Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Choosing a Cover - A Guest Post by Jennifer Becton

Off with Her Head!

The Original Portrait

Some people find it off-putting and others think it’s intriguing, but it seems that the most recent trend in book cover design definitely turns heads. (That will be my only lousy pun, I promise.) Take a look around Amazon.com and you will find numerous book covers that feature perfectly good artistically drawn portraits, minus the heads (Mary's new release, for example).

Was this a horrible cropping error by the printer? Or was this a design choice?And if it is a design choice, why in the world would anyone do such a thing?

Charlotte Collins: A Continuation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
The Final Cover

After using the same portrait to create three different cover options—a traditionally centered portrait, an off-centered portrait, and the beheaded version—for my novel Charlotte Collins: A Continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I polled readers about which one they preferred and why. Readers could write what they liked and did not like about each. Based on the results of my poll, I chose to crop the portrait so that only the lower half of the subject’s head was included. I chose to do this for four reasons.

First, the composition and coloration of the image I chose, Lady Morgan by René Théodore Berthon, which is a public domain image, was perfect for my book. The position of the woman’s hand conveyed the same air of despondence that Charlotte feels at the beginning of the novel, and the subject’s position at the writing desk mirrors the scene in which Charlotte composes an important letter to the hero of the novel. It was perfect. However, readers generally felt that the subject either appeared bored or angry. I agreed.

Second, unusual cropping and image placement can make for an interesting visual composition. Even placing a traditionally cropped portrait off-center on a book cover can turn a bland piece of art into something more stimulating. Centering the full image may have resulted in a traditional cover composition, but it just seemed too bland. Readers agreed. The traditional cover received the least votes.

Third, it was controversial. Readers preferred the beheaded version of my cover, and it came away from the poll with a commanding lead. However, it was also the most despised option. Those who selected one of the other two covers invariably commented that the reason for their choice was that they did not like the headless subject. In fact, they hated it. The poor woman needed her head back. I knew that some readers might not buy it based on their dislike of my cropping choice, but my poll showed that the cropped cover definitely garnered the most notice, meaning that it drew people’s eyes and demanded their attention. And when it comes to selling online using tiny thumbnails for cover art, a bold statement is important.

Fourth—and my main reason for choosing the headless cover—it allows readers to imagine the main character freely. Portraits have the effect of forcing readers to envision the heroine as the person on the cover. And sometimes, the subject does not match the author’s description of the character, or the artist’s depiction distracts readers from using their own imaginations. Personally, I have always preferred covers that do not tell me what the main character ought to look like and how I ought to imagine her. I chose to crop the portrait so that readers could imagine Charlotte more freely. They could even insert themselves into the story if they wanted.

So love it or hate it, I beheaded the poor woman on the cover of Charlotte Collins: A Continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. But I’m in good company because Mary’s newest novel, The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy, also features a headless woman (see sidebar). Maybe you’d prefer a different cropping choice, but at the very least, you are left with the freedom to imagine your heroine as you see fit.

Visit Jennifer's Blog, Skidding in Sideways
Read reviews of Charlotte Collins at Austenesque Reviews and Laura's Reviews

What do you think about these covers? Yes, no, maybe so. Please let us know. Mary


  1. I actually love the cover. When I first noticed it, it did indeed bring attention to my eye. And although I might now agree that she looks bored or angry I do agree that I want to imagine my own Charlotte and she certainly does not have the face of Lady Morgan. Just curious to know Jennifer, when you picked out a picture that is a portrait of a free domain subject did you also read about her? I think she Lady Morgan's history itself is fascinating, well what there is available to read about it anyway.
    Charlotte Collins: A Continuation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is a book I haven't read yet, but it is certainly one I look forward to.

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  3. I am sorry I meant to say in the second sentence although I might not agree

  4. I much prefer Jennifer's cover, and I am coming around to the idea of headless bodies.

  5. I like the cover too, but I understand why some dislike the concept so much. There has been much feminist theory written about the implications of showing women in pieces, as it is said to objectify our bodies. This, however, did not stop me from using a headless portrait of myself for all my online interactions, which allows me to be shy. Great post!

  6. I wanted to add that I like both covers, Mary. I also think that the colors on the front of the novels can draw the eye as well. Where Jennifer has black & gold hues, yours has red & white contrast. Both are exceptional for drawing the eye. What I don't like to see in color is too many as to make is so busy, or not enough as to make it a bland cover. But ultimately for me it's the story that makes me want to buy the book. I am not usually one to buy a book that has to do with a secondary character when it comes to Jane Austen inspired novels but Jennifer has peaked my interest in what I have seen written in her blurbs and others about her novel. As for your latest novel, The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy, well it has been delivered to my door already. :)

  7. Trez, I'm glad you like the cover. I really did put a great deal of thought into it. Heck. There was even a poll involved. LOL I did read a bit about Lady Morgan when I selected her portrait; I would like to read more. I hope you also enjoy reading my novel, even though it is about a minor character. :) I've always liked Charlotte and thought she needed a chance to find love.

    Alexa, I was not thinking of cover art decapitation in those terms. I've seen quite a few covers in this genre that crop men in the same manner: Mr. Darcy's Diary, The Trouble with Mr. Darcy, Loving Mr. Darcy, The Other Mr. Darcy, Seducing Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. The trend doesn't seem to apply just to the women, in this genre, anyway. I really like having the option to imagine my hero and heroine, and I've always liked your photo too. :)

  8. Interesting topic! I think I like headless because it's faceless. I don't want to be told what my heroine looks like. I want my mind to finish her portrait.

  9. Jennifer - just downloaded Charlotte Collins on my Nook. Looking forward to happy reading!

  10. I loved reading your reasons as to why you chose the cover you did. You are certainly good at sharing your reasonings and the whole process involved. It's fascinating! I did enjoy your cover. I think I enjoy the partial bit of face. It's not like she's totally headless since her chin shows. The bodys alignment is good. I think I like it each way - depends on the subject. I also like the whole concept of featuring the character as I choose. Maybe the back of her head? smiles....

  11. Thank you, Lucy, for getting Charlotte on NOOK. Please let me know how you like it. :)

    Suzan, I agree. I like being able to imagine the characters myself, and I actually do like covers that feature people's backs too and for the same reason. Seeing a person from the back seems even more mysterious to me somehow. Maybe I'm just weird. :)

  12. Jennifer,

    I LOVED the cover, plus I love Charlotte. I am in the middle of another book and have not gotten to yours but I was so excited to purchase it. The summary drew me in, but the cover really struck me. I know they say not to judge a book by its cover, but an excellent cover is one of the reasons someone decides to peak at your book to decide if they want to buy it.

    Bravo on your cover.


  13. Thank you, everyone, for visiting my blog and visiting with Jennifer.

  14. Thanks for sharing the backstory behind your cover! I love it! I don't like seeing faces of the main character (especially the hero) on covers. I like the freedom to imagine any face I want!