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CoverFail: Why Cartoon Covers Have Been Abandoned

Cartoon covers have been pretty much axed from the romance cover catalog due to declining sales of books with those covers. I admit that I was never a huge fan of the cover, but neither did I find them totally offputting. There are worse things than cartoons, right? Today’s first entry is example A of how wrong I can be. When I first saw this cover, immediately I wondered what poor Molly Harper did to anger the art director to be saddled with this.  ┬áIn fairness to the art director, though, this is called the Naked Werewolf Series.

How to Fall for a Naked Werewolf

And in another example of why cartoon covers simply don’t work is the cover from a book recently reviewed here at Dear Author by Dr. Sarah. I’m not sure what is more disturbing — the strangely shaped thumb or the awful O face.

My Summer of Wes

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Shannon Stacey
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 11:06:05

    Not only do I miss the cartoon covers but, if I read werewolf romances, I would grab that first cover off the shelf. I think, for me, cartoon covers implied comedy, which I gravitate toward. Molly Harper’s cover says to me “funny, with a nerdy hero” and sucks me in like a Harlequin Presents title.

    The second cover, not so much.

  2. trici
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 11:17:56

    I’ve never bought a book with a cartoon cover. But then, I don’t usually read light comedies, and that’s what those covers signal to me. Yeesh, though–both of those are some really bad ones.

  3. Ros
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 11:39:35

    I agree that cartoon covers like your first example imply romantic comedy and since I like to read that subgenre, I would often pick up books with cartoon covers (though not ones with werewolves, tbh). Also, in my experience, the cartoon covers are often better than photographic ones at getting details of the story and characters right. Maybe because they can’t just be plucked at random from stock images?

    The second example you have here, though, says to me teenage anime, which is quite a different thing from cartoon and I wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole.

  4. Susan Reader
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 11:56:23

    There’s a lot I like about the first cover, if, of course, this is a lighthearted comedy version of paranormal romance (I particularly like her long and pointy nails…claws?). But what on earth is he doing standing around in a snowstorm wearing only a t-shirt?

  5. Randi
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 12:13:07

    @ Susan: If there is sunshine and no wind, it is possible to go around with just a t-shirt in the winter. In MN, you’ll often see people in the middle of winter with shorts and a tee. It’s just a matter of relativity. Though I see from the cover it’s actually night and it’s snowing…less likely to be wearing a tee, but not out of the realm of possibility.

  6. Lane
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 12:37:46

    I also think it can be a matter of tone – the Harper cover reminds me a lot of the Reluctant Miss Van Helsing Cover. If it is supposed to be a light-hearted, fluffy book, I can see how it can work.

    It can also depend a lot on the skill of the artist. Anne Cain has done some awesome illustrated and anime-stlye covers, for example

  7. Jennifer Estep
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 12:38:16

    I like cartoon covers if they are eye-catching, not too cutesy, and if the story is supposed to be funny/lighthearted. I do think cartoon covers work better when they depict an object (like a wedding cake or something) rather than a couple.

    I had cartoon covers for two of my Bigtime superheroe books and absolutely loved them. They were so much better and more appealing than the “real people” covers that were on the mass market reprints.

  8. John
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 13:01:08

    The Molly Harper cover isn’t THAT bad, although the naked woman who has yet to turn full werewolf is…odd. I don’t know if I’d pick that up immediately upon seeing it in the store.

    The m/m cover is gawd awful. I have nothing against cartoon covers/anime covers. I even like them, especially since I’ve seen a lot of nice ones for m/m books, but this one is just horrid. Ones like this:
    are nice.

  9. joanne
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 13:35:08

    Both examples are just one more reason for me to thank the lady on Esty who made my 5 mmp and 2 trade size cloth covers.

  10. Brandy
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 13:39:01

    I don’t mind the cartoon cover. It actually attracts my attention because it is so different these days of covers with moons and half naked headless pictures of men or women on them. Dakota Cassidy has the best, imho, of the cartoon covers currently out.

  11. Dana
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 13:42:05

    I have to admit that I avoided the Sookie Stackhouse series for years because of how silly I found their covers. Funnily enough, now I love the covers BECAUSE of their camp, and I hate the new, True Blood covers.

  12. Nadia Lee
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 14:09:52

    I can’t stand anime covers unless they look stunningly beautiful like the stuff done by Clamp or Yoshiyuki Sadamoto or something like that.

    I don’t care for cartoons unless I’m in the mood for something light & funny.

  13. veinglory
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 14:16:15

    All I know is that I am going to buy that Molly Harper book right now.

