The saying is “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but the truth is, we all do—and we’re actually supposed to. Someone designed that cover with specific intentions for you, the reader, to pull the book off the shelf and take a closer look. If I think about it too hard, I realize how shallow and materialistic I am as a reader and how hard a cover has to work just to get me to pick it up. My recent interest in cover design has to do with a challenge I’m undertaking this year to read at least thirty books with a main character who would be classified as a minority in America. Finding books that show this diversity on the cover is actually a lot more difficult than I expected.
So how does someone decide what to do with a cover? How can you take everything that a book is and represent it accurately? And what if you’re also adding an element of diversity?
Do you stay simple and go for a more text-based title like The Walls Around Us, or go for a more bold and in-your-face cover like The Education of Margot Sanchez?
The sad truth is that some book covers fail. They fail to catch the eye of a reader, to meet the real target audience, to accurately represent the content of the book, or to send a good message to the browser. People looking for these books may not find them if there isn’t some sort of photographic or explicit visual clue. Consider Everything Everything, which has been very successful (in some small part to the movie adaptation), and Fans of the Impossible Life, which has been less so. On the other hand, some covers like Liar, can send the wrong message by associating the word ‘liar’ with the face of a person of color.
A part of me realizes how problematic this entire argument is. A YA book with a latina protagonist shouldn’t need a picture of a latina on the cover to be a valid book about the latina experience. Just consider the covers for Ink and Ashes and Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit, which both have a minority protagonist. Ideally, what every publisher wants is for readers to find books that speak to them.
Representing diversity is and always has been an issue in the media, whether it be in print or on the screen, but lately there have been some major pushes to incorporate more diversity in all areas. Some of the titles that come to mind are The Hate U Give, When Dimple Met Rishi, and Want. One area that is still underrepresented is books featuring people with disabilities. How often have you seen a person in a wheelchair on the cover of a book? What about other physical disabilities? Two books that deal with this are Not If I See You First, and Girl, Stolen. The former shows blindness through the use of braille on top of the text, while the latter has only a girl covering her eyes (although it does get points for not being a white girl). Perhaps the industry is moving in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work to be done as far as representing diversity on book covers.