Monday, April 23, 2012

Cover Disasters #1

A couple of weeks ago I honored Chuck Wendig's Blackbirds with my first "Great Cover Art" post.

Today is not such a happy occasion. Today I've decided to showcase the first in a series I'll call Cover Disasters. And this particular disaster is fairly poignant. It concerns a book called Cross My Heart, by Sasha Gould. Here's the synopsis from Goodreads:
Venice, 1585.
When 16-year-old Laura della Scala learns that her older sister, Beatrice, has drowned, she is given no time to grieve. Instead, Laura's father removes her from the convent where he forcibly sent her years earlier and orders her to marry Beatrice's fiancĂ©, a repulsive old merchant named Vincenzo. Panicked, Laura betrays a powerful man to earn her way into the Segreta, a shadowy society of women who deal in only one currency—secrets. The Segreta seems like the answer to Laura's prayers. The day after she joins their ranks, Vincenzo is publicly humiliated and conveniently exiled. Soon, however, Laura begins to suspect that her sister's death was not a tragic accident but a cold-blooded murder—one that might involve the Segreta and the women she has come to trust.
Now first of all, let me just hazard a guess that "Cross My Heart" was not the working title of this novel, given that the author had to do so much historical research to write about Venice in 1585. I'll bet you a hundred dollars that the working title didn't seem "catchy" enough to somebody, so a committee came up with this. While the expression "cross my heart" probably originated with the Catholic sign of the cross, the earliest reference to the phrase that I could find online is from 1908. I may be wrong, but it just doesn't sound four hundred years old to me. And it also sounds too young—like middle-grade.

Anyway, the advance-reader cover of Cross My Heart was this lovely thing:

ARC cover

It almost looks like a painting, doesn't it? It's perfect, really: it says "historical fiction" right away; it indicates it's a serious read, not fluff; it shows Venice in the print on her dress (so cool); and it has that delightful pop of red in her earring, mirrored in the author's name. Kudos to the book designer, wherever you are.

Now, I imagine someone with no taste and a lot of authority said, "But it's too quiet! It's too adult!" and Random House decided to re-boot the design for the hardcover. This is what they came up with:

Drivel. I'm sorry, it's just so inferior, I can hardly bear to look at it. It looks like every YA cover out there. It gives no hint that it's historical fiction: in fact, with modern lipstick like that, it looks like a contemporary set during Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Or maybe it even looks like a fantasy, or a paranormal.

But things get worse. Someone at Puffin decided the glittery-masked woman above was just too focused (even with her mouth open), and that the cover was too dark for a book that, a shadowy society of women that exchanges murderous favors for secrets? they created this paperback version:

Just poke my eyes out, please. This is ridiculous. Pink paintball splatters? A come-hither look over the shoulder? A bleached blonde? In 16th century Italy? This is so contemporary, so vapid, so out of touch with the content of the book I want to puke on behalf of poor Ms. Gould. And now, the title has become a grotesque mismatch with the content, because nothing about this cover even remotely hints at Venice in 1585.

In a future post I'm going to talk about what the heck is going on with these sorts of bait-and-switch covers, and about whether there's any marketing justification at all for designing a jacket that does not accurately reflect the content of the novel.

But for now, I'll just quietly fume about how far we got from that first lovely ARC cover design.


  1. I should have mentioned that I haven't read this book yet, although it's on my TBR list. Here's a review from Angel, of Mermaid Vision Books, where she is also perplexed by the cover change, and here's a review by Coranne, of Short and Sweet, where she stresses that it's historical fiction and not paranormal. So the cover is enough of a mismatch that bloggers feel the need to say something in their reviews.

  2. Unbelievable. What's really sad is that it betrays huge disrespect for the readers on the part of the editors and designers who made the decision.

  3. It may have been a sales and marketing decision, Carol, not editing and design. Further, it might not even have been the decision of anyone at Random House: a large bookselling account may have said it was too quiet/adult. It seems like a lot of effort went into the first image, and the second one was put together more quickly, so I can imagine it might be the result of a "scramble."

  4. Great post! I wonder how Sasha Gould feels about all of this horrific botox on her baby.

  5. Holy cow. Holy... cow. Holy cow!

    We should, I don't know, start a petition on her behalf or something.

  6. Please please tell me the pink and yellow cover is a joke? It is horrifying. Just horrifying. I liked the original cover (the first) the most. The new cover that has the sparkly mask is pretty but if you read the story is absolutely NOTHING like the masks that are worn.

    But seriously, please tell me the third cover is a joke....

  7. Out of curiosity, are you going to see Kristin Cashore next Saturday?

  8. I didn't see that! 2 PM at Anderson's right? I'm not sure, I'll let you know. I feel like I have something that day, but I'm terrible about writing in my calendar. Will hunt around for the answer...

  9. I have a finished copy in my lap, and they went with the second design, with the red/silver mask. Thankfully. (I mean, the mask looks more Mardi Gras than the masks that were described in the book, but I'm thankful that they went with that one rather than that pink atrocity.)

  10. Oh, Leila, You're making me realize that I didn't make it clear in the post that the pink paintball-splattered cover is the paperback. So that version DOES exist in the world. (The release dates for this book muddle me a bit, since the paperback came out in April of 2011. The March 2012 hardcover you have seems to be a re-release or second push?)

  11. I did a bit of research -- looks like it came out in the UK a year ago, and the pink cover is the UK paperback. So the glitter cover is the US hardback.