Friday, December 14, 2007

Headless body in topless bar*

I love book covers; I designed one of my wife's—not the best, but it broke a long publisher/author stalemate—and marveled as the rest went by. Cover design is a dark art. The right cover is crucial to the success of a novel, but designers can't afford to spend too much time or money on them, and seek safety in herds.

Book Cannibal has a funny piece on The Mystery of the Decapitated Cover Models, "There are certain trends in publishing that baffle me. ... [W]hat's with all these covers that feature half of some girl's face?" They start with the Gossip Girl books, but they're everywhere, including LibraryThing author Elizabeth Bear's novels.

Book Cannibal wonders about the phenomenon, providing one good explanations, via her editor:
"The editor explained that B&N wants covers with live models (as opposed to scenery, or abstract painting, or an icon). Sometimes, the models aren't quite the right age (I'm guessing this is the case re: Gossip Girls), but if you cut off part of their face, voila! Youth. You can slice away the years."
Readers provide some others. I'm minded to look a few years back, when feet and shoes were all the rage, as Trashionista reminds us (see also GalleyCat's dissection). First it was just feet, now we're up to the jaw. This is progress, I suppose.

Anyway, I spent an enjoyable hour surfing book covers. This ended in 20 minutes of uncontrollable laughting at Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books, including this cover, with the nice observation "Why is the executive wearing a prep school jacket?"

*Famous New York Post headline, also the title of a book subtitled "The Best Headlines from Americas Favorite Newspaper."

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Blogger timepiece said...

Jenny Crusie loves to show her readers the process of choosing covers - it's fascinating. She has several blog entries on the topic - I think this is the first.

12/15/2007 8:27 PM  
Anonymous xorscape said...

Christina Dodd was poking fun at one of her covers a while back on her website. The woman had three arms! It mangaed to get printed and was pretty funny.

12/17/2007 6:26 AM  
Anonymous BarbN said...

There's a similar trend with historical fiction books--drawings of women's bodices and sometimes skirts but no heads. With some of these books, one might speculate that this is a sign the principal characters are brainless, but this is not universally the case.

Possibly the reader is supposed to see herself in the picture?

I don't know; I think it is a highly irritating trend.

12/17/2007 11:57 AM  
Blogger M. said...

I think the rationale is, as barbn says, that the reader is supposed to see herself in the character. I find it very odd, personally, but I don't project.

What I vastly prefer to (usually incorrectly styled) bodices and bodies on historicals is period paintings. No danger of getting the details wrong, and pretty!

12/17/2007 5:10 PM  
Anonymous leennnadine said...

I believe the Elizabeth Bear thing was due to the concerns of the marketing people about covers featuring an older, non-white female character. Those designs are how they got around it.

12/22/2007 10:34 PM  
Blogger David Newland said...

It's like all the movie posters featuring Three Heads In Space.

1/04/2008 4:44 PM  
Anonymous biblionic said...

also note the incredibly phallic placement of the executive's bottle of bubbly!

1/08/2008 7:26 PM  
Blogger Paola said...

It's not just book covers that cut off models' eyes: see here a poster promoting a food fair in Modena, Italy:
I find the technique mildly objectifying (it denies the "personhood" of the model) and, as a consequence, annoying. But designers use it so much that either it works or they're really stuck in a creative rut.

1/08/2008 11:58 PM  

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