faces on covers

I’m going to try something a little out of character here. I’ve had my mind on a cover-related issue for the past two weeks…Yes, I actually think about these type of things. For weeks. Rather than post a bunch of covers illustrating my annoyances with this cover-related issue, I figured I’d just post some paragraphs about it instead.

This is how I feel about faces on covers. And I’m interested in your opinion, too.

I try to keep up with new titles coming out, while keeping my eye out for the new-old covers I’ve never seen before. I’m seeing some really interesting premises and titles coming out in the spring from various publishers, and I’m seeing even more and more faces gracing their covers. Beautiful-looking girls. Broken-looking girls. From extreme close-ups to medium shots.

I feel a bit suffocated by them.

This feeling was magnified when I went into the bookstore the other day. A lot of the outward-facing titles had pictures of girls on their covers. I’ve made the point before that my major beef with faces on covers is that we as readers are instantaneously robbed of using our imagination. It’d be a different story if we had a brief look at this face, a sort of tease that gives you a momentary glimpse and wipes away. But covers are permanent. We’re stuck with this image, and every page within this story is relatable to only that image. This is the way I feel, at least.

After the bookstore, I looked into some covers of upcoming YA titles online. I read their synopses on Goodreads, YA bloggers’ sites, authors’ websites. I read multiple reviews about titles I’m excited to read, titles I’ve thrown on my Christmas and birthday wishlists. And while a good chunk of the YA titles I’m looking forward to are female-protagonist driven, this has little to nothing to do with me actually wanting to know what they look like.

What really draws you in to wanting to read a novel? For me, the cover is a hook. The synopsis is the line and sinker. (Reviews & other reader friends’ opinions also bear their weight) And after I read a book that grabs me from beginning to end on multiple levels, I think back to the little things that originally hooked me, like the cover. Sometimes even the title. I think about how the words written across each page relate to its physical image.

I feel like there are so many novels that are richly layered with characters, motives, dialogue, themes, and emotions that can’t simply be captured with only a picture of a girl’s face. I understand that emotion, feeling, and mood can all be displayed in someone’s eyes. I get that. But on more than one account, I’ve finished a book with a (good) sigh, looked back to the cover, and thought, Was this the only thing the art director thought this book was about?

I’m sure that some of the reasoning behind a lot of the faces on covers is directly tied to a publisher’s marketing initiative. Perhaps there have been studies on how teenage girls perceive faces. Perhaps faces are simply more relatable, more alluring and intriguing. Perhaps seeing another human, realistic face provides a connection that I clearly have some sort of disconnect with.

It goes without saying that just because you have a face on your cover doesn’t mean it’s going to be a horrible book or ill-received. It’s obvious that it’s the innards that count. It’s the labor of love of the actual novel itself that matters. But does all of that sum up to an image of a girl, drowning in a sea of other faces?

You tell me. I’m curious to hear.

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19 thoughts on “faces on covers

  1. Paranormalcy is my favorite YA book I’ve read this year – and just the other day, I saw it sitting on my entertainment center and thought “I wish they hadn’t put Evie on the cover”. I like look of the cover and thought it set the right tone for the book, but she looked out of place. I wish they had maybe just put her blonde hair blowing in the wind or something, not tell us how they think she looks. So yes, I wholeheartedly agree. Arty or vague pictures I can tolerate but the whole “Here! Look at me!” doesn’t set well with me. I’m the reader. I should get to decide what the characters look like.

  2. Sometimes I get really tired of seeing a girl’s face on the cover, hair all windswept, eyes off in the distance, posture saying “OH it’s hard to be me.” I don’t understand historical novels (with real historical figures) having a person who is NOT the main character on the novel. Like when a historical fic is written about Anastasia and..it’s not Anastasia. That’s strange to me.

    Anyhow, I like faces sometimes, but I really dislike the disembodied women on covers! A leg here, and an arm there.

  3. honestly? they annoy me, because i feel like im being told what the girl looks like. And covers of faces are BORING, i mean, just a sparkly cover would make me feel much happier. Plus, licking girls faces is not cool so it ruins the whole shopping experience for me.

