When a Cover Can Ruin a Book

Josie Leavitt - February 1, 2013

I know I’ve ranted about my utter distaste of covers with photographs of real people, especially teenagers on them, but a friend shared a cover with me that made me gasp. There is a new book that has the first three Anne of Green Gables in one collection.
I think having the first three books together is a great idea, as folks often read the first one and come racing back for the next two in the series, so it’s good to make their lives easier and let them stay with Anne uninterrupted. The problem is the cover.  See the cover to the left? Does that look like the skinny red-headed, pre-teen Anne I loved as a child? Um, not exactly. The woman, and I mean woman–there’s nothing pre-teen about her, gracing this cover looks nothing like Anne. She actually looks likes she’s the kind of kid who would sneak out of her boarding school to smoke cigarettes with the math teacher.
First off, why is she a blonde? Secondly, what’s with the come hither look? Thirdly, why was this approved?
Covers of books are very important, I understand that, but there are principles that I think covers should follow.
1. The cover, especially one with a photo or drawing of a main character, should actually look like that character. If the main character is a redhead or a person of color, the cover should reflect that.
2. The cover should accurately reflect the time period of the book. The Anne in this cover looks like she just snuck out of boarding school to smoke with a teacher.
3. The cover should set the mood for the tone of the book.
4. The cover should pull the reader in.
I don’t mean to criticize only this book, but it was such a glaring example of a cover gone awry, I couldn’t help myself. So, my plea to all publishers: please stop thinking that only books with photographs sell, because this is not true. And, please design the cover after you’ve read the book.

106 thoughts on “When a Cover Can Ruin a Book

  1. Little Willow

    “…Well, what color would you call this?”
    She twitched one of her long glossy braids over her thin shoulder and held it up before Matthew’s eyes. Matthew was not used to deciding on the tints of ladies’ tresses, but in this case there couldn’t be much doubt.
    “It’s red, ain’t it?” he said.
    The girl let the braid drop back with a sigh that seemed to come from her very toes and to exhale forth all the sorrows of the ages.
    “Yes, it’s red,” she said resignedly. “Now you see why I can’t be perfectly happy. Nobody could who has red hair. I don’t mind the other things so much–the freckles and the green eyes and my skinniness. I can imagine them away. I can imagine that I have a beautiful rose-leaf complexion and lovely starry violet eyes. But I CANNOT imagine that red hair away.”
    Anne Shirley is a redhead. Period.

  2. Joan Pedlar

    Thank you so much for your ‘rant’ on the Anne book cover. I was aghast and then saddened to see that ‘Anne’ has become a victim of the sexualization of children for commercial gain. ‘Anne’ had such a special place in my heart, and was such a great friend when I read and re-read her as a child. Now my nine-year old grand-daughter has established that same relationship and it is such a joy to share that with her.
    I hope that your rant will be heard by the publishers and that, while nothing can change what has been done, that it will influence the choices they make for children’s book covers in the future..

  3. Carol Chittenden

    Well won’t that edition be a surprise to the teen boys who start reading it, captivated by the hot blonde allurance!
    Back to my own cover design hobby horse: the spine should extend the front in colors and style. So many books go unsold because we can’t locate them promptly, because we’re looking frantically for the blue book when, in fact, the spine is a dazzling, contrasting yellow!

  4. bethsentence

    Createspace is the “publisher” of this gem. To whom should we direct our ire? Welcome to the wild world of self-publishing

  5. Christina

    That’s just TERRIBLE. Yes, as indicated in the quotation from the book above, Anne’s red hair is central to her character, her nature, the plot, etc. And the time period is the turn of the 20th century and it’s unlikely that country-girl Anne would be all spiffed up in makeup, with plucked arched eyebrows, etc. And her nature wouldn’t be to pose like a cover girl with a come-hither look, either! What this cover shows is that the publishers don’t think very highly of their intended audience. My teenager saw the TV production of this series (the old one from, I believe, the 70s or early 80s) and loved it, just loved Anne’s vivacious personality, the time period, the quaintness. She will laugh hysterically when I show her this stupid cover–like most teens she’ll see right away that the publisher is pandering to her age set. She indicates this every time she rolls her eyes at how grown-ups think writing words in graffiti-style type makes something cool and appealing to teens. Gosh, I’m surprised they didn’t do THAT on the cover, too…

