I recently wandered the YA shelves of Powell’s to take note of the latest cover trends––partly as research for the cover design of The Ocean in My Ears, and partly because that’s the kind of thing I like to do with my Friday nights.
In order to focus only on the latest trends and limit the number of books I had to look at, I solely took into account books published in 2015 and 2016. Still, I ended up picking around a hundred covers. From there, I started organizing the covers.
The importance of pure aesthetic appeal in a YA cover is most clearly shown through the prominence of typography-heavy designs. The titles of these books are spread across the entire cover, and the background typically has nothing more than a splash of color or a subtle design.
These covers evoke the typographic posters that have become so popular in recent years, and this kind of seriousness sets the book apart for, perhaps, a slightly older reader. Typography is a fairly large and timeless trend, but it’s the little details that matter most here, such as choosing to use ribbon to make up the letters, or choosing to carve the title out of moss.
One other typography-heavy trend is using aligned text interspersed with symbols.
This trend, also one that is popular with literary fiction, is definitely aesthetically pleasing, but will likely get old pretty soon. Of course, there are more interesting ways to approach the trend (Learning to Swear in America incorporates minimalist, but dynamic, symbols), but these covers tend to be bland and repetitive.
Found titles, mainly sticky notes and rickety signs, are both en vogue:
The signs give a sense of place, which is an interesting element to consider. Though it’s a good way to break from the typical typographical choices, it may become difficult to distinguish one sticky note cover from the next.
Rain is a pretty major metaphor for sadness and rebirth and a number of other things, so it’s not exactly a surprising trend. But there are two particular kinds of rain covers that are oddly similar.
Dangerous Lies and Three Truths and a Lie were published less than a year apart. They are different stories, with different authors, but both covers have textured rain splattered across them, and both have the word “lie” in the title.
The other rain trend is via illustration. These books ended up looking like part of a series.
I remember when having girls on the cover with their faces cut off was the biggest thing in YA. That trend has been given new life in the form of illustrations, which is, in my opinion, a welcome change.
Of course, illustrated covers on the whole are extremely popular, but the group is so widespread there’s no point in trying to pin it down. However, there was one weirdly specific subcategory of the illustrated cover I can’t help but share: covers that have illustrated buses and titles with small insects.
These books were published within two months of each other in 2015. Interestingly, Alice and the Fly didn’t have a bus on its cover until the second edition came out in January 2016, after Mosquitoland began receiving high acclaim. Conspiracy theory? Maybe. Maybe not.
Powell’s employees are probably starting to wonder why that one woman was spending so much time staring at YA books, checking the front matter for publication dates, taking pictures of them, and then not buying them. Well, I bought a couple. A few. Several. I didn’t buy them all, okay?
Cover design for The Ocean in My Ears is the upcoming challenge for Team Meri, and I’m looking forward to finding––or creating––its niche in the world of YA covers.