Sunday, July 4, 2010

You Are Not A Book Cover

My ARC contest is open until midnight, July 17th. Please enter here.

I'm going to be doing a vlog about this in a few weeks with the Rebels, but this is something I wanted to say before the contest is over.

Let's get a picture of my cover. Nice and big. You can even click on it to make it bigger. Let's take a look at this thing.

Okay, so here we have a girl, presumably, or a boy with some very well done plastic surgery. She's lying on her back (if you originally saw stomach, don't worry, you're not alone, and more on that later.) She's wearing a green bikini and lying in the sand. My name is curled nicely around her ass. Her skin is pretty perfect.

This is a gorgeous, gorgeous cover, and I love it. But when I saw it for the first time, I was worried that some people would respond to it in a certain way. I told myself they wouldn't. I begged the universe that they wouldn't. But they have, and I've seen proof on several message boards and even in the comments of the ARC giveaway. There are women who are using my cover as a medium through which to hate their bodies.

Guys. Stop. Look.

As I'm typing this, I am on my back with my netbook on my stomach. I'm, completely coincidentally, wearing a green bikini. I am on the deck at the beach house where INVINCIBLE SUMMER is set, looking down at the sand where the girl in the cover is probably lying.

I don't look a damn thing like the girl in that cover. Even if I didn't have a laptop slung over me like the geek I am, I wouldn't look anything like her. I'm more thighs than tits and I'm whiter than fishbelly. And you know what? That's okay. Because the girl on my cover doesn't look like the girl on my cover either.

To be clear--I don't know the model they used for my cover. I am sure she is a beautiful, beautiful girl, and I applaud her balls tremendously--can you imagine having a picture of your torso sitting on shelves in major bookstores? But I *can* tell you one thing about this model. She doesn't really look like that.

And I know because, in the first draft of my cover, this girl looked a little different. Her bikini top wasn't stretched over big, perky breasts. Instead, it sat pretty near to her ribcage, with puckers near the bottom where she didn't quite fill up the fabric. I felt some kinship, I'll admit.

The fabulous art design team at Simon Pulse didn't change the cover to make you feel shitty about yourself. They changed it because it was impossible to tell which end was up. The cover was kind of confusing. It was hard to differentiate the boob end from the ass end, so they changed it to be more immediately clear. Some people are still a little confused by it, but I think unless we paint nipples on her, we've done about all we can at this point.

And even if they hadn't photoshopped this girl, can you imagine how many pictures they took to get that perfect one? And how they played with the light and pinned the bathing suit just right so she'd look her best, and spray-tanned her and artfully placed each grain of sand along her side? It's not a mistake that she looks this good. And you're not expected to put on a green bikini, flop down in the sand, and look like her. You can't look like her because she isn't real.

And now you're saying oh, hannah, but just because the model isn't real doesn't mean you're not writing bikini-clad hot girls and, yeah, you're right, but I have two points on this also. First of all, there are three girls in INVINCIBLE SUMMER that could logically be on the cover, but I think most people will agree with my guess about which one this model represents (although one of the other ones is the one described in the book as wearing a green bikini, so there's a nice little puzzle there, I think).

The girl who I'm pretty sure is meant to be on the cover is, and trust me on this one, no one you want to be.

Not to mention, point two, that this book is told from a male POV, and you're clearly supposed to look at this girl on my cover in a sexual way, let's not kid ourselves, so what you're really seeing is the idealized version of this girl the way my main character sees her.

And that's what makes this such a successful cover, that it so clearly shows the setting and one of the major characters through my main character's eyes, I could not be happier to have it. But it makes me sick, as someone who has struggled so much with body image, to hear women, even jokingly, say that my cover makes them feel bad about their bodies.

Don't feel bad. Seriously. Feel happy that you're not the bitch from my book. And that your tits aren't photoshopped.


Raven said...

"Don't feel bad. Seriously. Feel happy that you're not the bitch from my book. And that your tits aren't photoshopped."

