Book Covers, Celebrity, and “Dumbing Down.”

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.

Categorized:

General Bitching...

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Sparky says:

    The very idea as author as celebrity drives me insane. I hate celebrity status already – I’m nototious for being completely unable to recognise (or care) about even the biggest stars.

    If I follow an author it’s because I like their work – I don’t want to be sold their “brand” ye gods. I don’t want the books I love from the skilled author I stalk to be reworked for “marketability”

    I suppose it’s all part of the “lowest common denominator” appeal that has afflicted television, but is’ depressing

    As to covers – we all know covers are a disaster surely? We read blurbs, sneak a peak between the covers, go off reviews and friend recommendations – but judging covers? There’s a reason we have the saying! I think 90% of people know waaaay better than to worry about the cover of a book

    Actually I’d like some of my books to tone down the covers – sitting in a doctor’s office with oceans of mantitty on display makes me cringe (silly snobbery)

  2. 2
    Teddypig says:

    More Mantitty! In fact let’s give Merriam-Webster a make over.

    I’m thinking a shirtless dude in glasses. What you think?

  3. 3
    GrowlyCub says:

    I don’t read either women’s fiction nor Chick lit.  I’d definitely have passed on this book if I had seen the second cover, but obviously for the wrong reason (would have thought it was chick lit).

    The first cover isn’t clear-cut women’s fiction, but it might not have kept me from reading the back blurb, which the second one most definitely would.  I can see why an author might be upset at having a cartoon cover, if the book is not chick lit, since cartoon covers have become associated with that subgenre, even though I find the idea that women’s fiction is more high brow than chick lit kind of funny in an unfunny way.  So, we get piled on for being women readers and writers and now we are doing it to each other within the genre?  Stellar! :P

    In the end, both covers signal to me that there won’t be anything interesting behind them.

    It’s better I not get really going on the ‘dumbing down’ that started in the mid-90s, because some publishing execs decided us ‘bon-bon eating housewives’ couldn’t hack historical accuracy.

    My blood pressure still rises at the thought of Gellis not getting a contract for more Roselynde books because they were too historically accurate and books with pet racoons and potatoes in 13th century Britain getting published instead.  Or books where the author can’t be bothered to find out how to use titles correctly or where characters act in such an anachronistic fashion my eyes bleed, etc. etc.

  4. 4
    RfP says:

    Bookninja’s contest is the least of it.  Their inspiration is the real-life repackaging of Jane Austen.  The new Headline Books chick lit editions came out in 2006.

  5. 5
    Zumie says:

    I admit, if a book has a pretty cover, chances are I’m going to pick it up. Likewise, if it has a weird title, it was also be checked out. But I also tend to go on recommendations from authors I like a lot, to balance it out.

    Mantitty just makes me giggle and move on, generally.

  6. 6
    Tina C. says:

    Look, as readers, are we or are we not judging books, and authors, by their covers?

    Okay, honestly, if you don’t know an author, what is it that makes you pick up a book you’ve never heard of before?  Proximity to authors you do read?  Divine intervention?  For me, generally, it’s an eye-catching cover.  Sure, sometimes I’ll be grabbed by the title or, in desperation (and if the selection is really small), I’ll read the back of each book, one by one, until I find one that interests me.  It’s much more likely, though, that it will be the cover that caught my attention for some reason, which leads to reading the back cover, which may lead to reading the first few pages, which may lead me to buying it.  Does that make me shallow?  Does that make me “dumb”?

    I’m not saying that you’re saying that, SBSarah, but it certainly seems that Bookninja is (“Are top novelists being rebranded to meet the purchasing habits of an embiggened sector of stupid readers?”), along with the usual condescension towards those of us that *gasp!* read genre fiction instead of non-stupid literary works.  (“So take your favourite literary novelist and “rebrand” one of their titles to appeal to more popular sectors: chicklit, thriller, romance, scifi/fantasy, celebrity kids book, etc.”)