  6. Heidi

    What. The. French. Words cannot express how wrong this cover is. Anne of Green Gables was one of my very favorite books growing up. I’m not sure I would have picked it up had there been a cover like this. Blech!

  7. Natalie Ramirez

    I don’t even know what to say about this. I am in complete shock. This cover is just ridiculous. How on earth did the publisher think it was a good idea. I don’t know what bothers me more, the fact that the woman on the cover is not dressed correctly for the time period, her pose or the fact that she has BLOND hair!!!!!!!

  8. Ellie Miller

    Oh, this is nothing short of sacrilege! What on earth were those idiots thinking of? Along similar lines, I decided to try and hook my adult niece on one of my favorite (albeit lesser-known) L. M. Montgomery novels, “The Blue Castle”. I was delighted to find this little jewel of a stand-alone still in print (Trade PB) and ordered a copy for her. When it arrived, the deep blue cover echoed every bad Gothic that was ever printed: a shadowy woman seductively posed against a semi-castle-type structure. ARGGHH! I promptly went to my rather extensive graphics files, located a more appropriate ‘in-period’ Charles Robinson illustration, printed it out and (in every sense literal and metaphorical) REcovered the book before passing it along.

  9. JoanElaine

    Thank you for writing this! Who is the publisher of the book?
    L.M. Montgomery’s heirs regulate how her name and creations are used and I cannot believe this is something they would approve of. I have written to the Anne of Green Gables licensing agency to inquire.

  10. Melissa Posten

    I looked that up, and it’s published on CreateSpace (a self-publishing platform). I guess AOGG is in the public domain now?? But at least it wasn’t an actual publisher that created this horror.

  11. cbt22

    I won’t say that no publisher has ever completely missed the mark on a cover. But to be fair, this was not a publishing company’s decision. These books are in the public domain, and this particular edition was released by Create Space, a self-publisher. So I’m not sure who exactly is responsible for this travesty, but please don’t blame this on an actual design department.

  12. Harry

    This is what happens when marketing controls content and packaging. Someone thought this would be a great idea to pull in young teen girl readers. Guaranteed.

  13. Reena

    That is very seriously wrong! There have been so many great artists out there who have depicted our beloved redhead, why not use one of those? Or, if they were too cheap to purchase that, at least have someone take the time to READ the book to know what the cover character should look like.
    I really hope this was a massive screw up with the print house, and it was never the intention that this blond be on the cover.
    As an Islander that grew up with Anne as part of her life, I feel almost betrayed by the publisher for this cover.

  14. Evan

    I thought that cover was a photoshop joke. I visited this page hoping for a whole series of hilariously inappropriate covers. This is disappointing on many levels.

  15. Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic

    My issues with this cover:
    1. Hayride shirt
    2. Chest-thrusting Playboy pose — can we really be sure she has pants on under that title block?
    3. Come hither look
    4. BLONDE!
    All that’s missing is her licking a wooden spoon covered in mouse-drowned plum pudding sauce! Meanwhile, I was also just made aware of this new Gossip Girl-esque cover for Plath’s “The Bell Jar”: http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2013/01/31/fatema-ahmed/silly-covers-for-lady-novelists/

  16. Kitti

    Heidi – who is described on the first page of the book as having short, black, curly hair, is almost always depicted on the cover with long yellow braids. WHY? At least they usually manage to put mountains in the background.