LOL. Thanks for the post.

I'm not going to lie, I was a bit jealous of this girl's bod.

But you're right. The model on this cover doesn't look like this, and that is okay, because everyone has their flaws, and it's important to embrace them because at least you don't have to be photoshopped to be beautiful.

Tiffany Neal said...

Well, I don't know about anyone else, but I heart the cover, and I didn't realize that you could look at it like she was on her stomach until you mentioned it. Hmm. It's kind of like that old lady/pretty chick optical illusion and htat makes it even cooler. Anyway, love the cover and the message you're sending out. And I am a bit green in jealousy that you are on the beach right now. Just sayin.

Trakena Prevost said...

I think this is a good idea of how things go when it comes to printed work, whether it be magazine pics or book covers. Everything out there is photoshopped...everything! I think it's important for young girls to realize that these standards are impossible, and you speaking out on it is one way to get them to see it.

Great post!!!

Anonymous said...

I think the illusion is pretty cool too. And this is a fab post.

Melissa said...

I love this post. If more writers, book publishers and magazine publishers were this honest about what they print on their magazine and book covers, then perhaps, fewer girls and young women would feel bad about their own bodies.

Like your body Hannah, mine doesn't resemble this one in the least, and yet, most of the time, I feel pretty good about how I look. Of course, this doesn't just happen over night. I struggle with this just like the next person, but comments like yours reinforce the message that girls everywhere need to hear.

Thanks again. :)

Maggie said...

LOL at first I thought she was on her stomach too. For the record, this cover didn't make me feel anything at all about my body--it just really made me excited for summer and trips to the beach.

Sarah said...

In all honesty, I'm more jealous of her INCREDIBLE ass than her tits.


Happy 4th, Hannah. And I can't wait to read this book, sexy bitchy girl and all.

hannah said...

Sarah--you can have some of my ass if you want. It just gets me into trouble. ;)

maine character said...

If it makes anyone feel better, I can say as a guy that the girl on the cover doesn’t do it for me. There’s no way to tell what that model’s actually like, so nothing against her, but compared to most models we get paraded in front of us, I’d rather spend my time with Emily Dickinson.

Honest – if this girl was lying on the beach like that, and Emily was sitting off in the shade in a baggy sweatshirt, writing in a notebook, I’d ask the model if she knew who Emily was and then be so smitten I wouldn’t be able to talk to her.

The same for Lili Taylor and Katee Sackhoff. It's the smarts and spunk that get me.

You can't look like her because she isn't real.

Here’s an interesting look at that truth.

hannah said...

MC--not that it really matters, but I had no idea you were a guy. I think in this industry I just assume people are chicks unless proven otherwise. So baller, and thanks for weighing in.

Francis said...

I'm a professional photographer by day (and wannabe writer by night) and I actually had a recent shoot a month ago for a magazine ad (and I'm still shocked they hired a freelancer for it) that gave similar results. If more knew the truth of these things, they'd probably feel A LOT LESS WORSE. So here's the goddamn truth.

I've done a lot of lingerie and artistic (I always insist on the "artistic" part 'coz I don't do porn) nude photo shoots in the past two years. I have NEVER seen a picture perfect model right out of the box. It. Does. Not. Exist. Sure, I've met some naturally beautiful ones with a personality (and they usually know it and the agencies who own, arhum, I'm sorry, "represents" them charges a premium for it because yes, personality shows through camera AND IT'S A CHARGEABLE COMMODITY) but most are fake bimbos with too much Botox and dumb as Lindsay Lohan.

How a shoot like that often works is:
A company will hire their own photog or a freelancer and makeup/hair artist separately. They will usually have scouted a location first if done outdoors and if I need an assistant (depends of the shoot) I will hire one and charge them for it. Sometimes I ask my brother.

Makeup girl usually arrives on location with the model before I do. They can spend up to two hours on the chair. Two fucking long hours. I arrive later to evaluate the exact spot and prepare my lighting setup. Takes me a good hour. I've spoken with the client days before and have already sketches and poses in mind.