    I’m sorry, I find it a bit insulting, this presumption that anyone that picks up a book because of the cover is “dumber” than the author’s preferred readership.  I would think that an author would want everyone that possibly could read or would read their book to do so, regardless of why the book was picked up originally.  Do I think that every author needs to be “branded”, wrapped up in the appropriate cover, and shipped off to take on the genre ghetto to which it has been assigned—no, obviously not.  But we seem to be missing the point of Carolyn Kellogg’s blog entry and that is that the marketing department was right in the case of Zuzu’s Petals.  While I may not be likely to pick up yet another pink, sassy-girl-out-shopping cover, it DID increase the sales of the book:

    The publisher’s initial cover design—a pastoral with white flowers—received lukewarm reception; an updated version with girly illustrations that look like a slightly quirky Saks ad did much better.  The second cover didn’t really reflect characters in the book, who are older and don’t spend a lot of time strutting with stylish purses, but at least it captured readers’ attention.

    Perhaps I’m missing the point, but isn’t that what an author wants in the end—someone to read their books?  Because, frankly, some of this makes it appear that authors only want the right (ie, not dumb) people reading their books.

  7. 7
    KimberlyD says:

    *raises hand sheepishly* I am attracted to attractive covers and I may not pick up a book with an ugly or boring (IMO) cover. For instance, I like those Jane Austen covers above. I definitely won’t read a book with a crappy premise in the blurb, or I’ll read a few pages to get the feel of a new author. But ultimately, the cute cover is what draws my eye and causes me to pick the book up.

    And I probably miss out on a lot of good romances because I tend to avoid man-titty covers. Before this site, I didn’t know how little choice authors had in their covers. But man-titty covers repel me. Cutesy, artistic, thought-provoking, highly colorful covers draw me in.

  8. 8
    Iasmin says:

    I can honestly confess for romance novels that the cover is the least likely thing to attract me to read it. I read those almost exclusively based on recommendations or merely goign through them one by one and reading the back description. That will draw me more than anything else.

    But is it true for other genres? No, I confess its not. Anything in the sci-fi fantasy arena with good cover art I’m more likely to pick up. And there are a few cover artists that I’ve been known to avoid simply because I loathe their style.

    But the actual content dumbed down? Bah. I don’t believe it. How many young kids were told they couldn’t handle Harry Potter and completely dove in despite the fact that most people thought the books were too old for them?

  9. 9
    RfP says:

    I really don’t care how classics are packaged, but that 2006 Telegraph article I linked above focuses more on the way we *read* Austen.  They get diverted into bitching about covers, but they do make some points I agree with, including that much of the new Austen mania is really about Colin Firth, not Jane Austen, and that it’s been appropriated as a modern paean to female empowerment.  From the Telegraph:

    It has become that dread thing: a woman’s book. Obviously men still read it, but it is hard to imagine them doing so without getting that silly look they would adopt when forced to watch Sex and the City with their wives. This is no longer their territory …

    There is, in fact, a kind of epic wrongness about the recasting – reselling – of Jane Austen as a romantic novelist. It … has led to a desperately etiolated perception of her books. Instead of reading Austen, we are reading our own reading of her; and, in true modern style, what we see in her is ourselves.

    Hence the popularity of Elizabeth Bennet, who resonates particularly because she embodies the contemporary virtue of “being yourself”. … The message taken from her triumph is that any woman can get any man, so long as she values herself sufficiently, and this is a message that most women now demand to hear.

    Actually, there is rather more to Elizabeth than the perfection we behold in her (and ourselves). What, for example, is one to make of her ambiguous joke that she began to love Darcy on “first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley”? Sir Walter Scott, for one, thought she meant exactly what she said; and I think he had a point.

