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?
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.