So, the emperor wore no clothes, and everyone pretended he did, because he was the emperor. Of course, this experience doesn't translate into the real world. No one wants to see you naked. And the same goes for an author's book, naked to the world on publishing day, with "clothes" that the buying public will either see or ignore.
We are visual creatures, aren't we? When we order a dish at a restaurant, and it looks like mush, the odds are, it tastes that way, too. Ah, but when it arrives in a neat stack, perhaps with something savory drizzled artistically around the plate, then we think, yes, THIS is going to be worth every dime. When we visit someone's house for the first time, and there are empty soda cans everywhere layered with dust, we seriously question the limits of our loyalty to this person. Most of us can't help it. We are trained to trust our eyes.
And so it goes with book covers. There is, of course, the old line: You can't judge a book by its cover. Never was a truer thing said. Consider the cover for Marilynne Robinson's GILEAD. Could there be anything more boring or unappealing? And yet, the novel is damn perfect. PERFECT. Everyone should read GILEAD and fall off their chairs every few sentences as I did (ouch, by the way). But that cover. God, it's terrible. Amid a table of colorful novels, GILEAD disappears.
Perhaps it's a peeve of mine (the literary, boring cover) only because the hardcover edition of my book, LOVE AND GHOST LETTERS, though lovely and haunting, was absolutely invisible on the shelves. I remember going into Barnes and Noble and missing it on the shelf. My eye, trained to love the damn thing, skipped right over it. The paperback cover was better, ultimately, and people seemed to like it.
As a first time author, I didn't have a say in the cover. To be honest, when I first saw it, I was besotted by it and in no way able to think about what having a simple, white cover means in terms of sales. I'd like to think I know better now, would be able to find the brave voice in me to speak up about securing the best image to represent my work. Only time and a second book deal will tell (are you lighting candles for me and my little manuscript now out in the world? Please do).
What covers pull me in? Well, THE LIFE OF PI, that had a good one. And love it or hate it, the TWILIGHT series' covers are bright and evocative. THREE BAGS FULL, about detective sheep (yep, detective sheep. And a beautiful book, too) is one I bought because of its cover. And DREAMING IN CUBAN, the novel that got me writing novels in the first place, has an exquisite cover, so exquisite, that a rock band, whose name I forget, would later steal it for their CD art.
So, the moral of the story is: just because readers shouldn't judge your book by its cover doesn't mean they won't. If you are an author with contract in hand, demand the right "clothes" for your "emperor." If you are in the process of writing, start gathering images now. Even if they aren't useful later, they'll serve as inspiration today. And if you are going to Barnes and Noble, or your favorite bookstore today, do us starving artists a favor--at the very least, turn that boring looking book around and read the back cover material. You might be surprised to find that you underestimated a gem.
Cross-posted at Yucababy.blogspot.com
Causes Chantel Acevedo Supports
St. Jude's Hospital
Save the Children