  17. Reena

    Can I ask where this came from? The first thing I did when I read this was start a web search for it, and I can’t find it anywhere. And the cover does not give a indication of the publisher.
    I am almost hoping this is a Photoshop hoax that someone sent to your friend.

  18. Julie Isgrigg

    While I agree that the cover you found for Anne of Green Gables (one of my most favorite books) is undeniably wretched, it’s important to note that the cover you’ve found is used on a self-published edition distributed by CreateSpace (an Amazon company – ha!). Putting a book on CreateSpace doesn’t require the creator to have a resume that proves one’s editorial chops, as we can clearly see here.

  19. Stephanie Scott

    Wait–that CANNOT be real. I just. Wait.
    Unless this is a MODERN retelling of Anne of Green Gables, why is this random girl wearing a plaid shirt, dressed nothing like the time period… It’s like if a sports biography on Peyton Manning was redone with a stock photo of a shirtless male model. It makes about as much sense.

  20. Natalie Slocum

    I’m a cover designer and I work for well known publishers such as Random House, Bloomsbury USA, Penguin, and Harper Collins on a full-time freelance basis.
    This would never have been accepted by any publisher who knew what they were doing. For the most part, we designers, when including a photograph of a person on the cover, make every attempt to reflect the actual description in the book. Most of the time, we try and hide the face. That’s why there are so many people pictured from the bridge of the nose down, or just the back. It adds humanity, but leaves the rest to the reader. (aside: yes, we read the books. When you get a book with a mismatched cover, usually it’s because someone besides the author and the designer and specific ideas about how to market the book, rather than portraying the story or character literally.)
    This was published by CreateSpace which as far as I can tell is a self-publisher. It’s possible the books are in the public domain? And someone saw an opportunity to make some money. A crying shame they know nothing about cover design. The type is horrible.
    Personally, it’s certainly offensive that “Anne” has blond hair, because that’s ridiculous. But way worse is the sexy pose. This is a lovely set of stories that was such a pleasure to read as a young girl, and one of the few things out there today, somewhat untainted by the awareness of sexuality. So sad that we have to sexualize everyting.
    @Carol Chittenden, I feel your pain regarding the spine. However, the idea is to break up the different areas of the cover and add interest. On a book with a dark cover say, the idea is that a bright yellow spine will really pop off the shelf. It’s true, when you’re thinking of a black cover, you’re not expecting the spine to be bright.

  21. audra doxey

    The cover of a book is usually what attracts me first. I don’t like covers with actual “people photographs”. It ruins the imagination. AND, if there is a cover of a person, it really should look like the character in the book. She looks nothing like Anne of Green Gables and the image does not portray the mood of the book at all.

  22. Anita

    Yep. There’s NOTHING worse than a cover that misrepresents the main character. Even from the time they were little, my daughters have been outraged over covers that don’t match characters–when will publishers ‘get it’?

  23. J

    I just want to point out that CreateSpace is Amazon’s publishing platform, not a publisher itself. The blame for the cover lies with whoever decided to publish this particular edition of the books (which could be anyone–they’re in the public domain). Really though, were there no stock photos of red-haired girls available?

  24. Ann Stampler

    Given that I have a cover with the photo of a teenage girl that I kind of love, I am throwing this brick from inside a glass house, but…a blond, panting Anne is just wrong. And misrepresenting not only the appearance of protagonists, but where books fall within their genres, seems to be a trend. This cover model would look just right curled up with a copy of Bell Jar with its new chick lit cover.

  25. Ann Stampler

    Given that I have a cover that I kind of love with the photo of a teenage girl, I’m throwing this brick from inside a glass house, but…a blond, panting Anne is just wrong. And misrepresenting both the appearance of protagonists and where books fall within their genres seems to be a trend. This cover model would look just right curled up with a copy of Bell Jar with its new, chick lit jacket.

  26. Annastacia

    The more I see stuff like this the more it affirms that publishing houses are not hiring marketing people that actually read books.

