Butterflies are ubiquitious (updated)

Best book ever!Oh noes! My evil friend Shana has pointed out that butterflies are all over book covers right now. My wee Magic’s Child is just part of a trend. It’s not unique and lovely and its own sweet self! (I mean aside from the other books in the trilogy. I’m down with it looking like Magic or Madness and Magic Lesson.)

Still as book cover trends go, I’d much rather have butterflies than the dismembered women and girls that have been on the front of so many books for the past few years. You know the ones I mean? Where only torsos or feet and legs are visible. Scary headless women! Shapely legs and feet girls!

I find them all deeply disturbing. Especially as they’re frequently on the covers of some of my favourite books. Like Maureen Johnson’s wonderful Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes and the new anthology, 21 Proms which is one of my fave recent anthos with stories from some of my fave writers like Libba Bray and, well, there are too many of them to name.

Best anthology ever!I mean look at Ms Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes above. I bet she misses her head. I miss her head!

And those Prom girls? How are they going to dance with the top halves of their bodies missing? Plus wouldn’t there be blood spurting everywhere? Isn’t that a bit too Carrie? Most of the stories are funny not bloody.

I’m not saying there aren’t lovely dismembered women covers. The 21 Proms isn’t too bad at all. I’m just so very sick of them! Think of something else already. (But not butterflies. Forget about butterflies.)

What cover trends are you most annoyed by? A while back I thought that if I saw another period painting cover I’d start throwing things. They were all so obviously an attempt to suggest that the book you have in your hands is a serious and deeply worthy book, one what will win awards. How could it not with a grand master certifiably genius painting on the front?

So how about youse lot? Are there any trends in book cover designs that drive you spare?

Update: Anne Ishii of Vertical Books says that right now it’s all about the eggs.



  1. Veronica on #

    My God, I hate the dismembered woman trend. It’s not just book covers. A couple years ago I was involved in picking out the new decorations for the women’s studies program office at my university, and our director kept on trying to pick pictures of women without any heads! I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now. I like my women intact.

  2. Chris S. on #

    The three books in Elizabeth Bear’s ‘World Wired’ series all had the anonymous-torso -woman on the covers (although hers were also wearing the coloured-pleather outfits of doom). Such an odd concept. I kinda get the intention, the stark line of the body can be quite attractive, in a Degasian-bather sort of way, but why can’t they have heads?

    Of course, this way people don’t have to worry whether to look into their eyes or their cleavage. Problem solved!

  3. Celia on #

    A) one of my friends has a wonderful story about how her sister was doing homework once and asked her mother what ubiquitious was. Her mother asked her to read the sentence: “In this African village, chickens are ubiquitious.” Her mom (being evil, as all the best moms are) said, “Oh, that means ‘covered in feathers.'” So that’s what I always think of when I see the word. It makes things much more interesting some times.

    B)I just read all three Angelica Cookson-Potts books on monday, and I was somewhat traumatized by the cutting off of bits on the cover. Where’s the rest of her head! This must be what all books are like in the Red Queen’s library. (also, the illustrations in the books are much cuter and less scary than the cover.)

  4. Chris McLaren on #

    Perhaps not truly a “design” issue, but I am pretty much not going to pick up anything with a Darrell Sweet cover unless several trusted friends have recommended the book.

    (I secretly think Tor’s art director assigns him to do covers for books he/she thinks I won’t like, to make it easy for me to identify them.)

  5. Ellen on #

    I also hate the dismembered women covers — another one that comes immediately to mind, since you just mentioned her in a post, is Diana Peterfreund’s Secret Society Girl paperback, and it looks like the next in the series will follow the same trend. It’s kind of embarrassing to carry around books whose covers are centered on adolescent girls’ breasts.

  6. Rebecca on #

    covers which show every smudge and fingerprint since the dawn of time. usually, the covers are of the all-black variety with maybe one tiny little design or photograph stuck under the title. the exception to this rule is the twisted cover. this cover works wonders for me. i handle that book with kleenex just to keep from smudging it. πŸ˜‰

    also, the slut covers. i am annoyed that people think we won’t pick up books unless there is a slutty girl on the front. (and she is dismembered a lot of the time, too.) the dismembered-ness hasn’t bothered me so much, but i have been noticing it a lot. i think it’s ’cause they want to keep the characters anonymous while still having a person on the cover.

  7. pixelfish on #

    As a graphic designer and artist, I particularly hate the following in book covers:

    + using badly composited Poser models or other 3D assets simply because it is 3D. If it looks like ass, being 3D isn’t gonna help it. (I love Lois Bujold’s books, but the art department at Baen bit the big one with some of the 3d stuff they shove onto her covers.)