  10. 10
    GrowlyCub says:

    While I may not be likely to pick up yet another pink, sassy-girl-out-shopping cover, it DID increase the sales of the book

    True enough, but how many of these folks will buy another book by this author since they may have had expectations (chick lit) that were not fulfilled by the book?

    The same issue applies to books that are labeled ‘romance’ but do not have either a HEA or HFN ending.  The label may get people to buy the first time, but they might not come back for more if their expectations were disappointed.

    This topic just came up over at Karen’s blog.

    I think there’s a lot of funky cover ‘science’ and labeling going on right now and I can’t say I like it much.

  11. 11
    Melissa S says:

    AHH! You’re asking me to go against my artist gut instinct! I do think the cover art and book design are important, but that’s only because I want to be the one designing them after college. But I can understand the frustration of putting together a story and then having retailers make you simplify everything around that story in order to get it to the consumer.

    Retailers and Publishers don’t think their consumers have smart brain think. This is really what it boils down to. While the author is trying to make a connection with their readers, the publishers feel like they need to translate it for the audience.

  12. 12
    DianeN says:

    Sometimes I feel alone in this, but I frankly don’t care what’s on the covers of books, and that includes couples in a clinch with mucho mantitty shown. Sure, some of them are over the top, and I enjoy good cover art snark as much as the next person, but I’m not influenced to read or not read by how the book LOOKS. I’ve been reading romances (and many other genres, literary fiction included) for so long that I don’t think twice about that. And I also don’t care if people see me reading a book with ripped bodices and heaving loins on the cover. I figure that if someone I don’t know wants to judge me based on what I’m reading—and their own false assumptions and prejudices about it—they’re free to do so. No skin off my nose, you know?  I do agree that perhaps pulling a book with a lurid cover out of my purse to read in church or at some professional event is a bad idea, of course, but anywhere else? Why not? As for the marketing value of cover art, meh. I don’t just pick up the ones with covers that appeal to me. If I have 2 books in hand and I like one cover and think the other one sucks, I am no more likely to buy the pretty one. I decide what to read based on what’s between the covers, not what’s on them!

  13. 13

    True enough, but how many of these folks will buy another book by this author since they may have had expectations (chick lit) that were not fulfilled by the book?

    That’s what occurs to me. However, the sad truth is that retailers don’t really care about what expectations are fulfilled or not, so long as they make their sales…

  14. 14
    Tina C. says:

    True enough, but how many of these folks will buy another book by this author since they may have had expectations (chick lit) that were not fulfilled by the book?

    Okay, it seems to be the assumption from a lot of the people that giving such covers to literary works (I dare say, “real” literature?) causes all these poor, misguided, “stupid” readers who are just trying to get their chick-lit or romance or what-have-you fix to accidentally buy the wrong “product”, as if they meant to get toothpaste and got hemorrhoid cream instead.  However, unless the back cover blurb was completely misleading, for that assumption to be true, the people that bought the book would have had to do so based solely on the cover art.  Seriously, who does that?  Who buys a book solely based on the cover art without reading the back cover on a paperback or the inside flap on a hardback?  Without reading the first couple of pages, even, to see if you like the writing style?  If it was a library book, I might buy the possibility, but we’re not talking about a library book.  We’re talking spending money on something based solely on the cover art.  Isn’t that an incredible leap of logic to make?  To make that grand jete of a leap, you have to assume that anyone who would pick up a book because of that particular cover is so silly and/or so intellectually deficient that they don’t bother to look any further into it to see if this is a book that they want to read.  That strikes me as—and I really hate using this term given the way it’s bandied about in American politics—elitist to make these assumptions.  It’s disrespectful and insulting to assume that the readers who happen to like chick-lit and who happened to pick up this author’s book because of the chick-lit-like cover and who then decided to buy it simply weren’t discerning enough to realize what they were getting and lord knows, there really aren’t enough readers in the world as it is, so should we be insulting and disrespecting them?

  15. 15
    Jennie says:

    Aren’t crappy covers the reason fabric book covers were designed in the first place?