Five minutes before we're ready to go, makeup girl (usually a girl or a gay guy... have yet to meet a heterosexual guy who does makeup, but that's detail) makes the touch-ups, takes care of the spray. If for lingerie or clothing ad, there's usually a stylist there as well.

Experienced models become a robotic but expressive human the moment they lay down or take whatever pose I asked them to take and from here on out, they require very little direction. They know what to do. They all do the same thing, and they all look like robotic bimbos. That's the truth.

Between each segment (meaning a drastic change in place or pose), the sand on the model will be touched-up, the make-up, the hair right up to the little curl and we go again. You'd cringe if I told you some of the trick we use to make stuff "stick" or "pop". All I'm gonna say is that most of those camel toes are 100% fake and some fruits are sometimes involved.

Then when I'm done (can take 2 hours, half a day or an entire day. It depends how much the company paid and what they wanted) I say goodbye to everyone, pack-up, the models gets transformed back to a regular looking human and we go to POST-PROCESSING. Post processing is when I download the negatives from my camera to my computer and spend AN ETERNITY (real time estimate: 5-20 minutes per photo) touching them up. This means:

-Brushing the skin to make it smooth BUT NOT TOO SMOOTH PLEASE PHOTOG NOT TOO SMOOTH
-Remove all pimples, blemishes, imperfections, birth marks, sometimes even beauty marks
-Whiten the teeth
-Remove any possible love handles that cropped up due to totally unnatural looking positions (I don't work with model sizes 0-1-2 'coz it makes me sick to look at their rib cages right through my frickin' 2000$ camera hole).
-Adjust lighting if necessary
-Color processing (we don't shoot in B&W ever these days... we transform color to B&W in Photoshop and there's no one button to do it... each color channel is adjusted individually, noise is added, etc.)
-Cropped or re-cropped if necessary

Francis said...

(continued 'coz Google says it's too long... YEAH RIGHT!!!)

I can have up to 500 shots for an ad photo shoot, but usually 20 per the same "setting pose" and only one of them is retouched. Then I make an online gallery to present all my edits and the original shots to the client. Then client makes assessment and I edit what is required.

Total time spent from start to finish for the one perfect shot on a book cover or magazine ad: up to 60 hours for my part, plus all the gazillion hours the make-up crew spent on them.

Another newsflash: most of the models I've worked with are unhappy. I don't work with size -10 models so I don't deal with eating disorders and such, but even those I've worked with don't like the job much. They do it for the money, not the fame or to be pretty in an ad.

Most models are treated like property or animals by their agencies. When on set, they have no say. They're robots. When the magic wears off, they look like the rest of the regular girls but they're just more skinny and frankly, not beautiful at all. AT ALL.

So, ladies... do you still envy the hot model on the cover and her lifestyle? You don't want to, I promise. It's also why I'm a full time university student and only do these shoots when I need money. It's a perverse lifestyle and all it does is make you realize just how fake the world really is.

So why do they do it? Because society IS fake. "Sex sells". That might be true, but it's not worth shedding tears or forging complexes. You might be a chubby mother, but you have your children and hopefully, they're healthy. Those Saturday mornings you enjoy with your spouse, children or boyfriend/girlfriend, perhaps when you make pancakes and just ENJOY the (maybe temporary) happiness…you know the mornings I'm talking about. Most models don't have that. They're too busy doing drugs or doing shoots to pay for their drugs or making themselves throw up in the toilet or obsess over their boobs, their lips, their entire face but never their brain.

FYI: shameless plug… is my portfolio and if you head to the boudoir section there are two nudes from a shoot I did last year. The girl did it as a present for her boyfriend. She had no makeup during the entire shoot... she's a professional athlete and she was well "shaped", but these two shots are out of hundreds I took. HUNDREDS! And there was still SOME post involved there.

