Judging a book by its cover


This really interesting article explores the way in which books are marketed towards certain people at different times of the year. While it is a valid point, I feel like I must point out some flaws in its argument.

For starters, Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North was published in paperback in March 2015. Now, while it’s a bit of a known fact that shops start preparing for seasons long before they are actually upon us, Christmas being the prime example. However, while Christmas is indeed the most important season for retail workers, I’m afraid the rest of the year is not factored on quite the same scale. While we do prepare in advance for all of the major Bank Holidays and dates such as Valentines Day, these preparations don’t begin as early as when we are in the build up for Christmas.

Because of this the cover of The Narrow Road to the Deep North being altered for a March release does not particularly signify a build up to summer, but instead perhaps a shift in the target market in the book. In short, I believe that the covers for the books mentioned in the above article were changed not due to the season, but due to the fact that the publishers wanted to make sure they appealed to both men and women alike, whereas (and this is purely from my own observations) the starker, more symbolic covers tended to be more appealing to a higher market or male customers.

The article does beg the question which has been asked for years- Do we judge a book by its cover?

It’s an age old cliché that we really shouldn’t, but the reality of the situation is that yes, we do. Or at least we tend to more often than not.

Why would a woman on the cover of The Narrow Road to the Deep North make it seem more appealing to women? It’s simple- a woman on the cover has a tenancy to imply that there is a strong love story in the novel. And, I hate to say it, but romance stories do tend to be more popular with women than novels without a hint of it.

As for the comment: “…if jackets show women’s whole faces or bodies they repel readers…” I very strongly disagree. The article points out that Ali Smith’s How to be Both is the only book out at the moment that shows women face-on, but this simply isn’t true. While there aren’t many, there are definitely more than the one. For example there is Alison Weir’s The Marriage Game, Winston Graham’s Demelza Poldark, Nick Hornby’s Funny Girl  and Fannie Flagg’s The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion all have women looking directly at the reader, have all been published in the last couple of months and have all been selling steadily.

Sorry Guardian, but putting a sultry woman on the cover of a book doesn’t sex it up for summer, and it certainly doesn’t mean that putting a woman face-on on a cover wouldn’t work. The basic truth is that publishers and authors alike want their novels to seem mysterious, to draw people into reading them. The half turn/half glance sultry look isn’t trying to be sexy, it’s trying to show that there is some type of mystery to be unveiled or secret to come out. And that is what draws in readers- people love a good mystery, even if it’s simply “Why does she look unhappy?”

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