Friday, June 30, 2017

Cover Story: Edgy unromantic YA palettes, the stylized floral on black, the unfinished authentic white jacket, and more.

We had a wonderful evening with Mackenzi Lee and Brittany Cavallaro yesterday. Cavallaro is a former Milwaukeean (a UWM grad student) who's appeared at Boswell both for her poetry and her first YA novel, A Study in Charlotte. Her second Charlotte Holmes novel is The Last of August, with another to come. Mackenzi Lee is also promoting her second novel, the just released The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, the #1 Indie Next Kids Pick for summer 2017 and getting lots of buzz. It too has a sequel coming. We have signed copies on both hardcovers.

As Cavallaro is a avid reader and bookstore junkie and Cavallaro is all that and a bookseller two (at Trident, in Boston), I came to ask them if they observed that their book jackets almost match. guess it's not that surprising. They are targeting the same age range, and they probably have the same art direct, since both are published by Katherine Tegen books. And I guess the publisher was looking for something that poppped, and didn't want the pinks and purples that might signify more of a romance. So for each book they went with an off-black (one has a blue tint, the other green), an acid turquoise accent color illustrating iconic images, and a secondary color of red or yellow.

As I know that Bri is friends with Chloe Benjamin from Madison, I brought out The Immortalists galley (on sale January 9, 2018) and oohed and ahhed over how beautiful it was. But then I noted that her novel plays into another trend, ultra bright botanicals on a black background. Now I read The Immortalists with no jacket image, but I am immediately attracted to it a book I'd want to read, and I think these images speak to our customers. I don't know why. They skew female, for sure, but somehow they seem in the sweet spot between commercial and literary. That makes sense for an acclaimed literary (and also middle grade) writer like Maile Meloy, who's new novel, Do Not Become Alarmed, ventures into psychological suspense territory. And The Chalk Artist plays on the book's title a bit, but veers away from the breakout chalk artist Valerie McKeehan, whose work, though I think is beautiful, might be too sweet and commecial a tone. Read my review of Allegra Goodman's novel on our webpage, and Sharon's got a recommendation for Meloy.

For Alison Amend's Enchanted Islands, they wisely kept the same image and just changed the typeface. I was still sitting around with a hardcover, because I still want to read it. The book seems to say I'm reviewable in a way that images of women staring off into the disantace seems to say, I'm practicing for the chain store's new release table. No real judgment here, just observation. And the thing is, if the flowers were more realistic, or on a field of white or wood grain or a pastel, you'd get a completely different vibe, targeting a much older female customer. I think the black gives it more of an edge.

Here's another trend I've noticed. It's what I call the unfinished canvas. I'm noticing a lot of black and white images that almost look like sketches. Sometimes there's a hint of color, but there's in general, there's a purposeful underdoneness. I first noticed it on Don Lee's Lonesome Lies Before Us, because I obsessed about everything about this wonderful novel. I read a manuscript, with no jacket image, and then I got a galley and wondered if this was the final image. And it was. And I've gotten several compliments from customers on the book's jacket. It's raw and authentic. I consider it a funny book, but this jacket plays down the funny, unlike by beloved bushel of Brussels sprouts on Wrack and Ruin's hardcover. I was glad to know that Lee prefers the sprouts to the elephant on the paperback, which could have ridden the Brussels wave we just lived through.

And then I started looking at several other books that were doing this treatment, from Roxane Gay's Hunger (which I just finished) to Arundhati Roy's The Ministry of Utmost Happiness to Sherman Alexie's You Don't Have to Say You Love Me (not pictured but you can see for yourself) and authenticity and rawness I think are two adjectives these books are striving for. Works for literary novels and memoirs. While white is popular background color for many other genres, most notably business and self-help, those Gladwell-esque jackets have images that are smaller, more carefully delineated and cleaner, and pop with color. You would never mistake the two cover trends. Of the four, I think Hunger jacket is a bit of a crossover, indicating that it's an authentic memoir that might also speak to the human potential market. Click to our web pages to see reviews for Gay and Lee's new books.

I was surprised that they chose this technique for Rosencrans Baldwin's The Last Kid Left, being that it's being positioned as a literary mystery, that might have more crossover, but I think MCD (an imprint of FSG) is holding onto their literary creds by sending the jacket in this direction. I think it will work with a more commercial book, but probably one by a musician or actor who wants the book to say, take me seriously!

Here's another cover trend that speaks to me. It's the handwritten lettering around a quirky image on the field of a bright cover. I just spotted Hap and Hazard and the End of the World, by Diane DeSanders, a first novel by a writer in her seventies that just got a nice write up in Publishers Weekly, and it reminded me of The Awkward Age, by Francesca Segal. I think a little sleuthing would turn up some more examples. This is definitely saying quirk. I can imagine Issa Rae's The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl having this sort of cover treatment. To me, it looks nice and fresh until I see it a lot and it becomes iconic, and well, not so fresh, like the Swastika that used to be part of every spy thriller for decades, or the aqua backqround on a cover that in the last few years has come to signify funny.

Now you know yet another way that booksellers pass their time. And no, it's really not just me.

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