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  5. I have never liked faces on covers. I agree with the reasons you listed wholeheartedly (robbing readers of their imagination, it feels like a marketing gimmick) but a third reason I have is that faces totally date a book! Ten years from now we’re going to look back on these covers and smirk at the clothing and hairstyles of these cover-girls and feel nostalgic. I much prefer something artsy and timeless.

  6. My reason for disliking faces on covers is how much they date a book. Women’s hair and clothing styles age quickly, and they rarely age well. They also tend to plant the protagonist firmly in suburban, upper-middle class white territory. (Which is one thing if it’s a Sarah Dessen novel, but another if the social class of the protagonist is not as defining a part of her character.)
    That said, I really dislike the body parts thing as well. Weren’t feet (and therefor shoes) the big thing in ‘chick lit’ forever?
    What do you like on covers? I’m going to have to look at some of my ‘prettier’ books to see if I have an actual preference.

    • If you sort my posts by category, there are several Cover Love posts so you can see what’s definitely grabbed my eye and why. I like unique and simple. I also love illustrations. But I also like layers and attention to detail. And how all elements on a well-designed cover can be viewed seamlessly in unison. I like covers that aren’t too busy, where your eyes know exactly where to go. I also love texture, and I’m a bit of a font freak. It’s hard to define. There are many covers I neither love or hate, too. One of my favorites is Beautiful Creatures.

  7. I very much dislike covers with faces on them. I choose my books almost solely on the covers (although reviews from sites such as this and others have gotten me to read books I otherwise never would have picked up) and I go for very simple covers and almost always pass up books with faces. I do not want to be shown what the main character looks like and I hate it when a newer edition of the book ruins my mental image of the main character. For example, I read the Ruby Oliver books with just the frog, penguin and marshmallow snowman covers, then saw later editions with a picture of a girl on the covers. That picture did not mesh at all with my mental image of Ruby and I dislike the cover for making me think differently about her.
    Also, like many others have mentioned, the faces tend to be pretty white girls and I just don’t like having that on the book I’m reading.

    • It’s interesting that you’re almost completely turned off by books with faces. Pubs, are y’all listening? I know what you mean with the Ruby Oliver series. I haven’t read them yet, but when I did first find out about them it was with their old covers – Treasure Map of Boys was my favorite. It does give the series a completely different feel with the new covers/model. And as Allison says below, apparently she didn’t look anything like the book character?

  8. I agree. One of my favorite book series and book covers is The Ruby Oliver Series by E. Lockhart. I loved the old covers but recently it’s changed to some model girl who doesn’t look like the book’s character, Ruby at all. It made me mad. I prefer a more creative book cover than a model’s face anyday.

  9. So interesting! But what do you guys think when the girl covers show other subtle things? Her environment? Her expression? Her clothes? Does it make you wonder about her? I think that’s what face covers do for me. But I get what you’re saying.

    ALSO: So glad I found this blog! I am cover obsessed too!

    • I think covers that include faces shown in a particular way (and also in their environment) are the best way to display them – especially with Courtney Summers’ Fall for Anything and Ally Carter’s Heist Society. With FFA, I wanted to know why she was so sad, what was up with the pictures, what did they mean?! And Heist Society was just done in such a clever way. I’m not distracted by her face because – wait, what, there’s STOLEN ART in the reflection of her (chic) sunglasses? These covers actually make me take a second look, and I like that.

      I’ve been reading your Cover Stories posts since early this year – I love them.

  10. I am NOT a fan of faces on a book cover. I like to imagine my characters as they’re described & keep them in my head as how I want to see them. I don’t want a book cover telling me how someone is supposed to look. And what’s even worse, when you can’t figure out WHO is on the cover (obviously after you’ve read the book)! I absolutely ADORE Cassandra Clare’s book covers. I think they’re gorgeous; however, her most recent book, Clockwork Angel — who the hell is that?! I assumed it was Will, but the hair color is wrong. So who is it then? That annoys me.

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