But I have a slightly embarassing but very real pet peeve about book covers. In particular, historical fiction. To be specific, the horrifically inaccurate cover art depictions of ladies' clothing and general appearance.
Anal? Yes. Stupid? Yes. Better things to do with my time? Definitely, wholeheartedly, yes. Am I going to share anyway? Yeah, I think I need to.
So here's the thing. I know, rationally, that a writer has little to no control over the cover that his or her book receives when a publisher releases it. He or she may or may not even be able to give feedback, which may or may not be taken under advisement. So I know that, when I pick up a book with a cringeworthy outfit on the cover, it's not the author's fault. Rationally, I know this. But I still have a hard time divorcing my immediate perception of "Wildly innacurate" from the potential that this could be a prisinely researched book.
What I think that publishers don't quite get is that their editorial choices add up to one single perception for the buyer. And for a buyer of historical fiction, accuracy is often very important. So when you take a well-researched novel and smack a poorly researched bit of cover art on, it's doing your author a great disservice, because I'm already having to try to avoid the assumption that, if you don't care about your art department's accuracy, that you don't care about your writer's accuracy, either. It's not fair. But it's how the consumer thinks--even a consumer who's moderately educated in how publishing works. For someone who doesn't know that a writer has no control over the cover? Even more understandable that he or she might put the book back on the shelf.
Some examples that make my eyes hurt. Please note--this is NOT meant to bash the writers! However, it is meant to highlight that yes, some readers do notice this stuff. (It may also be meant as a slight cattiness outlet on a rough day.)
Wildeacre by Philippa Gregory
This cover makes my eyes hurt for one main reason: Hair. No one, save no one, had Herbal Essences hair in the eighteenth century. Either put it up, put a cap on it, or dress it properly to be worn down. Don't want to paint a lady with Hedgehog Hair? Don't do eighteenth-century book covers.
The Midwife of the Blue Ridge by Christine Blevins
Now, I imagine that the argument might be that this woman is on the frontier, so of course she's not wearing a fancy gown (I could totally go off on a tangent here, by the way, and I think I will in a future post). But I still don't know exactly what the bodice-y thing she's wearing is quite supposed to be. Is it a corset? Part of the Saint Pauli girl ensemble? Ye Olde Barmaid Supplies Unlimited sale item? Don't make your reader guess. Use clothes that actually existed. Like a sturdy pair of jumps.
The Queen's Dollmaker by Christine Trent
Just a complete lack of understanding of eighteenth century undergarments and gown construction. A lady wearing stays would never look that rumpledy. Let me get graphic--her breasts should not be poking out into the torso of the gown. She's not wearing a bra, people--she's wearing stays. The girls are going to be high and the torso, flattened. The gown is constructed in some fashion that I can only imagine was inspired by a 1980s McCall's Halloween costume pattern, because it it no way resembles proper eighteenth century draping--especially with the skirts, which should not be attached all the way across the front in the way they are, and are in desperate need of a pair of pocket hoops or a false rump or something. The neckline fits poorly--if this was meant to be seductive, it just made me want to stuff a kercheif down her front. And yes, bows were used in the eighteenth century. But why oh WHY must they ALWAYS appear on cover art?
The Frontiersman's Daughter by Laura Franz
I understand that this is a Christian fiction book. Therefore, I imagine they didn't intend to put a lady in her underclothes on the cover. Darn it all if they did anyway, likely trying to avoid the low-necked titilation of so many other cover choices. Here's the thing: Your leading lady is appearing in just her shift--her underwear. Plus she's doing that thing where it's hiked up to her neck--what I always consider the Urkel move of eighteenth-century fashion. And again with the shampoo ad hairstyle. Layers did not exist. At least, they didn't exist in an attractive way.
I hope this didn't come across as mean-spirited--I actually quite wish that publishers would have their art departments consult with costume historians (and other scholars) to produce the best possible product.
Of course, then...what would I have to be catty about?