Monday, January 7, 2013

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Okay, first up, before I forget: did everyone have a nice holiday?  See all the relatives?  Get rested up to start another year (which, for some of us, seems to be an artificial distinction because the day after is/was the same as the day before)?

Good.  Now, roll up those sleeves and let's talk turkey.

I'm unsure how this came to my attention, although I believe it was Twitter, but this past week, a friend--my publisher, in fact--posted the cover of an upcoming YA.  NBD, so far; people are throwing up covers for new releases all the time.

Except . . . the reason this particular book snagged my friend's attention wasn't for the content but the look.

Freaky, right?  And notice who's putting the book out there: Amazon Children's Publishing.  Which means that whoever designed the cover for the book had a lot of covers to look to and choose from for inspiration.

If you think this made more than a few fans unhappy or weirded out or mystified . . . you'd be right.  Some wondered what I could actually do about this--the quick and dirty answer is a whole lot of nothing because there's nothing to be done--and that made me feel good, to tell you the truth.  It's not often that fans get irate on your behalf.  

Yet if you think this is some kind of violation of cover copyright . . . you'd be wrong.  Because we all know copyright law as it pertains to using images, correct?  If you need a quick refresher, try this article and this one.  Right off the bat, I can tell you that this is not a violation of copyright in the slightest.  Granted, I don't own the copyright for my book covers; my publisher does (or the artist hired by my publisher).  If this constituted a copyright violation, then so would every book cover featuring, say, a silhouetted figure running across a landscape (I'll bet I saw two or three YAs with that cover last year) or a shot of a forest or a cityscape or girl/guy in profile . . . You get my drift.

If the cover on the left does anything at all--under copyright law, that is--then it comes closest to paying "homage" (and I use that loosely), and then just barely.  Really, all that's been "copied" is the positioning of the title.  Is it close enough to provoke a second glance?  Sure.  Is it a violation of copyright?  No.

But here's an intriguing question--to me, at least: what, exactly, is the cover on the left supposed to convey?  We judge books by their covers all the time.  In an earlier post, I talked about the reason the ASHES series changed; even though I adored the original hardcover, the book itself didn't pop off the shelf.  It tended to get lost.  So the cover had to change because the whole point of the cover is to induce you to pick up the book and start paging through.

To my eyes, the new ASHES look--and more specifically, SHADOWS--evokes menace and ambiguity.  You're supposed to wonder: who's running, and from what?  Who are those people in the background?  Are they even people?  Are they something else?  Shadows, at night and in the woods, are slate and purple and silver and blue, and of course, the thematic motif of smoke references the post-apocalyptic.  It's a lovely cover, and suggests precisely what you might find inside.

SKETCHY's cover is . . . well . . . interesting.  What does sketchy mean, anyway?  Here's what Wiktionary has to say about the word as it pertains to a person:

  1. (slang, of a person) Suspected of taking part in illicit or dishonorable dealings.
    Because he is so sketchy, I always think that he is up to something.
  2. (slang, of a person) Disturbing or unnerving, often in such a way that others may suspect them of intending physical or sexual harm or harassment.
    Jack is so sketchy, I think he's stalking me.

With that in mind, let's look at the cover again.  There's a girl there, right?  Lying on what looks like a bed?  Covered with a sheet (so you know she's probably naked)?  Only the image is partially obscured by the title itself; you really have to work to see this girl--which is precisely what I think this cover wants you to do.  It wants you to want to see her and, by extension, figure her out.  All that plays into the slightly dangerous, slightly come-hither, slightly illicit and sketchy story this cover promises.

So does the cover do its job?  Yes, it does.  If--and this is a big if--the person responsible for the cover took SHADOWS as a jumping-off point, then he or she might have wanted to capture some of that cover's disturbing and unnerving  elements.  In that way, SHADOWS served to inspire.  Of all the cover designs out there, that graphic artist chose SHADOWS to get his/her point across.  In the end, what I take away from this is the truth of that old saw: imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  I don't think there's any way that anyone will get the two books confused.

Besides . . . we all know which book came first. 

1 comment:

Jordan Dane said...

Wow. Blatant copy. Not good form. I know publishers get inspiration off covers, but I've never seen one so similar. Oy!