  16. 16
    Silver James says:

    Dumbing down? Uhm…yeah. I still have a rejection letter in my files from the early nineties. From a well-known publisher, the letter stated that my writing was too sophisticated for their general readership. *blinkblink* Happily, things have changed somewhat within the genre as a whole and there are smart, sophisticated plots within the romance genre now.

    Book covers. What a can of worms! I am more likely to be turned off by a book cover than provoked into picking the book up for perusal. I don’t mind mantitty but anything juvenile or “Hello Kitty” makes me skip on by without a second glance. Titles catch my eye.

    The Billionaire’s Secret Mistress’s Secret Lover’s Secret Baby

    would send me running in the opposite direction.

    Keeping Secrets

    ? I would pull the book out and at least look at the blurbs. Unless it had a cutesy cover. Color me mature. Well, except for the mantitty.

  17. 17
    GrowlyCub says:

    Tina,

    I’ve picked up books after carefully checking out the labeling, reading the blurbs and starting on the first chapter which all clearly indicated the book to be one thing and then ended up hating it because it was not what all those indicators proclaimed it to be (in my case, it promised to be romance but had a tragic ending or ended up with the couple separated, or horrible things happening to them).  I don’t think having been snookered makes me less intelligent, it shows the advertiser lied to get a sale.  And as far as I’m concerned it was the last one ever and I’m not shy about telling other people about that experience to keep them from suffering the same disappointment and thereby potentially costing that publisher more sales.

    The same goes for covers.  I haven’t read the blurb for this particular women’s fiction book, but since blurbs are in general completely useless and deliberately vague in an effort to appeal to as many people as possible while not including any buzzwords that might turn people off it’s not impossible to assume that it’s generic enough that a reader who’s browsing might not pick up on the fact that the cover is promising one thing and the content is something else.  That has nothing to do with the buyer’s intelligence and everything to do with advertising shorthand that we are all trained to recognize and which serves a useful purpose if it delivers what it promises.

    Romance – HEA
    mystery – there’s a puzzle/crime and the good guy/gal solves it
    thriller – the hero saves the world from a terrible danger
    SF – weird/cool stuff happens in the future/alternate reality
    fantasy – good triumphs over evil
    literature – you will feel bad and/or inferior after you finish reading (ok, so I’m a reverse snob, what can I say? :)  Not all books in a genre can be reduced to this simple shorthand, but a vast majority can.

    Marketing is meant to manipulate us and sometimes we ‘fall’ for it and buy something we won’t enjoy.  Does that make us less intelligent?  I don’t think so.  My point was that I want as much truth in advertising as I can get and that includes not putting labels, covers or blurbs on a book that brand it as something it’s not.  It’s a two way street.  The publishers want my money and I expect them to deliver what they promised via their marketing shorthand.

  18. 18

    Perhaps I’m missing the point, but isn’t that what an author wants in the end—someone to read their books?  Because, frankly, some of this makes it appear that authors only want the right (ie, not dumb) people reading their books.

    Yes, this is exactly it.

    The publisher is not interested in connecting you with your perfect set of desirable readers. The publisher is interested in selling every book possible to the highest number of consumers. It’s a business.

    I know I say this over and over again, but it’s true. The published book is a product. Commercial or commissioned art or a mix of the two, but it’s something you sell. If you want to preserve your artistic integrity, don’t sell your work.

    I’m sorry. Maybe I’m just brutally capitalistic, but I understand that my publisher buys my book to make money, not to stroke my artistic hard on. And the publisher does not design covers to offend the sensibilities of people like me who don’t like man-titty, they do it because the mantitty sells more books regardless of how I might like it to be.

    God, I feel mean.

  19. 19
    ME2 says:

    Apparently I am in the VAST minority seeing as I have never bough a book because of the cover .  Nor have I not bought a book because of the cover. 

