Wednesday, December 1, 2010

For YA Publishers: Covers (or Librarians Have It Covered)

Tip of the Day: The next YALSA Symposium is in St. Louis in 2012!

This is my second post on advice for YA publishers based on my experience as a YA librarian inspired by my recent YALSA Symposium attendance. (Click here for the first.)

I have never worked for a YA publishing imprint, so I'm not exactly sure how things go in their marketing/art department meetings, but I HAVE attended many YA Librarian conferences, meetings, chat sessions, etc., and I know we share some very similar frustrations, one of which is The Inaccurate/Unappealing/Unfortunate Book Cover. The ones that no matter how awesome the books are, even if put face out, patrons will not check them out because of the terrible covers.

Some problems with bad covers from the pov of librarians:
1) inaccurate ones can contradict readers advisory interactions (e.g., a skinny cover model when the MC is fat; a strange symbol on a cover that has nothing to do with the story)
2) inaccurate ones can limit audiences (e.g., a white cover model when the MC is Asian)
3) unfortunate ones can make books look old even if they are brand new (e.g. a drawn cover model instead of a photograph when photos are popular now)
4) unappealing ones can make books stagnate on the shelf, no matter how hard they are pushed, which wastes library money when they are eventually weeded for lack of circs (e.g. strange artsy covers that say nothing/confuse readers)

I know that people who do work for YA imprints attend events like ALA -- so why don't they gather some thoughts while there on what covers go out? Or if they do (do they?), why don't they take that advice? Because as much as places like B&N and Borders can have "control" over the cover decisions and are probably often correct in their assessment about what will or will not sell, publishers should not underestimate the power of librarians to spread book love that teens will spread from there.

To end on a note of love, YA librarians like covers that:
1) depict real teens (of all colors, shapes, sizes, and sexes)
2) accurately reflect the tone of the book (and not try to copy another successful book's look if the actual book is nothing like the other one)
3) are simple yet striking (so they catch a teen's attention as they pass by a display)
4) make sense (don't throw an icon on the cover bc "icon covers" happen to be selling well now unless the icon actually makes sense with the book)
5) accurately reflect the characters/setting in the book (and not just pick the first stock photo that B&N will carry if the characters are the opposite appearance of how they are written)

There are so many FABULOUS YA covers out there -- there are not-so-good books with awesome covers that go out all the time just bc of them! -- that I think a better job could be done, and YA librarians would be happy to guide art departments in viewing cover options.

What do others out there think of the power of YA librarians? :)
Deena, Miss Subbing for Pubbing


Unknown said...

I don't know about librarians' reactions, but readers seem to either love or loath the cover of The Freak Observer. (It's the one with the real human heart--and brain--on it.) Did they give examples of the covers? I was really curious about "symbols that have nothing to do with the story" for example.

DeenaML said...

Hi Blythe! Whenever I put your book face-out on my shelf, it gets taken out, so whether or not it has "anything to do with the book," it's working here. :)

Some examples are like a book that just has a butterfly on the cover bc butterflies are "hot" and there are no butterflies in the book. I can think of a few covers like that.... :)

Kate Fall said...

Did you ever read Getting the Girl by Susan Juby? It's an awesomely funny, unique story about a teen boy who wants to be a chef who is trying to solve a mystery to impress a girl. With a cover of ... two people in front of a locker taken so you can only see their feet. For real! Feet in boring shoes. Who's gonna check out that book? And it was very good novel, too!