  27. Janet Sketchley

    Is Anne public domain? This looks like some entrepreneur set it up him or herself on CreateSpace. In that case, the person is not only offending us but presumably making money of something he/she is damaging.

  28. Annastacia

    50 Shades of Green Gables:
    Gilbert Blythe looked down at her, riding crop in hand. “You’ve been a VERY bad girl, Carrots. That temper of yours is gonna get you in trouble. I”m gonna have to hear your apology. You don’t have to be sorry, just MOSTLY sorry. Now get in my carriage.”

  29. Kristin Wallace

    Wow that is terrible. It almost looks like it’s supposed to be an “erotic” spoof of the real books, like a naughty version of Cinderella. I find it hard to believe that the Green Gables books would be in the public domain. I’m sure there are family members or someone who controls those interests.
    But that is gross.

  30. Heidi Kortman

    For a moment, I wondered if someone borrowed the title for their own, completely different book.
    if they’ve done this to the cover, what might they have done to the text? I’m not going to buy a copy to find out.

  31. Becky Lee

    It looks like a cover for a sexy Harlequin romance set on a horse farm & the girl was ready for a tumble in the hay. This is too sexy & too modern to be an Anne of Green Gables cover. Whoever designed this couldn’t have read the books or even seen the movies.

  32. man of green gables

    they FINALLY got it right! it’s about time they updated this book and threw away the overrated
    unsexy redhead freckle image.
    I like it better now. its sexy (unlike before) would have been better if she was wearing a bikini
    (or nude) that would have boosted the sales and would have been a smart business move.

  33. Marilyn Vandivier

    O my word! I cannot believe they would have the nerve to put this on the cover of Anne of Greene Gables.
    I like the rest would not read the book if I saw this as the cover. I too have read the Anne series over and over and love it. I have even watched the movie. My 14 year old granddaughter watched it and loved it. I sure hope they fix this. This is just awful.
    They would take a wholesome book and destroy it with a distasteful cover.

  34. Robin DeSpain

    Where do we protest the publisher. I’m all for paying a little extra that a publisher stays a float, but I’ll quickly do the opposite if need be. If they messed up this BAD on a classic book, how much up are living authors hard won manuscripts getting screwed?

  35. Jessica Rising

    This is so terrible it makes me want to cry. 🙁 As a scholar of children’s literature, as well as as an independent writer of the same, I hate , hate, hate this. I just spent $500 on illustrations, and two days of work finishing my cover. This makes us all look like a bunch of illiterate money-grubbers. Grr!
    Poor Anne… 🙁

  36. Emma

    This is such an AWFUL book cover!!! This is NOT what Anne was supposed to look like. It is upsetting that this is the image being put in our childrens’ heads. Really awful 🙁

  37. Ramona Grigg

    Very odd. I found the listing on Amazon but it says the publisher is “Createspace”, which is a self-publishing outfit where people pay to have their books published. https://www.createspace.com/
    Is this authorized? I highly doubt it. Looks like someone’s trying to make a buck the easy way.
    The comments are interesting, too. Almost everyone hates the cover.

    1. DR

      All of LMM’s works are in the public domain. There is no need to have it authorized, any more than books like War and Peace, Jekyll and Hyde, etc, do.
      Cover is ridiculous though.

  38. Jacki Leach

    Hmm… Looks like the publisher is catering to the Young Adult crowd. I, personally, hate the cover. I wouldn’t give this book a second look.

  39. Ellen Scott

    i, too, agree with all previous comments, assuming that man of green gables’ comment was tongue firmly in cheek! The other thing that always bothers me about photos on covers is when they’re for historical fiction set in a time before photography was invented!! A photo of Queen Elizabeth I or Shakespeare does not work!!

