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What’s with all those women’s backs?

A book’s cover art is one of the most important sales tools in our business – it must appeal to the potential reader just as other forms of advertising do.  It needs to be attractive, descriptive and, in my opinion, original.

Over the last year, I thought I must be imagining the fact that a huge number of my clients’ book covers were featuring women’s backs; at first I thought this was interesting and unique – and it was also inviting, urging the potential reader to imagine what the books’ heroines looked like.  Then, I noticed that almost all I was seeing were covers with women’s backs on them.  I didn’t say anything about this until about a week ago, and then in one of our staff morning meetings I asked, “What’s with all these covers with women’s backs on them?”  In the beginning, I guess this conveyed a certain amount of mystery.  And I know that authors often would prefer that the characters they portray in their novels be imagined by their readers rather than literally depicted on the covers.  But so many backs?

My colleagues laughed and pointed out that a number of years ago covers used to feature cut-off heads.   And, then then there was a spate of covers with only landscapes on them.  All for the sake of mystery and imagination.

Finally, yesterday, the New York Times Magazine picked up on this phenomenon in the piece “Show Some Spine” by Chloe Schama.

My question is:  where is the originality that I remember in book jackets and covers when I began in this business so many years ago?  Isn’t using the same device on all of these covers making them more difficult to tell apart and therefore sell?  Finally, what is the next trend going to be? – it is time to do something different, after all.

5 Responses to What’s with all those women’s backs?

  1. RamseyH says:

    I think it’s a misguided attempt to jump on a particular marketing bandwagon. You can track trends in other design elements as well. For example, the cover of the Secret Life of Bees, which came out in 2002, has a cute, stylized bubble framing the title. My brain has tracked that feature ever since, all the way to The Help in 2009. And what a coincidence! They’re both books about black/white relations set in the south.

    You can see it in book titles as well. The most prominent one being “The [title]’s [relationship].” The Time Traveler’s Wife. The Tiger’s Daughter. The Kitchen God’s Wife. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter. These in particular bug me because they’re all about framing women’s identities as attached to someone else, generally a man.

    I think the point of doing this is to attach a particular title to something that is already popular and has already worked. This book is similar to that one and might appeal to the same audience, so let’s use similar visual cues or a title that reminds readers of that other book.

    But it becomes detrimental when everyone jumps on the bandwagon. And yes, it’s totally unoriginal and derivative and annoying.

  2. Joelle says:

    Haha! The headless covers drive me CRAZY! But I was never worried about my first cover…a girl’s back, until you pointed this out! Still, I think it works for mine because it’s a painting and she’s far away. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6659597-restoring-harmony

    My second book has a cover like what you’re suggesting (I know! Lucky twice!)…it does have my character’s face, but they’ve done fun things with colour, and also because there’s a cult in my book, they’ve done tiny Bible verses. It’s great! http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12033463-the-right-and-the-real

    Personally, I don’t know how anyone thinks of a cover design, but I’m very grateful for the good ones. Brodie Ashton’s Everneath is one of my favourite recent ones. And also, I bought Rapture Practice partially because the cover is so bright and interesting.

  3. Mootstrap says:

    Nice observation! I’ve noticed a lot of ankles and feet as well.

    Covert art originality is so significant only because it’s an undeniable truth that most readers DO judge books by their covers. The cover should be striking and unique, or accurately reflective of the content, and spines and feet rarely are either.

    But occasionally you do come across a beautiful cover. One of my favorites is 1Q84’s.

  4. D. C. DaCosta says:

    You asked, where is the originality?

    There isn’t any. In covers, in films, in television, or in advertising.

    Why?

    My suspicion is that those who hold the financial reins in all of these industries a) lack imagination and creativity of their own; b) seldom recognize those talents in others; c) lack the courage to lead, waiting, rather, until their market leans in a particular direction, at which point they all throw all their weight behind what is generally an anemic — if not incompetent — idea.

    And so the rest of us view these covers, movies, “comedies”, and ads, decrying their poverty and outlining the missed opportunities for expression, beauty, wit, and communication. And, like Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, we exclaim amongst ourselves:
    “Such, my dear sir, is what you might have said,
    Had you of wit or letters the least jot:
    But, O most lamentable man!–of wit
    You never had an atom….”

  5. Kevin A. Lewis says:

    Book cover designers are just as prone to fads as anyone else-remember all those missing-kid suspense books a few years back that always featured one forlorn red tennis shoe by a park swing under an ominous sky or some or some variation thereof? It was quite the mini-trend for a while…

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