nothing about them that says “pick me up and take a closer look.” I don’t know if “boring” is the right word for them, but their look just doesn’t interest me at all.

  25. 25
    chacha1 says:

    I liked the new set for the first pair, and the old set for the second – apparently in line with many here. 

    Tudor stories? The non-figurative art conveys elegance, historical style, and complexity without being excessively personal.  Because your other route is either a painting of the protagonist, or a confected image of [random female].  The first covers fit soundly into category 2 and I would never have picked one up in a bookstore.

    Italian stories? The masks speak to the mystery and seductiveness – with just a hint of threat – I assume to be present in the stories.  The city images are both insufficiently distinct and too obvious, and also imply a less imaginative MALE/female “sweet romance” focus.  Those silhouettes are strictly candy-box, and what’s that got to do with poison?

  26. 26
    GhengisMom says:

    Yep! I agree with all those saying that the first sets of covers are too mature. I would never in a million years buy the first Gilt with the image of an orgasmic woman, for my 12 year old daughter. Same with the second set. All three of those covers look like erotica and completely age inappropriate. 

  27. 27
    chacha1 says:

    Danielle Steel’s publisher did that for years – identical cover design, just a different color for each title.

  28. 28
    Gwyndriel1 says:

    Yeah, and I originally read the title as Clit.  Yikes.

  29. 29
    Lisa Sumrall says:

    Here I am, way over here in the corner. All alone. Daring to say… I liked the first covers of the Longshore books. Never in a million years would I have associated them with books dealing with Henry VIII, but then the second set of covers also doesn’t shout out at me “TUDOR!” Sure I’m looking up the woman’s nose. Luckily I’m not seeing anything.

  30. 30
    John C. Bunnell says:

    Coming in from way outside the target demographic:

    Purely on an artistic level, the original set of covers for Gilt and Tarnish strike me as vastly better-executed than the second set—yes, even allowing for the up-the-nostril view.  That said, I agree with the gallery that they probably broadcast as “too mature” for YA, and particularly YA with romantic elements.

    The second set, OTOH, should not have been let out of the art department—not because the backgrounds are badly done (it’s a perfectly reasonable concept), but because the color and style of the typography doesn’t even begin to properly fit the background imagery.  The titles do not stand out sufficiently, and the type is much too busy and complex, such that the detailing in the font design clashes with the detail in the background imagery.  You have a problem when your sales-pitch text is more readable than the title of the book.

    As for the Fiona Paul covers: again, the original images are much, much more striking and evocative than the second versions—and again, the only reason this is a problem rather than an advantage is that they make the books look too sultry for YA.  (If I’d been asked about redesigning those covers, I’d have said, “Get the original artist to do these same girls, masks and all—but pull back to full-body profiles and add some background scenery.”)

    The second set is not as disastrous as the Longshore redesign, but they definitely suffer from design clutter.  The designer should have gone with any two of the three major elements—fancy title typography, misty Italian bridge-scape, couple in silhouette—and left out the third.  (And Barb in Maryland is absolutely right about the excess flourish making “Venom” look like “Vengm”.  Bad curlicue, no biscuit!)

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