Having four children ranging in age from seven to nineteen, and having purchased a ton of books for said children, I feel strongly that what the cover of a YA novel looks like can have a huge impact on the success of a book. Especially when the author is yet established in that genre. Let’s take a couple of examples.
The cover of The Candy Shop War, a novel by Brandon Mull, communicates several things. First of all, the characters on the cover are children--both boys and girls--that look to be somewhere between 10-12 years old. The setting is a typical looking small town, but with a clear twist that the children and candy are flying through the air.
Based on this book you can assume that it is probably aimed at middle grade readers. It is probably a fantasy of some sort, although not a typical mages and magic type novel. I know from personal experience that the cover works. My ten-year-old saw the book in a Barnes and Noble, and asked me to buy it for him.
Would an adult buy this book based solely on the cover? Maybe. But if they did, it would probably be because they were buying it for their kids, to read with their kids, or because they tend to like kids books.
Let's take a look at another cover.
This is probably one of the better known covers these days. It is for Twilight, the first book in Stephanie Meyer's vampire romance series.
What does this cover tell you? First off, the simplicity of the cover itself points to an older audience. My ten-year-old is not going to get hooked by this image. Nor is he intended to. This cover could appeal to any group from YA on up. But . . . there are a couple of clues here as to what audience they are going after. These look like a young woman's hands. We also have the whole forbidden fruit thing going on. Just from the cover I can assume that this is going to be a romantic type of book with a young woman as a protagonist. The interesting thing here is that, although this is billed as a YA novel, clearly the publisher was going for cross over to the adult market as well.
This crossover aspect is actually much more common than it used to be. Harry Potter is a great example of a "kids" book that ended up being just as popular with adults. So much so that in the UK, the series was actually published with two different covers. One for kids and one for adults. There are many reason for the success of Harry Potter and Twilight, but I believe a big part of it is that they are being read by adults and young adults both. In fact there is a saying in the movie business that you get a G or PG rating if you want sales. You get an R rating is you are going for awards. Produce a book or a movie that both adults and children enjoy and you've taken the first step in creating a top seller.
With this in mind, I've been hoping for an artist for my book who could do artwork that clearly says fantasy but whose art would appeal to adults as well as YA and middle grade readers. Because my series has a thirteen-year-old girl and boy as its protagonists, I can feel confident that I will get middle-grade readers. But will teenagers and adults give it a try as well? The cover and inside illustrations may very well decide that one way or the other. That's why I was so excited when Shadow Mountain told me my author would be Brandon Dorman.
For those of you who don't know Brandon, he is a rapidly rising star. His picture book, The Wizard, from the poem by Jack Prelutsky, hit number one in children's picture books. But he has also done a number of YA covers including Fablehaven, Nightmare Academy, The Wednesday Tales, and many, many others.
The thing that impresses me so much about Brandon is the way he combines both fantasy and reality in a way that pulls in readers of all ages. Here are just a couple of examples of his art from his web site http://www.brandondorman.com/.
What I love most about this image is the 3-D aspect.
In Farworld Water, I introduce a character named Tankum, who is a two sword-wielding warrior. This picture gives me goosebumps.
Anyway, I'm excited as heck to have Brandon doing the artwork for my book. When I e-mailed him to ask for permission to link to a couple of his images, he wrote back the following message.
"I just finished FARWORLD. Great stuff! You have the master's touch."
Right back at you, Brandon!