  14. Carin
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 14:38:13

    Mary Janice Davidson’s Alaskan Royals series had decent cartoon covers, especially the first one:

    Overall, though, I’m not a cartoon cover fan, and the covers from this post are good examples of why.

  15. cories
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 14:57:16

    Vicki Lewis Thompson’s Nerd series all have cartoon covers and since the books are somewhat comedic, it’s fine.

  16. Patrice
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 16:20:36

    I hate cartoon covers and I will pass them right by to pick up a different book. The only books I ever bought with them were if one of my auto-buy authors had them, like Charlene Harris. I think when the trend started I picked up a few where the heroine was whining or TSTL or there was a lot of cutsey dialogue and cartoon covers forever became a signal of those faults to me. Which is not fair, but it takes a lot for me to read the blurb on one of them. I just do not like cartoon style art on romance covers.

  17. ShellBell
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 16:58:39

    One thing I love about eBooks is that I’m less picky when it comes to books covers.

    When I used to buy print books I would never buy one with a cartoon cover. I refused to buy a Julia Quinn book locally because of the dreadful cover, and ordered it from Amazon with the US publishers cover instead. I absolutely hate them. To me it seemed as if the publisher was mocking the author, putting a caricature on the cover rather than a cover that actually suited the book. The was never any relationship between the cover and the story being told. That’s not to say that publishers get the cover right all the time, but the cartoons were just horrid.

  18. Lindsey
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 17:08:19

    As a rule, I tend to avoid cartoon covers, because how appealing the cove of a book is tends to attract or repel me, and I don’t generally find cartoon covers attractive. However, sometimes, if the plot summary really grabs me, I’ll take a chance on a cartoon cover, and so far, I’ve never disliked any of the cartoon cover books I’ve read (in fact, The Reluctant Miss Van Helsing, which I passed up numerous times because of the cover, became one of my favorite books, because it’s utterly ridiculous, and is completely aware of it).

  19. Emily
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 17:16:25

    @Susan and @Randi, The woman just turned human from being a wolf. You can tell by the paw prints that turn into footprints. So of course she wouldn’t have clothes on. I’ve learned that from True Blood.

    I kind of like the Molly Harper one. Especially since I read her “Nice Girls Don’t…” vampire series and know she’s hysterical.

  20. Karen
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 17:30:19

    I’m the head of the worst category for the Cover Cafe cover contest, and cartoon covers get some of the most interesting comments. There are plenty of people who like cartoon covers, but the people who hate cartoon covers usually really, really hate cartoon covers. Even fairly mundane cartoon covers get comments like “I wouldn’t buy this book no matter how good it is because I hate the cover so much”. I don’t really understand the intense dislike of cartoon covers but I can see why publishers would avoid them.

  21. Dana
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 17:36:50

    If the book itself is supposed to be light and fluffy, I don’t mind cartoony covers now. Covers like Missy Welsh’s are more in the “graphic novel/yaoi/manga” style, and I don’t mind most of those.

    One of my absolute favorites is the cover for ZA Maxfield’s “Drawn Together” The cover art is manga style, which is perfect, since one of the MC’s is a manga artist. Really, I like anything PL Nunn does.

  22. peggy h
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 19:59:35

    I don’t think I have a cartoony-covered book in my library, but whenever I visit Julia Quinn’s site and see the UK versions of her books (especially the Bridgerton ones), I always think how much more attractive they are than the generic landscape/clinch versions I have of those books. Have even thought about ordering from Amazon UK to get books with those covers….

  23. catie james
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 02:01:39

    Actually, I’m quite a fan of cartoon covers…much more than those based on photographs. IMHO it takes a great deal of talent to illustrate a scene from scratch than alter existing images to suit certain character/scene requirements, especially in the era of Photoshop.

  24. Janet P.
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 07:09:47

    well I can’t say that either of those covers would entice me to buy the novel but maybe I’m not the target audience of those writers anyway.

    The first to me says extremely campy. Probably silly, maybe a spoof on a more traditional paranormal romance. If I heard good things about it I might check it out but the cover wouldn’t sell me the book.

    The second. Well they only thing I get from it is m/m gay, probably erotica. I really don’t like the boob grab. Not a genre I normally explore so I’d just pass right over that book.

  25. Artemis
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 07:28:02

    I would pass these two by in a heartbeat. Just because of the cover. Not a fan of Molly Harper anyway, but do read m/m romance.

    The covers tell me someone was just trying to save a buck.

