Ugliest paperback cover ever?


A few years ago I picked up a non-fiction book about a serial killer in Paris during WWll, a respected and outwardly respectable doctor responsible for betraying and murdering Jewish families trying to escape from the Nazis. True crime is a genre that interests me, and I found the book well-researched and well-written. As a result I began corresponding with the author and although we’ve never met in the flesh, we formed a ‘virtual’ friendship based on mutual interests – France, Paris, literature, food and history.

Romance is not a genre I care for (in books!), but I was curious to see how Marilyn switched from non-fiction to fiction in her first novel, and was surprised to find that I enjoyed Bella, which is not a fluffy romp at all, but quite dark and gripping. Great cover, too.

Now her second novel (third book, second novel) has been published, one I’ve been looking forward to because I know her passion for her subject and how much has gone into the writing of this romance/drama set in Stalin’s Soviet Union, an era I’m interested in.

If I’d seen a paperback of this book in any shop I would never have touched it, but as I do most of my reading on my Kindle, I bought a digital copy from Amazon. Happily my old Kindle doesn’t show the covers, because this one is just – I can’t think of a word that sums up how awful it is – maybe ‘Unpickupable’? If this lurid, amateurish cover is any indication of the content, I really wouldn’t want to know.

Fortunately, I can confirm that it isn’t. For the Love of a Poet is, as the title implies, a love story set against the backdrop of Uncle Joe Stalin’s Russia, a country in the grip of deprivation and fear, where people can disappear without warning, and pandemics are described as nothing more that ‘minor outbreaks of flu.’

The writing draws you into the lives of the lovers and recreates the nerve-wracking atmosphere of living under the Stalinist regime. It’s one of those books that once you start reading, you don’t want to put down. While I very much enjoyed Marilyn’s two previous books, I think this one really is her chef-d’oeuvre – a true masterpiece. 

Although as I have said, I’ve never met the author, I feel that we know each other well enough to be frank, and that she is confident enough to accept criticism, so I wrote and told her I thought the cover was horrible beyond description. It turns out that so does she, but it is out of her hands; it is what her publisher has chosen and it seems she’s stuck with it. She has received numerous messages, similar to mine.

Having a contract with a publisher is all well and good, but if their strategy is working against you, what good does it do?

Here is the cover in question:


I am going to nominate it as the ugliest cover I’ve seen for as long as I can remember. What a pity, the book is such a tremendous read, but how many people who don’t know that would actually pick it up? Sinister red/black, intensely ugly font, hammer and sickle, bizarrely placed, weirdly proportioned face, and where on earth is the poet?

Comments very welcome. Maybe you think the cover is OK? Maybe you’ve seen one you think is even worse?



7 thoughts on “Ugliest paperback cover ever?

  1. Good grief. I think the publisher must have been on something. The worst bit for me is the awful font. Almost illegible. At first glance I thought the title read “For the love of a pooer”.
    In hindsight that might be more appropriate as the cover seems to be totally cr*p.
    Maybe the thinking is that it will get more publicity with viewers debating the cover. The old adage of no publicity is bad publicity.

    • I don’t know what the thinking is, Pip. More like lack of thought. I really feel for the author, I’d be mortified if it had my name on it, even if it was barely legible. But it’s a smashing read.

  2. Good lord! That is quite extraordinarly dreadful and I cannot imagine ever feeling that I would like to pick it up let alone feel it looked like an interesting read. And I am sure I am not alone – the poor author! However, she has picked up a new reader from your words … it is added to my list of books to take to England in 2 weeks

    • Well, at least something good has come out of it, Osyth. I remember that you spent quite a while in Russia and speak the language. Although of course I was not living there during the period in which the book is set, knowing the meticulous research that Marilyn puts into her work, and her passion for Russia, I am certain that she has got the atmosphere of the time spot on. I’d love to know what you think after you’ve read the book. Perhaps cover it in brown paper, like we used to do with our school books? 🙂

      • Of course I will let you know what I think … I reckon it will be a positive report 🙂 As for the cover – either brown paper or sticky backed plastic should do it 😉

    • Ah yes, but what is the message, Poul? To me it says “trashy novel”, which it is very, very far from being. It deserves a cover that people love and can’t resist picking up, not one that screams: “Couldn’t be bothered, this will have to do.” It must be so frustrating for the author to hate her own cover.

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