Bookish Discussion

Changing My Opinion: How I Feel About People On Book Covers

Hello, Sabrina here!  You’ve probably read the title of this post, so you know what I’m talking about today: book covers with people on them and how my feelings toward them have changed over time.  I’m sure we all have cover trends that we love and loathe – and plenty that we are indifferent towards.  I used to hate people on book covers, and now I don’t.  Actually… now I love them.  Let’s talk about why that is and how it happened.


Let’s rewind to 2011, the year I started to discover YA.  I was particularly looking for a new series to fall in love with and I was directed towards The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare.  And I loved TMI.  There was just one problem (…that I was aware of back then) – I hated the covers.  I was in early high school at the time, and I wouldn’t say there was a certain image I was trying to project, but I can say that toting around a book with a bare-chested, no-faced man, in my mind, was projecting an image I didn’t want.  I thought the cover was downright cringe-y and made it seem like I was reading a steamy romance (which, to be perfectly honest with you, I thought was beneath me*).  It was particularly bad, I thought, because the image was a manipulated photo rather than an illustration.  I guess it boiled down to me worrying what people would think of me and what I was reading – and honestly, I do remember some lighthearted teasing from friends when I was reading that series simply because of the covers!

* I was a bit judgemental as a teenager, but I think that’s a discussion for another day.  Just know my thoughts have changed now – thank goodness, lol.

There were plenty of other books I read during this time with people on them too, and I thought almost all of them were ugly. In the end, it didn’t even matter if they were illustrated – I decided I did not like them.  Here’s some notable examples:


The shortest part of the answer is: I think the designs have just become better, especially in YA.  For a lot of books, I think a lot more attention is being paid to their cover design.  There are so many books being published all the time and the cover is one of the first things people are going to see.  Of course, I don’t actually have any facts here, it’s just what I believe based off my own experience.

Another part to that answer is that my perspective started to shift in 2017, when Sabaa Tahir’s series, An Ember in the Ashes, got a cover change with the release of the third book, A Reaper At The Gates.  I was at first annoyed about the change, because as I’ve mentioned a million times now, I hated covers with people on them.  Then I saw this interview on Mashable where the author explained how she “really wanted a to see a brown girl on these covers…in a position of power.”  She goes on to say that the new cover designs were “everything [she] wanted to see as a kid in [her] fantasy book covers — but never did.”  It got me thinking and I realised that even if I didn’t like these covers yet, at least I could appreciate them.

The final piece is that my taste and my self-consciousness has changed.  I do in fact love the An Ember in the Ashes covers now!  Also, I used to claim that contemporary romance was my least favourite genre, but I unabashedly enjoy that kind of fiction now – and I’m not afraid of covers that clearly indicate that’s their genre.  And truly, some of these covers are works of art.  Here’s some examples of books I’ve read:

I also have a lot of books on my TBR like this. Here’s some examples:


I still admittedly have some reservations about picking up books with bare-chested men on the cover and historical fiction with women in fancy dresses.  I’m much more likely to read these books if I can find them on Libby, so I can read in public (or, these days, in front of my family) without displaying the cover.  I struggled to feel relaxed reading Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh around the house – though I guess that was also in a big part due to the title, lol.  But I did do it!  And I am hoping I will do it again with other books.

What do you think?

Are you a fan of book covers that feature people on them?  Are there any cover trends that you’ve changed your opinion on over time?  Can you think of any books with covers I should challenge myself to read a physical copy of based off what I mentioned?  Let me know!

22 thoughts on “Changing My Opinion: How I Feel About People On Book Covers

  1. I used to hate people on book covers too, but I agree that I feel they’re getting better now and I don’t mind them as much! I think the one that made me feel okay about this cover is the Selection series, the gowns were gorgeous! Now there’s less focus on hot, shirtless dude and became a great tool for representation, so that’s a really positive change! 🙂


  2. Definitely agree with you on the fact that cover design has gotten a lot better! I used to have this stance too. Now my chief complaint with book covers, especially for YA fantasy, is ugly fonts. I just hate fonts like the one on The Belles and Gideon the Ninth above. But people – I’m with you on that one. 🙂 Fun post!


  3. Ah I love this discussion so much!! And like 1000% agree on everything you’ve mentioned. Those old covers are so cringey but its I think its so great that cover design is becoming so diverse and LOVE that POC can see themselves in covers. Plus I think its starting to just become better in general that people-on-cover designs are just more well designed, so there’s that. Also though OMG love your Jace story amazing. I’m lowkey very pleased that I didn’t read the US editions because no thank you


  4. This was an interesting post, Sabrina! Like you, when I was younger I really did not like people on covers. And I do think my opinion has shifted as well. I never had a problem with sketches of people, but real models on covers always seemed really cheesy to me. But, like you said, covers have become so beautiful that it’s not really an issue anymore. For example, I have no problem with the cover of You Should See Me in a Crown, which has a Black girl on the cover. She looks fabulous! I think the cheesy looks of the models on covers is a thing of the past.


