When a Cover Can Ruin a Book

Josie Leavitt -- February 1st, 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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.”

  4. 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.

  5. Annastacia

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

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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?

  9. 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’?

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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/

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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!!!!!!!

  25. 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!

  26. 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…

  27. 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!

  28. 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..

  29. 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *