Thesis Thursday: Babbling about YA Book Cover Trends

Thesis Thursdays is a weekly(ish) feature where I rant, love and talk about young adult books I’m reading because I’m conning my college into thinking this is all for academia! Find out more here!

After getting out of my thesis meeting today, it turns out that I have too many thoughts about YA book covers. I want to say too much about them, in too many angles, in too many ways. I could write a million papers about YA book covers.

So, while that is not productive to me, I’m going to talk about a few things that came up for me and see if you guys think I’m crazy or if you’ve noticed this too. I’m going to make a serious effort to stay quick and to the point–and not get my professorial lecturing on–so many of these ideas will stay surface level. Tell me what you find interesting!

  1. Book cover trends in general – like, literally, what is going on with this? Books that 51ocax0kjxl-_sx326_bo1204203200_are all different genres–dystopian, fantasy, paranormal, realistic–they all look the same. Each one of them was just as likely to have a “girl in dress” or “half girl face” cover as the next. That doesn’t help you figure out what the book is supposed to be about? Sure, those were some pretty dresses, but do we care? I’d rather see actual content related covers, if you don’t mind. Of particular concern to me:
    1. Book covers that partition the female body – Why do we need book covers that focus just on female torsos? Why not give them heads or full bodies? Fragmentation of the female body has been long studied in advertising as a way to help objectify it. Which is doubly weird, since most YA books are marketed towards female readers.
    2. the selectionGirls in dresses – Okay, on some overs this is fine. Like, for instance, Kiera Cass’s Selection series. That makes sense. But on books where we’re supposed to get a strong female character, why are they shown in inactive poses in dresses that will not be very helpful in a fight? Or, at the very least, they never wear in the actual book?
  2. Book cover changes mid-series publication – Am I
    insane, or did this never used to happen? I never used to have to flip out because I bought one book in hardcover,

    Throne of Glass

    The original ToG cover.

    but by the time the next book came out, the covers had completely changed. Now, oftentimes this change IS for the better (I’m looking at you, Throne of Glass), but … it’s annoying if you want your covers to all look the same. But seriously, help me out here. This is a rather new phenomenon, isn’t it?

  3. Book series repackaging through the years – This is more of a pet peeve with a related example. I will never forget standing in a Barnes and Noble with Tamora Pierce as she lamented about the new “Twilight covers” of her Alanna series where it looked like her characters were wearing clothes “from the Gap.” I understand that the Alanna series is older now, but packaging it to look like Twilight doesn’t seem to be the best marketing strategy. It’s a very different book series. Have you seen other books that have be repackaged in weird ways?Song of the Lioness
  4. The Immortal RulesBook cover white washing – this is very much a last but certainly not least moment. I know that this is a long and storied tradition of publishing, but it really hit home with me when Julie Kagawa’s Blood of Eden series came out. Why would you use the half face of a white girl on the cover of a book about an Asian-American character? Okay, I know the annoying answer to that question, but seriously. Then, after the uproar, the books got new covers–but not of an actual Asian-American half faced girl. No, the books went the route of the symbol covers instead. Yes, that’s a new fad, but I’m also going to add an eyebrow raise to that movement. What are some other whitewashed covers that have annoyed you guys?

I think I want to say something along the lines of how YA book covers have become really 9780547959214_hresfrustrating, because they–like the inside flaps of the books they contain–are starting to all look the same. Don’t get me wrong, there is some FABULOUS cover art out there, but there are also books that just seem so … samesie. I’m really not a fan of the new symbol art thing. It seems like too many books are trying to be The Hunger Games. At the very least, it seems the symbols are leading back around to more artsy designs than the half-girl faces used to give us.

26114463Can you see how my ideas are flip flopping all over the place? I understand that books can’t all be fabulous pieces of art like the Throne of Glass redo covers or literally anything written by Jay Kristoff, but …sigh. There is SO MUCH IMPORTANT INFORMATION tucked into these covers. I want to talk about it all with my scholar cap on, but I can’t cover all this stuff with the breadth it deserves in the same paper.

Sigh. I need to decide soon. Fingers crossed.

Thesis Thursday: I need your help!

hqdefaultAlright guys, this is a shot in the dark but: do any of you have any insight into YA book cover design and trends, marketing and/or publicity? Do you know anyone who does? Do you know someone who might have a kind of clue? I NEED YOU.

Here’s the deal: Chapter 2 of my thesis deals with tropism in YA book covers. (Remember year of the “girl in dress” or “half girl face”?) I’m trying to make a case as to why this happens with such frightening sameness in YA books. Chapter 3 deals with ways that digital marketing and publishing has effected the book industry, in particularly in YA.