If you feel bad about yourself because of a cover, think about the truth behind it and you might just smile and think "I'm better where I am now."

hannah said...

Thanks so much for giving us a behind the scenes view, Francis.

One crit--girls can have eating disorders at ANY size. Trust me on this one. It's not just the tiny ones.

Maggie said...

Just want to weigh in one more time. I used to work for a fashion/beauty mag and we had celebrities on our covers. Some of them were definitely airbrushed to get rid of some wrinkles or pimples, but some weren't even touched. I just don't want people to think that everyone in the entertainment or fashion business is fake and no one is naturally beautiful. There are definitely a lot of naturally gorgeous people out there.

hannah said...

Maggie--thank you. I've never known anyone in the fashion industry, but I'm sure there are a ton of different people...and that some of them are more beautiful than others, inside and out. (Cliche city, population: hannah)

Bookewyrme said...

I've loved this cover since I saw it. I think a part of the allure for me is the way that you CAN look at it as the girl being either on her stomach or her back. It's like she's reversible, kind of like a palindrome. I think it is an interesting sort of cover to have! And hey, maybe once the girls who were having self-image issues read the book, they'll realize at least they're not horrible like you say the character is, and feel a little better about themselves. (Oh there you are rose-colored glasses. I missed you...)


hannah said...

I mean I do like palindromes.

Oh, one last thing--let's not let this dissolve into bashing girls who look the model, okay? She's a beautiful girl, and a lot of these conversations tend to start describing thin girls negatively. There are a lot of girls--healthier girls--thinner than the girl on my cover. And they're beautiful too.

maine character said...

Great input, Francis, and nice work. I do portraits, too, and years ago read an interview with a Sports Illustrated swimsuit photographer. He said they shoot 300 rolls of film (10,800 photos) for each photo that goes in the magazine. And that's with the best models, stylists, and photographers money can buy. To hold oneself up against it is like getting down on yourself that your home movies don't look like "Avatar."

I just assume people are chicks unless proven otherwise.

No offense, Hannah. I get that way when I'm drunk.

hannah said...

Fuck, I meant "healthy girls," not "healthier girls." I have no reason at all to believe my model isn't healthy, and sorry if my typo implied that.

Andrea Coleman said...

You can't tell my ass from my boobs anyway. I came to terms with that a looong time ago. It's mostly the work of gravity. I therefore assume I can't feel bad about it because I can't fight the natural laws of the universe. They will always win.

Great cover and great post.

Krista Ashe said...

See, I actually liked this cover b/c the girl DOESN'T look like a stickfigure with no soul. She's got some healthy, muscular looking thighs, and her arms looked defined too. I think she looks like a healthy girl....not a model, not someone trying to be thin bc society wants her too, etc.

hannah said...

Krista--I'll admit I squealed with excitement when I saw the girl wasn't extremely thin.

Francis said...

@maine: I believe you 100%. That's one of the reason why it's so expansive to get a photo done for a magazine or even a book... so much shooting for just one winner (or a few), especially in special releases (like the annual swimsuit cover).

@Krista: Yes, this cover works fantastically because there is no face. Some might say "omg they have reduced the female to just a nice body" but she wears a cover-all bikini and the suggestion isn't erotic. 99% of covers that feature a human portrait or photo usually involves very weird/bad face expressions, spandex, a pack of overly defined six-abs or bad lighting/overall photography. For example, I think the cover of THE DUFF is very, very average. Terrible lighting.

This cover reminded me a lot of a picture and an actress I love:

Evangeline Lily is a fabulously beautiful woman. I've seen her in person once and she is even more stunning without make-up on. A smile that will make you melt and she's just natural.

Her picture above shows that in my opinion (that's what I meant when I said personality shines through) and Hannah's cover has the same general "laid back" quality... Simon Pulse could have had the model curve her back to enhance the erotic quality, but didn't. They could have showed some "hard nipple" (what a terrible expression tbh) or more of her butt. They didn't.

