As Elizabeth wrote last week, book covers are a big deal. They hint at what lies between the pages. They can turn off—or turn on—readers. Some readers make buying decisions based primarily—or even solely—on the cover, if I read the comments in her post accurately.
The Atlantic just ran an article about the covers of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, which chronicle the friendship between two ambitious young women over the course of 50 years. The series has sold more than a million copies in the United States alone and received glowing critical praise since the publisher Europa released the first book, My Brilliant Friend, in 2012.
But the series covers have been trashed. Readers have described Ferrante’s covers as “horrible,” “atrocious,” “utterly hideous,” and a “disservice” to her novels. She picks the images for her books, so I’ve got plenty of sympathy for her.
But here’s the kicker—readers and critics hate Ferrante’s covers because they look like the covers of romance novels. The books, however, are literary novels. The third book in the series, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. The New York Times Book Review called Ferrante “one of the great novelists of our time.”
The Atlantic discusses the misogyny of publishing, the misogyny directed against “women’s themes,” the “ghettoization” of covers, how covers can be developed with no appreciation of the contents, and a lot more. The article begs the question: Is Ferrante an idiot for pitching her books to people who want women’s fiction, suitable only for beach reads, thus lowering her literary credibility? Or is she brilliant for pitching her books to people who want women’s fiction, suitable only for beach reads, thus increasing her readership and commercial appeal? The article is worth a read for anyone planning to develop a book cover.
I have something in common with Ferrante: a lousy cover. I recently approved a cover that I dislike for a novella that I’m taking to RWA and giving away at the indie author book signing. I was in a hurry; I needed the cover quickly; I didn’t want to do rounds of revision; and it does show what’s on the inside. So I said okay. The ugly cover wasn’t the designer’s fault, or not all her fault—I art directed her to this hot mess, I selected the images, and she in general does terrific work. To protect the innocent, I’m not showing it to you, but if I decide to put the novella up on Amazon, I’ll have her take another pass at the cover. For anyone who might see the original and the revised versions, it can be like a book cover makeover lesson.
At least, if I have an ugly cover, it’s about the cover, and not whether I write romance novels.