Over at the LA Times book blog, Carolyn Kellogg examines the dilemma of cover art, and making sure that literary fiction novels sell … perhaps at the expense of being taken seriously from a visual perspective.
Citing evidence such as GalleyCat’s side by side comparison of Sue Hepworth’s Zuzu’s Petals, and Bookninja’s contest to recast classic novels to appeal to popular markets like “romance, chick lit, thriller, scifi, fantasy, celebrity kids, etc”, Kellogg’s entry follows a 7 October article in The Independent that questions whether authors are being asked to “dumb down” their work to appeal to a larger readership.
Sarah Dunant is quoted in the article touching on something that has captured my attention for months now: the use of any and all celebrity on the part of the author to market a book: “Looking at publishing … it has been saturated with the notion of the creation of celebrity as a marketing opportunity … There has to be a box, a place they can put you. I just find it annoying but it doesn’t stop me from writing exactly what I wish to write. This conversation between Margaret Drabble and myself was part of the larger observation that everything needs to be packaged, that writers cannot be who they are.”
Dame Margaret Drabble is quoted, “I write literary novels but I can sense my publishers have difficulty in selling me as a genre … whether in literary fiction, or women’s fiction or shopping fiction. They don’t quite know whether I’m highbrow or literary….”
Brain is exploding, here. Point the first: the culture of celebrity affecting authors seems to only be growing, and I wonder at what point this fixation on celebrity and author-as-product will reach its apex and die the hell down already.
Point the second: visual recasting of novels? The Zuzu’s Petals example is fascinating. I didn’t think the first cover what all that awful, but apparently cartoon cherry blossoms and lithe women carrying mammoth handbags really captured bookstore retailers attention. I don’t necessarily see how that’s “dumbing down,” unless cartoon + obvious marketing ploy to women = dumbing down.
So retailers are still dictating title promotion and sale? If it looks good, it will be featured prominently? So will every novel go the way of older historicals, and sell with man-titty clinch covers up and down the bookshelves? I mean, if it works for older Gore Vidal novels what can it do for Oprah and Dan Brown? Ultimately, it’ll be a question for the ages – what should be bigger on the cover: the authors name, or the big buxom man titty?
Look, as readers, are we or are we not judging books, and authors, by their covers? I mean, if we’re going to be handed a superficial set of requirements as gatekeepers to our browsing selection, let’s just own it already and openly only sell books that that come with a solid cover art sample and, for God’s sake, a Botoxed author headshot with as much airbrushing as possible. It’s not the book – it’s the celebrity potential of the book image and the author image combined that move sales.
Now, who wants to slap a man-titty on their favorite non-man-tittied novel?
Thanks to Jane from DA for the heads up.