    + likewise, using photography and going for the dave mckean look (which I love) but totally failing because the composition is too nebulous and full of special effects.

    + likewise, overuse of photoshop filters. if I can identify the filter used, it probably hasn’t done its job. I particularly hate lens flare, mosaic, stained glass window, and swirl.

    + using obviously resampled photos in the cover art or stock photography. i got sent samples of a medical romance series and practically every cover had been ganked from corbis and getty’s young hot doctors sections. i felt like I was about to read a treatise on colonoscopies.

    + also, I hate being able to tell where the jpg artifacting is. and bad crops. bad crops must die.

    + all caps in script fonts. thankfully most mainstream houses are too savvy to pull that, but some small press and erotica covers fall prey.

    Most beautiful book covers I can remember recently:

    + Rudy Rucker’s Mathemeticians in Love
    + Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things
    + Robin Hobb’s Forest Mage
    + Lois Bujold’s The Sharing Knife

    They all had lovely typography, a clean composition, and wonderful colours.

  8. katerate on #

    I think that the covers are like that so you can cut out your own head from a photo and paste it on.

    Now you can envision yourself as the main character! Yaaaaay.

    Or if you’re a man, you can envision yourself as a teenage girl.

    But seriously, I think they chop off their faces and torsos so that you don’t imagine the cover girl as the main character (because that happens a lot). The cover stays the cover and the book stays the book.

    I don’t hate any particular cover trend, except for maybe those covers where the title and author’s name is in size 150 font and all caps. It leaves no breathing space. I don’t even know if this is a trend; it might have been around since the dawn of time. I don’t care if they’re best selling novelists (which is usually the case); it’s just so cluttered, unattractive and boring to me… But I guess it doesn’t really matter (because they’re best selling novelists and people will buy their books anyways).

    Go butterflies!

  9. Veronica on #

    OK. I’ve been waiting years for a good time/place to say this:

    I think that the covers are like that so you can cut out your own head from a photo and paste it on.

    My hede is pastede on yay!

  10. Sean on #

    I agree with the giant-text comment. I hate when with some books, the author’s name is Wayyy bigger than the title. Almost like the actual title is just an afterthought.
    I usually like more artful covers than just a random scene from inside the book that they’ll probably depict wrong, anyway. And I hate when the characters look nothing like they’re described. I can understand a different facial structure from lack of models, but when the hair colours are different, there are serious problems.
    I hate the bad very-70s-looking drawings on VC Andrews’ books. And the overwhelmingly clichéd romance-novel covers, with the homogeneous-beefcake-male doing something uncharacteristically romantic, scantily clad with a sunset in the background.

    Current favorites:
    White Oleander, Janet Fitch (the new one with the backless dress)
    The Anita Blake series, by Laurell K. Hamilton. Even though they’re *very* suggestive/smutty-looking, they’re really artful.
    The Kiesha’ra series by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. I don’t like the vampire covers very much, but the latest books are prettifull. ^^
    Nightlife, Rob Thurman. I just thought it was pretty. Very Underworld-related, but still pretty.

  11. Diana on #

    Ellen, you crack me up! I agree, I’ve got the king and queen of “headless girl covers.” A friend of mine has been calling the second one, “headless girl with cape” which makes it all sound so modern-arty. πŸ˜‰ I’m already imagining the next in the series — it’s a spring break book, so maybe she’ll be headless and wearing a bikini top with a sweater wrapped around her shoulders? Who knows? Anything could happen. πŸ™‚

    I agree with the people who said that the idea is so you don’t picture the model’s face on the character. I think it also helps because then you can use models whose faces don’t exactly match the age/ethnicity/look of the characters. The model on my cover, for example, is not 21 years old, but from the picture, she might be a teenager and you wouldn’t know.

  12. Colleen on #

    The lack of head thing is very weird to me and I can’t help but notice that it only seems to be happening to girls – odd.

    I just read Maureen Johnson’s latest Girl at Sea and the only difference between this cover and Envelopes is that the girl is wearing shorts and a t-shirt this time around. I assume she is supposed to be the protagonist although her tattoo is not depicted and since that’s a major point in the story I can only assume that the editors/designers feared it would decrease the book’s value somehow if the cover depicted a girl with a manga tattoo on her forearm.


    I also just received Eliot Fintushel’s SF novel Breakfast with the ones you love, this time the beheaded teenage girl is wearing a tanktop and jeans and holding a crystal ball.

    Still no head though – poor thing.

  13. lili on #

    Everything that pixelfish said. Plus italics on covers. Bad. Bad.

