November 9th, 2009


Good cover models gone bad.

Back in May, I posted about the damage that a bad cover can do to a good book. You can view the original post (and ensuing discussion) here. The consensus at the time was that having a bad cover sucks, and that if your book's cover is bad, it will probably impact the sales of the book. Not exactly rocket science, but still, it's a good thing to think about, especially since—as authors—very few of us have control over our own book covers, so it's good to be prepared to do damage control.

Recently, I got a look at the cover for an upcoming book in an urban fantasy/paranormal romance series That Shall Not Be Named, because I try to be polite like that. For purposes of discussion, we're going to call it An Armchair to Remember, book three in the Ikeamancer series. Our main character, Casey Carpenter, has inherited the family gift for communicating with furniture. Naturally, she uses this power to fight crime, since she doesn't really have anything else to do with her time.

On the cover of the first book, Cushioning the Blow, Casey was pictured as described in the text: reasonably pretty but not going to be anybody's new super-model, with dark hair that needs styling, a wardrobe that looks like it could handle her daily duties as a general manager at Ikea, and a few iconic items in the background. On the cover of the second book, From Desk 'Til Dawn, she was drawn slightly differently, but still believably the same character. Same basic styling, attitude, etc.

On the cover of An Armchair to Remember, she looks like a seventeen-year-old Goth hooker. Please join me in saying, um, what the hell?

Now, I understand that characters will look slightly different from cover to cover. Toby looks a little bit different on the covers of Rosemary and Rue, A Local Habitation, and An Artificial Night...but these differences are, at least from my perspective, still allowably within the range of "this character is Toby." It's the variance between a picture of Alice drawn by Mimi and a picture of Alice drawn by Bill—they look different, but she's still clearly Alice Price-Healy, getting ready to kick your ass. You can draw the same character within a range and still have it believably stand for the same individual.

The cover for An Armchair to Remember isn't doing that. In fact, if I didn't know the book (the theoretical book), I'd guess that we were looking at the first in a spin-off series starring Casey's ironically trampy-campy younger sister, Carrie, who communicates with clothing and manages a Hot Topic in the mall. It doesn't look a thing like Casey. Casey wouldn't be caught dead in that outfit. It is, essentially, the equivalent of sticking Toby in a mini-skirt and push-up bra for the cover of Late Eclipses, after giving her a bleach job and some serious makeup.

How jarring is this for you? How likely are you to pick up An Armchair to Remember when it looks so different from the other books in the series—when the main character looks so different? Is this going to make you look elsewhere, or do you not care by the time you get to the third book in a series? What about new readers? If this was the first volume you'd seen, would you buy book one after digging it out of the back catalog? Inquiring minds (namely, me) want to know.