    I have to say that I am so happy for blogs and the internet because it turns out more people are far more anal retentive than I thought I was and/or have been told I am.  Yay me!

  20. 20

    I mean this “All my publisher cares about is selling more books!” drives me insane. Yes, that is what they care about. Maybe not your individual editor, but if we’re talking about the pub as a whole… It’s called the bottom line.

    I am NOT saying that the writer should assume this attitude. I’m saying don’t be surprised that it’s a business.

  21. 21
    Lexie says:

    I work in a library and I just shelved the Zuzu’s Petals with the first cover and assumed it was a depressingly serious, learn-from-my-pain type of book.  The second cover makes me want to go back and pick it up. I tend to enjoy quickies…um, easy reads- humor -nothing overly heavy or depressing.  If I’m reading something serious, I want to know ahead of time. (I’m still planning vengeance on the friend who recommended Atonement.)

    I’m much less selective about what I bring home from the library as opposed to what I purchase. So, I’d definitely take a library book based on the cover alone.  But when I’m paying, I’m definitely going to read the back, the jacket, a few pages…then decide.

  22. 22
    GrowlyCub says:

    Victoria,

    I understand that your publisher wants to make money and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I do believe they’d like to make money on not just one book by you but many and to do that your books have to deliver on the expectations your publisher creates with their advertising.

    Your books are actually a case in point on why good marketing is so important.  I would have *never* picked up either of them to peruse the blurbs in a store or bought them if I hadn’t seen the positive reviews of the second one.  I bought it IN SPITE of the cover and title and several of the reviews I read started out saying something like ‘don’t let the cover/title scare you off’.

    That does seem to imply that you might have lost sales due to cover and title.  It’s entirely possible that sales lost by folks who share my preferences are much smaller than the sales won by readers who like mantitty covers.
    But I always suspects it’s the chicken vs the egg thing going on.  Are the covers selling the books or are readers buying because that the covers the books come in?

    Btw, I’m not picking on you, I really enjoyed ARGTP and I bought TTAS because of that enjoyment and I hope to read more books by you in the future.

    As far as I’m concerned I’m buying most romance titles in spite of their atrocious covers and titles, because of reviews or prior experience with the author’s writing.  I rarely do impulse buys/browsing (mostly because I live 60 miles from the closest bookstore) for which covers will indeed be the initial hook that determines whether or not I even look at a blurb/first chapter.

  23. 23
    Tina C. says:

    I’ve picked up books after carefully checking out the labeling, reading the blurbs and starting on the first chapter which all clearly indicated the book to be one thing and then ended up hating it because it was not what all those indicators proclaimed it to be (in my case, it promised to be romance but had a tragic ending or ended up with the couple separated, or horrible things happening to them).  I don’t think having been snookered makes me less intelligent, it shows the advertiser lied to get a sale.

    Yeah, it’s happened to me, too.  Oh, and don’t even get me started on The Nanny Diaries, the “hilarious” tale of heinous people doing heinous things.  God, I hated that book and no, I didn’t think it was funny, let alone “hilarious”.  I wasn’t trying to say that you, personally, or anyone else that has been snookered by slick advertising and mislabeling to think a book is something it isn’t is lacking intelligence. 

    I was trying to say that many people seem to assume that there is something intellectually deficient with people that initially pick up a book because they like a particular cover.  At least, that’s how I took the Bookninja’s blog entry, since it started with “Are top novelists being rebranded to meet the purchasing habits of an embiggened sector of stupid readers?”  (And I have to think that “top novelists” means “novelists writing real books” as opposed to “best-selling novelists”, or why would their respective marketing departments be trying to “rebrand” them?).  I also think that many do assume that people that like certain genres aren’t discerning enough or intelligent enough (barring completely misleading marketing) to realize what they are getting if a literary book gets a genre-like cover, but I’m sorry that I was reading you as assuming that. 