  40. Judy Paolini

    Unfortunately, with CreateSpace, and I assume many other self-publishing sites, the design of the book cover is completely up to the author as long as the printing specifications are met. Most self-published authors do not hire competent book designers because they think they don’t have to. There are even websites out there for these authors to design their own covers – often written by other self-published authors with no design expertise themselves. Some even charge for their advice. Self-published work is even more in need of professional editing, design, and promotion than books that are already put through rigorous scrutiny by publishing houses. Yes, there are a lucky few who do it well all on their own but that’s rare.

  41. Jennie Hansen

    I love covers that look like photoes and hate the cartoony ones unless they’re on humorous books or cook books. However, even covers that are or look like photographs should match the contents of the book. This one doesn’t. It’s awful. I agree completely with your comments on the importance of the cover and object to many of the YA covers, not because they show realistic people but because of the tendency to make teenage girls look like tramps.

  42. Timothy Stone

    It doesn’t have to be authorize, Sir. Stuff like this is going to happen, because, as great as public domain is to releasing books for low or free prices, it also leads to this abomination. 🙁

  43. Angela

    I would guess that the copyright has expired on the original version as it was first published in 1915 (at least book 3 was). copyright back then was 28 years, plus an additional 28 years. With the copyright expired, anyone can type it up, throw on a new cover and act as the publisher. Sad but true. I have to wonder if this “publisher” even bothered to read the books before making the cover.

  44. Annie

    This book is out of copyright…in other words, it’s in the public domain. Therefore anyone can publish it…they are trying to entice a teen market. This isn’t about literature, it’s about Publishers trying to make money! They are trying to capture a ‘new’ market…. will it work? I doubt it, although there is romance, there’s no brooding Edward Cullen character to get girls heart aflutter, but from memory Gilbert did make my heart skip a beat 🙂

  45. Tat Chuen Kong

    I have not yet read the famous work of literature, “Anne of Green Gables”, nor seen the eponymous tv series. (Of course, I had been aware of it over the years, but, as with so many other worthy things, I don’t have time to experience it all for myself.) So without knowing either the story or the characters, the cover depicted in this blog did give me an impression of the book which I can only infer from the other comments to be somewhat inaccurate!

  46. Sally Lewis

    I am appalled. That photograph in no way depicts the Anne millions of girls have known and loved over the years. That picture may sell books but those books will not be read since the Anne in the book will not be as expected based on the cover. Basically it is a fraud. In this day and age can publishers really afford to ‘turn off’ any potential reader?

  47. Patricia

    OMG! I totally agree with you on this one. That cover totally turns me off. Looks like something that is selling cover girl makeup or something.
    I would really like to know if it does attract young readers who have never read the Anne of Green Gables series. Since I probably already have a built-in judgement of the book – after reading and seeing the movies – would a cover reach them?
    My guess is not.

  48. Joyful Reader

    This January I read L. M. Montgomery Anne of Green Gables 1-3 for the very first time. I L*O*V*E*D them! This cover makes me sick! Why does the entertainment industry think they have to appeal to the reader in such a way! I would never have picked this book for my daughters based on this cover! But thankfully I have a wonderful set with “skinny red-head” Anne on the cover! The only way we can stop them is to NOT purchase anything like this. Thanks for sharing even though it is aweful.

  49. Lucie

    This is so bad it has to be fake-but hey, if it’s real then let’s enjoy the fact that any perves buying this drawn in by the porny cover and expecting a roll-in-the-hay romp will be treated instead to some quality literature 🙂 the joke’s on them!

  50. Faith Pray

    Ugh! What a travesty! The girl who wants to read that book based on its cover will be sorely disappointed. Talk about misrepresentation. Wow. I’m crying real literary tears for Anne, and redheads everywhere.

  51. Anne Belov

    I can’t believe this. “Anne of Green Gables” being one of my all time favorites, I had no idea she was a twenty something “come-hither-babe”. What was the publisher thinking?

    1. Mary Ann

      I am shocked! First Anne and now Trixie! I agree with the person above that said everyone would be disappointed with either purchasing the book with the wrong impression, or not purchasing for the same reason.