    Also, I’m not a fan of any kind of ‘realistic’ illustration of the human figure. it just never works for me. more abstract is fine, though.

    My favourite crap cover is of my mum’s ‘Garden of the Purple Dragon’. In the German edition, the dragon on the cover is green.

  14. Ally on #

    Well, the ones I find Annoying are the ones that have preppy teenage girls on them. they are everwhere!! i don’t really like reading them either..I like fantasy and science fiction. why would you want to read about the like it is already? thats just boring to me, i like things to be different and exciting πŸ˜‰

  15. Ally on #

    opps, about the world**

  16. Alys on #

    I am so glad that you’ve brought this up! I’ve been incredibly irritated by the faceless girls on covers for quite some time.

    I can see what katerate and veronica are saying in the idea that the heads are removed so that one can imagine yourself in the character. But at the same time I am somewhat disturbed that it is only female characters who are being dismembered in this way. The lack of faces on all of these characters seems degrading. The lack of face always strikes me as denying these women a voice or an identity of their own. Their bodies are the only important aspect of their character, rather than their individuality, personality, or self.

    Or maybe that’s just me reading too much into it ….

  17. Rebecca on #

    “I particularly hate lens flare, mosaic, stained glass window, and swirl”

    You mean people actually use those? For book covers? Especially the mosaic and stained glass ones. Jeez. My photoshop skills are pretty pathetic, but those filters are incredibly obvious, even to me.

    “I don’t hate any particular cover trend, except for maybe those covers where the title and author’s name is in size 150 font and all caps.”

    Oooooh, me too. Someone gave me a book once that had nothing but a block color background, the text, and one giant letter on the front. It made the book look so boring.

  18. maureen on #

    justine, everyone knows that the head–particularly the eye part of the head–is the seat of evil.

  19. A.R.Yngve on #

    Covers I hate:

    – Red text that melts into the background art. Unreadable and unprofessional.

    – Bad or ugly fonts used for the cover. Even good cover art can be completely ruined by incompetent use of fonts.

    – Human figures done with computer 3-D graphics.

  20. carrie on #

    i guess the only thing i don’t like in a cover is when the font doesn’t match the rest of the cover or even the tone of the book. there’s a book out now where the font is very vampire-like and the book…uh… isn’t at all. always sketches me out.

    i don’t think i really mind the headless folk. or the torso-less feet.

  21. Tim Pratt on #

    I was quite pleased to see that the woman on the cover of my next novel has her head intact — I’d worried. She’s wearing a hooded cloak and her face is partially hidden, but that’s fine with me.

  22. Anne Ishii on #

    cartons of eggs on covers are hot right now, and though initially it was really comforting now i think it’s weird.

  23. Justine on #

    Anne: Can you give some examples?

  24. Anne Ishii on #

    Eggs by Jerry Spinelli and Family & Other Accidents by Shari Goldhagen.

  25. calliope on #

    i despise slutty girls with their heads chopped off. 13 little blue envelopes is a really good book, but the cover makes me not want to carry it around, and girl at sea will probably be like that to. my favorite cover recently has been john green’s looking for alaska, with a black cover and a candle with smoke curling up on it. it was really pretty and cool.

  26. Celia on #

    Oh, and I just noticed yesterday that Bear’s new book, “A Companion to Wolves” has a mostly-headless boy on it–comparatively rare, next to all the headless girls we see these days.

  27. Dess on #

    not entirely sure if any one mentioned them yet but for a lovely collection of slutty girls on the covers of books with only half of their boties, take a look at the clique books.

  28. Dess on #

    oops that was supposed to bodies. not boties

  29. Penni on #

    Oh I was about to get in and have a good mither about the disembodied chick covers and then I realised my first book is a foot. But it’s a nice foot, in the sea and everything, it’s very swirly and pretty. it’s not slutty at all. But I like eyes.

    As a mother of a four year old girl I live with a lot of butterflies. More tolerable than fairies and princesses though. At least butterflies eat carrion and dung. I like my picturesque insects to have a dark side.

    I wish there were more illustrations in covers and less photos.

  30. simmone on #

    hey my book in the UK has butterflies too! And lipstick kisses. And smoke-rings. I think they’re trying to get everyone in… actually the initial cover was lovely – close up section of a sixties-ish Edie-ish face – but they turfed. I think writers and publishers rarely see the same way. I was hoping for a silver cover. With embossing.

    Headless chix suck but even worse is chix in knix ala houelleberk and toby litt. (Sorry I am enjoying writing the word chix. I chuckle everytime I do it.) btw I think the morm covers are great – esp the one with the tree. There should be more trees on covers dammit.

Comments are closed.