    However, I don’t think that everyone that picks up the chick-lit’ed-up Zuzu’s Petals is going to feel cheated.  Instead, I think that perhaps they will greatly enjoy it and will have discovered a new author they would not have known about otherwise, if not for the chick-lit’y cover.  Perhaps some will feel cheated if it doesn’t meet their expections for that particular genre, but I think you can’t assume that they all will.  If the author is good and the story is engrossing, in my opinion, that makes up for a lot in terms of “expectation”.  Silent in the Grave, by Deanna Raybourn, was marketed as a romance but it should probably be considered more of a mystery with romantic tendencies.  It doesn’t have a lot of the romance conventions and I might have been disappointed about that, considering I picked it up thinking it was a romance.  However, the writing, the story, the language, the everything, is so very good!  I added Raybourn to my “must-buy” list because of that book.

    Again, I’m sorry to have insulted you.  That wasn’t my intention.

  24. 24
    willa says:

    A publisher won’t make money on a book if they trick the reader into buying it, the reader finds out the book is nothing like it was billed as, and gets a refund.

    A cover should accurately reflect the book it is on. A cover that lies about the content is a bad idea.

    I don’t know about that ZUZU’S PETALS book—I can see that the first cover has a blurb that it’s “Side-splittingly funny.” That first cover certainly doesn’t LOOK like the cover of a side-splittingly funny book. The second cover looks more like it. So in this case, perhaps the second cover is a better choice because it better reflects the content. Possibly. Since I haven’t read it, I can’t say for sure.

    And Tina C., I disagree. (Ha, that rhymes!) It’s not a case of thinking that dumb people will read a smart book and get mad. It’s more a case of wanting a book that is one thing, and getting something else entirely. I know that if I get a book that looks hilarious and fun and bouncy and rollicking and instead I get a book about death and misery and complete humorlessness, I’ll be mad. I might even really enjoy the book—but I’ll still be mad about the switcheroo.

    As to whether readers are really that “dumb,” there is actually a law that states that someone cannot design a book to look like another book—in other words, you cannot design a book and title a book to make it look like THE GODFATHER, with the same cover elements, the same typography, and almost the same title, because someone will pick up the book thinking it is THE GODFATHER, when it is not. Are people really that “dumb?” The law says so.

  25. 25
    GrowlyCub says:

    Tina,

    no problem.  I hadn’t followed the bookninja link and was talking at a different angle from/to? you. :)

    As far as the advertisers thinking we are all dumb as goal posts, yes, I do believe they do and in my more despairing moments I think they aren’t too far off, after all Janet Dailey still has ‘the #1 bestselling female author in North America and third bestselling author in the world’ on her website, and Cassie Edwards has a 100 books in print regardless of the fact that either cannot be bothered to use their own words.

    Anybody know if Dailey’s claim is really true?  But I digress.

    You are most certainly right that some readers might pick up a book expecting one thing and while not getting that finding a new author that they will follow from then on.  I’d lie if I said that never happened to me.

    The marketing/labeling issue is one of my hot buttons, grin, and I’ve become a lot narrower in my reading preferences over the last year (I took a 5-6 year hiatus starting in the late 90s from romance because I couldn’t find anything I wanted to read any longer), so I react very negatively when I don’t get what I sign up for.  Most readers are probably a lot more forgiving. :)

    Sorry I got a bit heated.  Didn’t mean to!

  26. 26

    That does seem to imply that you might have lost sales due to cover and title.  It’s entirely possible that sales lost by folks who share my preferences are much smaller than the sales won by readers who like mantitty covers.

    Don’t worry, I don’t feel picked on, I promise! I think my covers are a really good example of this, actually! As a reader, I don’t care for clinch covers. I LOVED IT when pubs started trying out the beautiful flowery/tapestry type of covers. LOVED IT! And those covers still work great for authors with A Name. But editors will tell you over and over again that, in general, they don’t sell nearly as well as clinch covers. It’s their job to know.