  52. Barbara Piper

    Check out the Caustic Cover Critic
    for some genuinely awful examples of POD covers that have virtually nothing to do with the text they cover. The practice of using photos that are in the public domain means that a cover for The Hound of the Baskervilles can use a photo of a cute puppy, or The Postman Always Rings Twice with a cover photo of a friendly mailman waving to neighborhood kids. A volume of these book covers could be an entertaining publication in itself, but what cover illustration would you use!?

  53. Laura

    It is possible that this is being marketed for placement in the young adult section. Nevertheless, this is NOT Anne of Green Cables. Whoever approved this cover must never have read or ever heard of the series.

  54. Tulcie

    Children’s author Shannon Hale told my daughter and I at a book signing that these days publishers insist on only using photos on young adult books as they feel nothing else sells. Shannon was not too happy about the new printings of her books having photos. But really, if they have to do that at the minimum they can get the hair color correct!

  55. Chazz

    These three books (plus a couple more in the series) were published before 1923 so they are in the public domain in the United States. They are also P.D. in Canada since Lucy Maud Montgomery died more than 50 years ago. That means hack “publishers” can reprint their own version of these books in pretty much any way they choose. The Look Inside feature on Amazon reveals that the formatting of this “edition” leaves a bit to be desired. There are two lines of verse on the opening page of chapter 2 which, in this edition, are shown as one normal sentence with an awkward string of spaces where there should be a line break at the end of the first line of verse. If you want to see what it should look like, please consult the FREE version posted on Project Gutenberg Canada.

  56. janet

    It’s not just this book that’s had this happen to its cover and covers in general tend to be far too sexy. Unfortunately, sex sells–witness the halftime show at the Superbowl as well as many of the ads. I also don’t like putting a picture from the movie on the cover.

  57. Rita

    This must be some kind of a joke. Also, I suspect, a copyright violation, because I don’t believe these books are in the public domain yet.

  58. Wendy

    Shock and dismay! The cover is not selling what’s inside–anyone who picks up the book for the cover will be disappointed and anyone who doesn’t pick up the book because of the cover will be disappointed.

  59. Lesley

    I am an Islander, what a disgusting thing to do to our beloved character, and a disgrace to Lucy Maud Montgomery’s memory. Shame on whoever did this cover!

  60. Shannon W

    What really makes no sense – well, all of it. But, how many times does Anne lament her unruly, too bright, red hair? It’s part of her charm and her difference from those around her. This girl is just … common. I hope this edition is a money-sucking failure.

  61. Cat

    This is awful. I hope they pull this cover. It’s just entirely wrong, from start to finish. Who comes up with this stuff?

  62. Harold Underdown

    No publisher “approved” this cover. This was published using CreateSpace–a self-publishing service by an individual. It’s a form of self-publishing. Or pure opportunism.
    A little research before writing this column would have revealed this. Publishers are far from perfect but they are not responsible for the actions of opportunists.

    1. Annette

      Thank you for clarifying that no publisher put this out, but that it was published using CreateSpace. Also, I appreciate the public domain information. I did not know that the author loses rights to their work after 50 years.

  63. Betsy

    Folks, you are getting all upset because you MISUNDERSTAND the situation. This is NOT a “PUBLISHER” with a marketing dept. This is a public domain book that some RANDOM PERSON is selling. You could do the same thing. PUBLIC DOMAIN – it means anyone can do anything with it. Here is a list of public domain books: http://www.feedbooks.com/publicdomain. If you want, you yourself could publish, say, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo with a photo on the cover of Governor Chris Christie eating a donut. (If you had the rights to the donut picture of course.)

  64. Audrey

    I could not agree with you more. That cover cheapens and takes away from the truly great books that the Ann series is. It is like putting a male stripper on the front of David Copperfield! Ghastly simply ghastly.


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