Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Book Cover Manifesto

For those of you who have been reading my blog for a while, you probably know that I talk a lot about book covers.  During the year or so that I've been blogging, I have:

  1. Ranted about the Bell Jar cover
  2. Ranted about book covers that try to piggy-back on the success of a certain teenage vampire romance series
  3. Talked about how, even though it might not be the best idea in real life, judging a book by it's cover can be a good idea

However, I have recently realized that my thoughts on the topic are scattered, and occasionally contradictory.  This is partially due to the fact that my opinions about the topic have changed in the last year.  I've also generally brought it up in relation to something else.  So I've been largely skirting around it, and this probably makes things unclear.

So, I decided to write one post that would try and set down in clear terms what I think about this topic; a sort of Book Cover Manifesto.

Firstly, book covers matter.  They form part of the media that constantly surrounds us, and while I've never heard of anyone radically changing after seeing a book cover, they do influence the way we think about particular books, writers and even wider issues.

Secondly, while you can draw conclusions about a particular book from the cover, the relationship between in a book cover and it's contents is probabilistic.  If a book has a brightly coloured cover with sparkles on it, it probably is a largely positive book with a happy ending.  Not certainly, but probably.

One of the primary tasks of a book cover is to sell books.  I don't think that this is necessarily a bad thing, but it is the place where a lot of the things that annoy me about book covers start to creep in.  When the book cover is designed to sell the book, then sometimes the final design decisions are based not on what the book is about, but the aspects that are supposed to sell it. Sometimes it can be as simple as the publisher thinking that the author is famous enough to sell the book on their name alone, so they'll print it really prominently on the cover.  Or that people want to read a certain kind of book, so we should pretend that this book is like all of those other bestsellers. However, sometimes this can reflect more pernicious attitudes about particular genres, writers, or audiences.

"Boys won't read it if they think that a woman wrote it."

"It's just a kid's book."

Finally, if we want to change book covers, the best way to do so is to think about them and talk about them.

Other people thinking and talking about book covers