  5. I kind of like people on the covers for the reason my co-blogger doesn’t. She feels like it plants an image in your head of what the character(s) should look like and doesn’t like when it conflicts with her image. I like the help “seeing” the characters, so I welcome it.


  6. To be fair, many of those early-2010s covers were UGLY. So glad the designs have improved over time! I definitely agree — I used to be completely opposed to people on book covers, but they’ve grown on me as they’ve moved away from the shirtless men designs. I still prefer illustrated people to real people most of the time, but there are some beautiful covers out there now!


  7. I love illustrated covers – it’s the photos of people on the covers that I don’t tend to like. I feel like they date more quickly. But draw people on them instead and I’m perfectly happy!!


  8. I don’t think I’ve ever really minded there being people on book covers, but I think for me it depends on the overall design and whether the people are photos of real people or drawings. I’m more likely to judge a cover with photos of real people because they can look like amateurish while drawings take tons of effort and don’t really look like they’ve been thrown together in photoshop in about ten minutes.


  9. I never used to mind people on covers but then I noticed some books must have been using the same stock images, there was one with a guy with tribal tattoos that was on three or four different books – if there is a person on the cover I tend to relate them to that book not a different book with a different story.


  10. Honestly I think the main problem here is that those old covers are sooo ugly! 😂 I don’t know why they put so little effort into them, maybe because YA was less popular then so they didn’t care as much about the covers?

    I definitely think covers with people on are hit-or-miss, especially when they’re photographed. Sometimes a photo can look a bit lazy compared to an illustration, but I also think they sometimes really work!

    There’s definitely a bit of a stigma surrounding those typical romance covers – they make it very obvious what kind of book you’re reading. My main issue with them is that they’re so generic (plus I have absolutely no interest in shirtless men 😂)


  11. I can definitely appreciate the power and significance of having people on the cover. Luckily, cover designers have gotten better at doing it because YO look at those older covers up there. My gosh…that’s why everyone hates people on covers of books lol


  12. I think early 2010s books just have that LOOK about them that just feels a little uncomfortable I think because the ppl on the front look out of place? But now covers look a lot better! Although I’ll still always prefer an illustrated cover just because of the details 🥰


  13. OMG, the cover of City of Bones is horrendous. What were they thinking while designing it, tbh.

    I also used to hate people on covers, especially naked people on covers, because I didn’t want people judging what I read, but I think I’ve grown to like them (provided they’re done right), especially because it’s important that POC see people who look like them on the shelves!


  14. That was such a great discussion post! 🥰 Some of the old backlist books with people on the cover are truly horrendous 😅 I love Jennifer L. Armentrout’s books but they often get the worst covers! Obsidian is so generic and the cover to White Hot Kiss is … not great 😂


  15. I totally agree with you! I was never a fan of the old school faces on covers, and looking at the collection of book covers that you have I’m noticing a theme that may explain why I disliked them! All of the covers I see there have very dark, gloomy backgrounds, with the person’s face sort of blurred into the darkness.

    The newer covers all have much brighter tones and much starker contract between the background and the faces. I know that’s something that I personally really love, which is why I adore the newer covers with faces/people on them!

    As for cover shame, I definitely used to hate the old school historical romance covers, with the shirtless men on them. But as I’ve grown to love the genre more, and became less ashamed of reading romance, slowly those covers started to grow on me. In fact at this point I’m even starting to really enjoy the over the top historical romance covers that I see around, and those kinds of covers have started to draw me into the books!


  16. You’re definitely right that some older YA covers were cringey. The genre was a new one, YA wasn’t a big thing and it was coming into its own. I think some of the books helped launch it as a big thing and meant publishing invested more money there and so we do get better cover designs. I mean, I’m an avid romance reader so bare-chested men on a cover are kind of a draw to me, but I know what you mean about not always want to read those books out and about, sometimes I just want to read on the train and not be getting side-eye from people for my book cover. They’re just jealous they aren’t as ripped like that. I mean, I do a lot of my reading on my Kindle so no one is seeing what I’m reading but when I’ve got to a particularly steamy part of a book you do find yourself surreptitiously looking round because do folks know what these people are doing in this book? So I get it. I think one great thing is we are seeing figures of people on books who are diverse, I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve seen the same stock photos on book covers and gotten the books confused because of it.


  17. Such an interesting discussion! To be honest, I didn’t love book covers back then, and that city of bones cover is just…. nope. I don’t really like it, at all ahah. I love how the design of book covers have improved and I have had the same kind of journey as you did about it all: i used to feel a little meh about people on book covers and now, well some of my favorite covers have people on them. I particularily love this drawing trend lately, SO many stunning art! ❤


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