I have searched my school’s sources, but the actual DATA behind these sciences is eludingfrantic-checking me. I’m not a marketing person. I don’t know how graphic design and marketing science works. But there has to be some of kind report on this stuff out there somewhere because there is a reason all these covers look the same and someone is keeping tight track of all these digital marketing trends. Someone. Somewhere.

Literally anything that you think would be useful would be helpful at this point. I’m in a research hole so deep, I’ve forgotten what sunlight looks like.

Comment away! Email away! Tweet away! Facebook away! …please?

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In Defense of YA: We Need a Rebellion of Our Own

I promised myself a while ago–like, when I started this blog ago–that I would never write a response blog post. I have never wanted to get caught up in any drama. Lord, the drama on the internet, am I right? But two things have happened in such quick succession that I am finally using this blog to say some things.

The first was during the episode of my book club, Bibliomancy for Beginners, that aired last Tuesday. Head over to this link and watch the last six minutes or so. Starting at about 1:04:00 I just … blow up. Seriously. I scare my co-Bibliomancers. Because enough of them have taken enough jabs at the YA genre over the three years that we’ve been doing this that I just broke. (Warning: I say some choice things about John Green. While I stand by my opinion, I recognize that this is my opinion and not some cosmic rule.) So I start shouting in defense of it. Enjoy.

Continue reading

Perusing Poetics: You Write What You Know, Even if You Don’t Know You’re Doing It

So, I’m usually not a fan of big block quotes. They’re clunky, take up space and it’s REALLY HARD to dissect them properly. For this week’s post, however, I might have to make an exception. This is potentially just what happens when you’re quoting Toni Morrison. The following is from her book on literary criticism, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination

“Writers are among the most sensitive, the most intellectually anarchic, most representative, most probing of artists. The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power. The languages they use and the social and historical context in which these languages signify are indirect and direct revelations of that power and its limitations” (15).

Morrison herself is speaking specifically about why she is looking at white literature to discover the effect of the constructed idea of African-Americans on the world at the time. If you’ve been following these blog posts, you might already see where I’m going with this post … in which case I hope you stick around to read this for my sheer sparkling personality.

First off, look at that. Writers with power. Just look at how she describes writers. Isn’t that beautiful? Okay, so Morrison herself is a writer and that might make her biased, but I don’t think that makes it any less true. (I am also a writer and I admit my own bias.) But just think about it. Why do we read at all? It isn’t to read the same story again and again (unless you have fallen into guilty love with some YA trend). We read to find some exciting story that at once captures our imaginations and yet also catches our heart. To be exciting, it must be new, but to capture our hearts it must be filled with some kind of emotion we recognize. Otherwise we’d just be confused.

Secondly, look at what she wants us to look at: languages used and social and historical context. This is SO IMPORTANT. Anyone who says that they can look at just the text and only the text and get the full meaning is a liar. Looking at just the text gives you ONE meaning–also, a one dimensional reading. If you remember back to my post about Whorf, I went on and on about how we understand our world and also how we construct it. These constructions don’t just exist in our lives. A writer constructs worlds, but no matter how fantastical they always reach back to something they know or at least believe in.

Morrison has some really great examples in her book about how white writers were writing about African-Americans and what it says–more about the writer than the actual constructed character. Ernest Hemingway makes such an effort to deny the black sailor in To Have and Have Not agency or speech that he writes this grammatically disastrous line: “I looked and saw [the black sailor] had seen a patch of flying fish burst out ahead” (qtd 72).

Love him or hate him, you cannot tell me that Hemingway looked at that line in editing and thought, “Yes, this makes grammatical sense.” He made the choice to leave it there, instead of allowing the black sailor to even shout a few words.

Does this mean Hemingway is a racist? No. It’s one quote from one novel and conclusions drawn from that would be factually inaccurate. But what it DOES say is that Hemingway felt that he had to write the scene and the character that way. It could be his choice, it could not be. After all, you can’t tell me that every YA author believes that every story should have a love triangle shoehorned in. But there they are, because they believe that’s what people want to read. (Hint, they are not but for some reason they sell.)

Yes, that’s a shallow example to compare to all the centuries of silenced African-American characters and writers, but my point here is not to enter into race politics. My point is that we can look at the way certain things are written and extrapolate massive amounts of information in the way that language is shaped and what it says about writing in the social and historical context of the writer. The difficulty of writing is that it must be both exciting and familiar, and people must also want to read it. Even in the most fantastical of settings, the human experience must resemble the majority of the readership or no one will read it, love it or understand it.

As a final note, if you’re ever looking for enjoyable, interesting and easy-to-read literary criticism, go pick up Morrison’s book. You won’t be disappointed.