    I don’t think it’s hard to see that they’ve tried different types of covers. If they put out two brand-new authors, one with a beautiful, subtle cover and one with a brazen clinch cover… Well, they only need to do that experiment a few times to come up with their answer.

    Is there a market for beautiful, subtle covers? Absolutely. That’s why you see them. Is there a market for clinch covers? HELL YEAH. And it has nothing to do with whether or not you or I personally like it.

    Let me be clear about one thing though. I don’t want to portray myself as a writer who cares nothing for quality and only wants to make money. I have a series of 3 books I may never sell. My most recent editor read them and said, “Don’t you think the light humor doesn’t work with all the darkness of the plot?” My answer was, “No. It’s my favorite thing about the books, actually.” No sale. No problem. I don’t want to change those books, so they may never sell. But I’m not going to change them and then whine about how my pub doesn’t respect my art!

  27. 27
    Victoria Dahl says:

    And after all that bitchery, I need to back up a little. I’m speaking specifically of the author relationship with the publisher. Every reader has a right to her own cover preferences. I know I do. Just don’t assume pubs use clinch covers because they think you’re dumb! They don’t care if you’re dumb. *g*

    And, yeah, misleading covers are one thing. But you can have a flowery cover for a historical romance or a clinch cover, but neither is misleading. And yeah, if that Zuzu’s Petals is FUNNY, the artistic cover was the misleading one! Yikes.

  28. 28

    It’s their job to know.

    God, can you tell I’m supposed to be writing? Someone tell me to shut the hell up and go away.

    I think my statement above sounds totally condescending. But what I meant was, sometimes I think it’s their ONLY job. If I can’t trust that they know more about marketing and sales than I do, then what’s the point of signing with a publisher? I could self pub and do it myself. And people do choose that route.

  29. 29
    Vuir says:

    While I may not be likely to pick up yet another pink, sassy-girl-out-shopping cover, it DID increase the sales of the book

    This can’t be proven.  Bookstores ordered more books and promoted the title more heavily, but that doesn’t mean that more paying customers will buy the chick lit cover, than would have bought the old one.

    Presumably, the stores will return a lot of the unsold books when the promotion ends.

  30. 30
    Suze says:

    In fact let’s give Merriam-Webster a make over

    Teddypig, I think you’re on to something.  A pictorial dictionary, featuring mantitty.  The Merriam-Webster Mantitty Dictionary.  We could cure everyone of using “prone” inappropriately by having a picture of a toothsome male demonstrating the position.  I’d buy it.  (Also the supine position…)

    I LOVED IT when pubs started trying out the beautiful flowery/tapestry type of covers. LOVED IT! And those covers still work great for authors with A Name. But editors will tell you over and over again that, in general, they don’t sell nearly as well as clinch covers. It’s their job to know.

    This is definitely true for me.  I like the classy covers on books by authors I already know and trust, but mantitty covers catch my eye and tell me what kind of story to expect, if I don’t already know the author.  No so much clinch covers, but mannequin covers.

    I like the covers that show the torso, or whole body, but cut the head off, so that I can insert my own interpretation and not have the model’s features inflicted on me.  No out-dated hairstyles or questionable makeup can be seen if there’s no head above the jaw.

    Actually, Suzanne Brockmann’s first Troubleshooters book had this kind of cover with, one assumes, Tom Paoletti as the torso, and not showing his balding head.  I wouldn’t have picked it up if it had shown a balding hero.

    In categories, the covers are all essentially the same, and what causes me to pick up a given category (in order to peruse the back blurb) is a) author’s name and b) title.  Some I don’t pick up at all, regardless, because I don’t like the line (e.g. Steeple Hill.  blech.)

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that, yes, covers must be eye-catching in order to attract my attention so that I pick a book up out of the crowd.  But you can’t please everyone, so stick to the conventions of the genre at the very least, and hope for the best.

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