  26. Grace
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 07:49:10

    I don’t mind the cartoon covers if they’re on romantic comedy. Anything else, and they seem grossly out of place and look stupid or cheaply done. If I never saw another one on a book cover again, I wouldn’t exactly weep in my beer.

  27. dri
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 07:55:36

    Okay, those covers are awful. And horribly amateurish, especially that second one which just looks like fan art to me, stuff I’d expect to see on slash/yaoi sites. Not that that’s a bad thing in that context. *nods* I don’t even know where to start with the werewolf cover, omg.

    But aawwwww, I’m quite saddened that cartoon covers are on the out … cos I absolutely adore the Little Black Dress covers. (Pity the writing is almost always execrable and the use of commas absolutely mystifying. Can they not afford editors?) And I pretty much fell into Alexandra Potter entirely because of the lovely use of white space and colours and angular cartoon style of her covers. I am now mildly obsessed with Alexandra Potter’s novels. *nods*

  28. Terry Odell
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 09:01:05

    Those covers seemed to work for chick-lit, but I know when I fill out my cover request forms, there’s a place for “What you Don’t want” and I always say “cartoons”

    Those illustrations would be hard sells for me if I were cover-browsing. Then again, I tend to gravitate toward authors, not covers, so if I liked the author, I might pick up a cartoon covered book.

    Terry’s Place
    Romance with a Twist–of Mystery

  29. Lynn M
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 09:36:55

    That second cover is bad not because it’s a cartoon but because it’s badly executed art. I don’t have a fundamental problem with cartoon covers although I do tend to think light and comedy when I see them so they could be misleading. My problem is with all of the crap e-book art that is so poorly done. It’s almost like anyone with access to graphic software thinks that they can create a cover when really, it does take some talent and training. I feel sorry for writers who do put out a great story only to get stuck with these poorly rendered crap covers which scream poor quality. Despite the warning, people do judge a book by its cover.

  30. EGS
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 10:03:46

    I don’t mind cartoon covers if they’re done well and fit with the book. Vicki Lewis Thompson’s Babes on Brooms books have cartoon covers (with glitter!) and I think they’re really cute and make sense for the story. But super cheesy or ugly cartoon covers can turn me off from a book very quickly, so they should definitely be used with discretion.

  31. adobedragon
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 15:31:14

    I’m a fan of cartoon covers, probably because I’m a cartoon artist myself. If I saw the first on the shelf, I’d definitely pick it up.

    The second, however, isn’t, IMO, a cartoon cover in the usual sense. Cartoon covers are supposed to be funny, or wacky, but not overly sexual. This one is more illustration than cartoon. Or a scene from a steamy manga. It’s also ugly and had anatomy errors.

  32. Marumae
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 17:33:59

    Normally cartoon covers make me think of two things… well I guess you could say four things but I’m combining genres with them, a) romantic comedy (as someone said) b)chick-lit or paranormal romantic comedy or paranormal chick lit or urban fantasy romantic comedy, etc, whatever you want to call it. Generally it invites me to not take the book that seriously because it implies comedy. Usually I’m not into comedies, but often times if the cover is cute (enough) or eye catching I will pick it up and read the blurb. Those two though…egh…they strike me as very amateurish, like a self-published ebook cover (nothing wrong with those! but they implied to me the author didn’t have that huge of a budget or a publishing company to fund money behind the cover)!.

  33. Maria
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 20:23:52

    Wow, I thought that second cover was a really poorly drawn girl, not M/M. Although, that doesn’t really make it much better.

  34. Lori Lyn
    Aug 27, 2010 @ 02:54:11

    I’m not sure I agree that the “cartoon cover” is on the way out. Carl Hiaasen’s managing quite well as another example. I think it’s, as others have stated, more indicative of the humorous or light-hearted stories. And I saw no real information supporting to detracting from the stated title.

    As I’m not a fan of either sub-genre the two covers represent, neither appeal to me.

    I was disappointed in the lack of content to this piece. I think it’s a topic, apparently given the number of varying comments, that could have been a much more interesting article. I hope a contributing author will do something with more depth.

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    Aug 27, 2010 @ 06:37:44

    […] Author doesn’t think much of cartoon book covers – do you […]

  36. Jane Lovering
    Aug 27, 2010 @ 09:05:27

    I have a cartoon cover on my romantic comedy ‘Reversing Over Liberace’. It suits the mood/tone of the book nicely. Only drawback – I have to keep fetching it out of the kids’ section in the local bookshop. Bearing in mind there’s some fairly, ahem, fruity language in the first couple of pages, you’d think bookshop owners would be a bit more careful!

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