The Keys To My Heart #8: Illustrated Covers

Posted September 20, 2014 by Debby in Uncategorized

This is a periodic discussion feature here at Snuggly Oranges about the bookish things that steal my heart.

#8. Illustrated Covers

Recently I was talking with Christina from A Reader of Fictions. She’d just read Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan and was convinced I’d like it too. My first reaction? THE COVERS OF THE SERIES DON’T MATCH THOUGH. Seriously, Unspoken had the cutest illustrated cover, but when the sequel came out, they did a mid-series redesign and made it look like every other paranormal book series ever.

Unspoken Print Untold

This got us on the topic of illustrated covers. They are so freaking delightful. It’s just so much more creative and unique than taking some kind of stock photo and pasting some words on it – and much more exciting than a pretty dress cover (though I’ve already professed my undying love for those as well). But, we don’t see many illustrated covers in YA. Middle grade books get them all the time – more often than not – because that’s the way to catch kids’ attention: have the most magical, whimsical, sparkly cover out there. I can even think of enough examples in Adult books – particularly chick lit – that have illustrated covers, though they’re usually not the most exciting. But when YA does finally have a nice illustrated cover for a series, it even frequently decides to REDESIGN the illustrated cover and go for the cliché YA routes. For example:

Sisters Red sweetly-hr Sisters Red 2 Sweetly Fathomless


I think what publishers and marketing people are fearing is that with illustrated covers like the above examples, readers might confuse themselves and think that these books are middle grade, simply because that’s conventionally true. And I get that. If readers way younger than your target audience are picking up the books and your target audience isn’t, that’s a problem. This is so sad though. Simply because of closed-minded book buyers, judging books by their covers, the YA segment gets stuck with more of the same old same old covers.

However, Christina and I then went on a hunt, and though it was much harder than it should be we did manage to find some beautiful illustrated YA covers. Honestly, a lot of them are among my favorite covers ever, so publishers: take note. You can do illustrated covers AND make them look YA AND attract your target audience. It can be done. Of course, just using a stock photo and pasting words on it is much easier… but come on. You can do it!

Below you can find some of my favorite illustrated covers, both middle grade and young adult. Thanks to Christina for a lot of these 🙂 Click on a cover to enlarge the image!

Middle Grade

The Spiderwick Chronicles School for Good and Evil flights and chimes Saving Lucas Biggs
Pennyroyal Academy The Spindlers Smart Beastkeeper
The Cabinet of Wonders The Lightning Thief The Cabinet of Curiosities Girl Who Circumnavigated Storybound

Young Adult

Stormdancer US shadow_bone_sketch_both3 Thorn Fangirl
Just Ella Eleanor & Park Palace of Mirrors A-Little-Something-Different
Ink Unspoken Stitching Snow The Nightmare Affair
Throne of Glass Summoner-cov Wrapped Cinder

Let’s Talk!

Are you a fan of illustrated covers? What are some of your favorite ones? Do you hope to see more illustrated covers in the future?

Let me know in the comments!

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14 responses to “The Keys To My Heart #8: Illustrated Covers

  1. MJ

    I think it depends on the illustrations. For example, I absolutely hated the design they had on the Simon Pulse Rom Coms back in the 2000’s (Royally Jacked is one of them). I remember getting a lot of sneers for reading those books, but on the other hand I love some of the more recent illustrated covers (The Lunar Chronicles is a prime example). I really think it’s the approach that the illustrator takes and if it gives dignity for the book.

  2. Ugh, what a beautiful post. I have such a thing for illustrated covers. They’re just so lovely. I’m particularly keen on those redesigns of Just Ella and Palace of Mirrors! How gorgeous are those?! I’m a huge fan of the illustrated Throne of Glass covers as well.

    Not gonna lie, I read Unspoken mostly because of how adorable the cover illustration was. I’m so, so disappointed in the redesign.

  3. I like illustrated covers, but not all of them, so I guess it really just depends on the cover. I do think that they are original and only for that reason they probably will catch my attention at least. David Estes his Dwellers series have illustrated covers and those are YA books, I love how original and different those covers are.

    From the ones you listed here I really like the covers for Flight and Chimes and Mysterious Times, Shadow and Bone, Unspoken and Ink.

  4. One of my biggest pet peeves ever is changing the cover design style mid-series. I also don’t like reprint editions that just use different covers for the sake of getting a different ‘look’ to the books and hopefully attract new readers. I like my collections to be CONSISTENT god-dammit. Quit changing things!

  5. Amber Elise

    I LOVE illustrated covers, and I didn’t realize it at first but you’re right, Untold and Unmade look like generic Urban Fantasy titles. Stitching Snow and Just Ella have BEAUTIFUL covers!

    Amber Elise @Du Livre

  6. Mina

    YAY! Finally someone who shares my love for illustrated covers! I love some of these, but other I haven’t seen before. I guess my TBR list got longer…man, I’m gonna need two lifetimes to read all the books on that list! LOL One cover I’ve seen that’s half illustrated and half photo is from Animate Me by Ruth Clampett, but it works, specially since the main character is an animator *winks* I also share your sadness and dissapointment when they change covers mid-series. If it worked the first time, why change it? UGH!

  7. I have a big soft spot for illustrated covers! I’m not sure why, but they always more unique and original! And I agree with you an Unspoken! I LOVE the original cover so much! It’s one of my favorite covers of all time! I was really upset when they changed them!

  8. I think you already know my opinion, but I freaking love illustrated covers. Juliet Marillier has some gorgeous covers (Dreamer’s pool and Wildwood Dancing as examples). I also like Alias Hook and the new editions from Kate Forsyth (The wild girl and Bitter greens).

    I’m sad they changed the design for Jackson Pearce. I have Sisters Red & Sweetly in the old design and it’s pretty. The new design isn’t horrible, but it doesn’t have the same charm.

    If that’s the problem, I wish they would realize that some of the covers they use now also doesn’t attract us.. A huge floating face on the cover isn’t any better. And like you say, you can get it right. There are enough ways to make an illustrated cover scream YA, look at Shadow and bone.

  9. I agree, illustration covers are usually so much prettier.

    I think the gender influences most on this decision, like Throne of Glass the first cover was with a girl picture (which wasn’t terrible but wasn’t as good as the illustration kick asses ones) got a cover change to make it more appealing to the fantasy gender where there is a larger number of covers illustrated, usually with the protagonist looking badass. On the other front is more hard to find contemporary romances without a cliche boy-and-girl picture.