Apparently people do judge a book by its cover

Former Echo Park resident Brando Skyhorse made his national literary debut last year with the publication of his first novel, “The Madonnas of Echo Park.”  The book, which features Mexican-American and immigrant residents of Echo Park, picked up some favorable reviews and was selected by Oprah’s magazine as one of the “10 Terrific Reads of 2010.”  But the book never won a wide following, with hardcover sales of 5,000 books falling below expectations. But the publisher blames the book cover – not its contents – for the disappointing sales, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal.

The cover, which features the book title set against an outline of a brick wall, purple jacaranda blossoms and a silhouette of Madonna, did not please anyone, according to the WSJ story:

Various parties—including the author, the sales department and chain buyers— couldn’t agree on an image. In an effort to please everybody, the jacket went through 41 versions. The final design was intended to appeal to the broadest possible readership, says publisher Martha Levin, whose imprint is a unit of CBS Corp.’s Simon & Schuster Inc. But as a result of all the compromising, she believes, “we may not have reached any constituency.” “I saw this as a book directed at women,” she says, but a respected colleague argued that “there would be a big male audience who would feel excluded by a jacket that was too female oriented.”

The publisher has commissioned yet another cover for a paperback version of “Madonnas of Echo Park” scheduled to go on sale later this month.  The new cover, which went through 31 redesigns, was created to appeal directly to female readers. The cover was also cleansed of “any graphic images that let on that the book is set in Los Angeles in hopes of giving it national appeal,” according to the story.

Perhaps in addition to a new cover, the publisher of “Madonnas of Echo Park” might want to consider having Skyhorse, who has appeared at book readings  in New York and Pasadena, read the book in Echo Park. Maybe that will stimulate some local sales.

Cover image from Simon & Schuster website


  1. The artwork reminds me of covers from Black Sparrow, early publisher of Charles Bukowski. Nothing feminine about that.

  2. It doesn’t help that the author’s name is Brando Skyhorse. Sounds like a sports drink for jockeys, not a women’s lit author.

  3. Miss Marissa Lynn

    I bought this book because of the local subject matter, and I loved it. Extremely touching and intricately woven I could hardly put the book down. I’m sorry it’s sales haven’t been better.

  4. I feel truly and utterly sorry for the designer who was saddled with the unenviable task of dealing with having to take direction from an entire company full of idiots, instead of simply being allowed to do their job.

    Knowing that the paperback went through 31 versions leads me to believe – through no fault of the art department – at least as bad as the current version.

  5. So what are the old cover elements that indicated the book was set in Los Angeles? Brick? Jacarandas? Madonna? Ridiculous argument.

  6. It’s really a bummer that Madonnas has not sold better. It really is an amazing book, and I recommend it at my bookstore all the time. The people who buy it always come back raving about it. Actually, though, I loved the cover. It was the reason I picked the book up to begin with. I think I associate Echo Park with brick buildings, and maybe someone unfamiliar with the area would not make that association and would not pick up the book. I also don’t see why the book is being thrust at women. It’s not a womany book. It’s violent and dark, and it’s not like it’s full of romances or menstral cycles or whatever else people like to associate with women. Makes no sense to me. Anyway though, I guess this is proof that we shouldn’t judge books by their covers. And the name Brando Skyhorse is awesome! Sports drink for jockeys? That’s hillarious but unfounded.

  7. When I heard “Echo Park” and “Madonnas” I thought of all the Virgin of Guadalupe murals around town. Not the singer. Now I’m thoroughly confused. I don’t associate her with EP at all.

  8. Madonna’s video for Borderline was filmed in EP.

  9. Certainly it seems not as much work went into the uninspired and uninspiring cover art for Michael Connelly’s 2007 mystery “Echo Park”:


    PS. I think we should all come up with pseudonyms that consist of an actor’s last name, an element from above and an animal. I’ll go first: Flynn Moonbat.

  10. This is such a common result with design by committee.

  11. I’m sure it’s a good book but I’m throwing the penalty flag on the cover and the title. That’s gonna be a 15 yard personal foul on the author, pfffft c’mon, could put a little bit more thought into that one. But coming from someone named Brando Skyhorse what do you expect.

  12. “The final design was intended to appeal to the broadest possible readership” – is marketing speak for “we have no idea who to actually market this book to.” And isn’t that a primary function of marketing? To figure out who they’re selling to? Doesn’t sound like a problem with the design so much as the practices that set the design up to fail miserably at the outset.

  13. @ Will – Good one. You can call me Leigh Starswan.

  14. We posted a video interview with Skyhorse that unveils the new cover at http://echoparkonline.com/profiles/blogs/brando-skyhorse-discusses

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