It's a sexy and curvy (yet appropriate) photo of someone laying on a beach. It's simple and clean (like the Twilight cover). The color palette is warm and perfectly balanced. The teal/beige sand/brown tanned skin all complement each other and the entire package easily conveys the message "here's a laid back book about an adventure at the beach where things might go wild" without being inappropriate, offending or overly sexy.

In a word: perfect. If I were Hannah, I'd be damn proud of that cover too. This could have went bad and tasteless really quickly, but it didn't. It's the mark of a good artist with taste.

Kudos to Simon Pulse for this one!

Francis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bookaholic said...

I love this cover!
And the bikini is green!! That's a lovely color but now I feel so stupid and sort of colorblind or something when I remember that I had mentioned in your contest page that the bikini is black in color! Nevertheless,green is a fav color too! So I am cool I guess :)

hannah said...

bookaholic--I totally wtf'd when you said the bikini was black, hahaha! My boyfriend is colorblind. I just threw you in with him ;)

Francis--Thank you so much. I don't generally love headless girl covers, but I do love this one, I think a lot because of something my editor said before I saw it, when she was just describing it to me.

She said, "You know those covers with girls on them, and you're supposed to be like, 'I relate to this girl'? Well, that isn't what this is. You're going to look at it and go, 'I want to fuck this girl.'"

Which fits pretty well with the book.

Bianca said...

Ever since you posted the contest the other day, I have honestly been thinking to myself at random points today 'was that the ass or the boobs?' But, I definitely love the cover.

I think I would pick it up in the bookstore because I'd be intrigued by it!

Richard Levangie said...

Though I may be hung out to dry for saying so, I'm not buying this post. I don't doubt your sincerity, only your logic. I understand that authors usually don't have creative control over their book covers, but this one is cut from the same cloth as every issue of Cosmo or Glamour.

Everyone knows the models in fashion magazines are airbrushed and Photoshopped. Everyone knows that none of them actually look as good in RL as they do in front of a camera.

In isolation, none of this would be a problem. It's the pervasiveness of the industry that gives it its power.

Horserider said...

So true, Hannah. So very true.

Some people are still a little confused by it

OMG I was sure that just me! The first time I saw it, I spent ten minutes arguing with myself over whether she was laying on her stomach or her back and then which way...

I don't really know why people obsess over having a photoshopped model's body. Why would you WANT to be a stick? I've been a stick since I was born. I'm naturally that way and it's not as fun as you might think. It's impossible to buy clothes and I'm not allowed to give blood because I don't weigh enough.

hannah said...


I'm confused about which part exactly you disagree with. I'm guessing the bit about the cover reflecting Chase's POV?

That's obviously a matter of opinion, but it is how I see the cover, and one of the things that I think makes it effective is that it's different from your typical YA cover with a girl on the front. And I would argue that the removal of her face--which actually is typical for YA covers--is what sets her apart from the covers of fashion magazines. Because I think the purpose of this cover is different? Yes, because I don't believe the point of my cover is to let you emphasize but rather, as I mentioned a few comments up, to give you the vantage point of almost a peeping Tom, looking at this girl while she's lying in the sand. Which fits the book pretty well.

I'm fully aware of the larger problem at work here; I say with full confidence that there are few people out there less devoted to eating disorder awareness and prevention, among both boys and girls.

But authors do not choose their own book covers, and they definitely don't choose them based on their personal beliefs. The job of a book cover is only to do two things:

1. Catch the eye
2. Evoke the genre and style of the novel.

I think mine does both these things, and that's why I feel it's a success.

Frank said...

Really not much to say here since it's already been said, but a) I think your cover is really pretty and b) I am so very glad that I am not the only one who originally saw her on her stomach.

suzie townsend said...

I love this cover too :) And I don't relate to this girl and I certainly don't look like this cover. But it absolutely 100% catches the eye (even if it's to go "wait, which body part is that?") and it totally reflects Chase's view of this girl - it has that distinct feel that we're watching and fantasizing about this girl.