In the Girls' Bathroom: Where shizz gets real. See More...
Slambook: Our inner mean girl comes out to play. See More...

How To Judge A YA Book By Its Cover

A scientific investigation of what makes YA covers so ridiculously embarrassing

How To Judge A YA Book By Its Cover

I really wish people would stop using the phrase, "Don't judge a book by its cover" because HEY GUESS WHAT! That's a really stupid thing to say. Maybe it made sense a long time ago when, like, all books had the same boring cover cos printing wasn't that advanced or whatever but hello 200 YEARS AGO.

Ok, so most people use it as an analogy for not being superficial and giving people a chance. And that's a really great philosophy. For people. Not books.

Because see, we SHOULD judge books by their covers, esp. in this day and age of slick marketing and psychographics and test markets and blah blah blah. Publishing companies sink a lot of money into finding just the right cover art, and it is our duty as consumers to reward companies that make good covers and boycott the rest.

This is a particularly important issue for YA, because one of the main reasons people are ashamed to read teen fiction is because of the HORRIBLY EMBARRASSING COVERS. In fact, there have been many times where I've been tempted to buy a copy of Gravity's Rainbow just so I can take the cover and put it over the latest Vampire Academy and appear to be insanely intellectual rather than ridiculously vapid.

I'm serious, you guys. In fact, I'm thinking about starting a petition to ban any and all new YA covers that are trying to look like Twilight. It will begin with: CEASE AND DESIST WITH YOUR ANGST-MONGERING. And then it will include this v. helpful list of do's and don'ts so that publishing companies can give good YA books the covers they deserve and, consequently, a chance to be bought without shame by discerning adult readers.

And so, without further ado, here are my DO's and DON'Ts for YA covers.

DO include food:

What the cover says: You will devour this amazing book like an incredibly delicious cookie.

Ok, so I realize that not everyone is as obsessed with food as I am, but you gotta admit, tasty business attracts people. It just does. If I saw a YA book with breakfast tacos on the cover, I WOULD NOT THINK TWICE before purchasing it and then parading it around so that other people will be jealous.

DON'T include smoldering celebrity look-alikes:

What the cover says: Angelina Jolie is awesome! And so are vampires! Maybe this will be a CW show! OMG yes!! Also all YA readers are 12 year-old girls!

This is definitely one of the most mortifying covers I've EVER read. In fact, I think it can only be topped by the sequel, featuring a faux Sarah Michelle Gellar and a young version of Rufus from Gossip Girl:

This is like, the Harlequin romance of YA covers. MAKE IT STOP!!!! I CANNOT HANDLE YOUR HEAD TILT, YOUNG RUFUS!!!

I really did almost make a book cover out a paper bag, high school style, just so I wouldn't be seen holding this book in any public place. I can't even look at this cover when I'm alone in my apartment, because then I just starting judging MYSELF for reading it. Like, "Sarah, you have a MASTER'S DEGREE. Why aren't you reading, like, The Economist?!!" Ugh.

DO make it classy:

What the cover says: This book is a modern classic. In fact, reading it will make you smarter.

Dude, let me just clarify something for you, publishing companies. Teenagers do NOT need to be talked down to with MTV-style graphics and an overzealous use of hot pink (not that I have anything against pink. I own more pink clothes than Barbie). They actually WILL pick up books that look dignified and intriguing, just like adults, because most of them are actually v. smart. Let's start giving amazing books covers that really do label them as modern classics (like Frankie) so they get the attention they deserve.

However, speaking of pink...

DON'T make it after school special:

What the cover says: Check out this homespun romance featuring wholesome characters and zzzzzzzzzzz.

Y'all KNOW I love Sarah Dessen with all of my mind, body and soul. But her COVERS, SWEET FANCY MOSES SAVE ME FROM HER COVERS. They totally scream cliche. I'm constantly loaning The Truth About Forever to people, and their first question is always, "Wait... is this book about teen pregnancy?"

DO make it artsy:

What the cover says: This book is totally indie and awesome and a person who reads this is obvs open-minded and extremely hip.

I'll be reviewing this book in a week or two, but I can tell you right now that the cover of Andromeda Klein is BETTER than the actual book. That's ridiculous! As a huge fan of Frank Portman, I bought this book the day it came out without even reading the inside jacket because the cover (which is v. similiar to King Dork) sold me in literally two seconds. TWO SECONDS. I was PROUD to carry this book around. In fact, I kept hoping people on the bus would ask me about it and realize how cool I was to be reading it. And then I read it and was really disappointed, actually. So in this case, the book actually didn't get the cover it deserved, but whatever. The point is that Sarah Dessen's publisher needs to HIRE THIS DESIGNER.

And, finally, the most important rule:

DON't make it emo Twlight:

What the cover says: Read this book if you think TWILIGHT IS THE MOST AMAZING BOOK EVER. EDWARD 4 EVS OMG I LOVE YOU.

I am SO FREAKING SICK of seeing this type of cover saturating the YA section of bookstores. Oh wait, you want another example? here you go:

As pointed out by Jenny, this cover is terrible. It's like, straight out of the new Evanescence album.

In fact, I would love to just devote an entire post to all of the emo Twilight covers out there just to HAMMER THE POINT HOME except I don't have that kind of time cos I gotta make a book cover before I read the next Vampire Academy book, which by the way looks EERILY FAMILIAR HMMMM I WONDER WHY:

Y'all I cannot handle any more ANGSTY TILTED BIG FACES. I CANNOT.

The best part is that Penguin actually re-released this series to make the covers look less faux celebrity and more emo Twilight. BECAUSE THEY ARE HILARIOUS.

Oh yeah, that's definitely better. DEFINITELY.

So please sign this v. v. important petition in the comments and feel free to include any other cover atrocities that need our attention. If we stand together and fight, we can make the YA world a better and more dignified place, free of faux celebrities and angsty tilted Big Faces.

Posh Deluxe's photo About the Author: Sarah lives in Austin, TX, where she programs films at the Alamo Drafthouse. Sarah enjoys fancy cocktails, dance parties and anything that sparkles (except vampires).