Shipley's piece is so spot-on that I hope she doesn't mind if I quote from it at some length:
'When we look at a book, its cover tells us what to expect. A pink paperback featuring a smiling young woman is most likely a female-centric summer read, whereas a gun on a black background is probably a murder story. A few simple aesthetic rules narrow our options, make life easier and ensure none of us has to wander Waterstone's for hours, wailing in confusion. And yet the rules seem to be changing.
Having cottoned on to the fact that chick lit books sell like cupcakes, publishers are now adding chick lit-style covers to any book written by a woman whether it fits the genre definition or not.
Fay Weldon has spoken out against the use of chick lit branding on her books as she feels it's misleading to readers. And I've talked to several authors of contemporary fiction who hate the way their books have been similarly marketed: one pleaded with her publisher to change her covers, to no avail.
Instead, books aimed at women are becoming increasingly homogenised, girly and bland-looking.
Rosy Thornton's Hearts and Minds has been described as a book which "tackles some very pertinent contemporary issues in education as well as [a] tangle of moral dilemmas" in a large scale, 19th century-style drama. It sounds positively Dickensian, and yet it would be hard to find a book that looked more like a light romantic comedy. '
To read the full article, click here:
Rosy Thornton herself, in a post on Vulpes Libris, said (slightly tongue in cheek, but, given the awful, misleading cover her publishers have imposed on her own novel, perhaps only very slightly so!):
'Cover design is the enemy of the level playing field: the insidious perpetuator of stereotypical assumptions. Look at that figure-in-a-landscape in oils: Literature. Look at that soft focus photograph of a child’s feet: Fiction. In my brave new world (Aldous Huxley: Literature) all publishers would be obliged to turn out novels in plain brown covers, bearing only the title and the author’s name – rather like those lovely old orange Penguin paperbacks which filled my parents’ bookshelves.'
Ahh, yes, the old Penguin paperbacks - has anything ever touched their perfect, democratising design? I very much doubt it. And how we loved the celebratory re-issues. And how we rushed to buy (or at least rushed to add to our wish lists) all the gorgeous must-have Penguin merchandise.Plain, simple, truthful covers.
The same could be said of Persephone books , which have an army of adoring fans and collectors, who delight in the books' understated, uniform, ultra-cool and tasteful covers.
Book covers matter hugely. We do judge books by their covers. Maybe we shouldn't, but we do. As this recent report pointed out. And here's a blog review I landed on the other day which couldn't have illustrated this more clearly.
Readers of good, thoughtful fiction appreciate good, thoughtful covers on their books. And they don't take kindly to being patronised or manipulated by publishers and their design and marketing departments.
Long-time visitors to Musings will be used to my rants about covers ever since I reviewed this book and mentioned (right at the end of the review) how very much I hated its deeply ghastly cover (for the same kind of reasons I hated the cover of Hearts and Minds - ie it entirely belies the nature of the novel and does a huge disservice both to the author and to potential buyers). The whole issue has become a frequent and long-running topic on the author's blog which is all very amusing but it's also a deadly serious point for a 'mid-list' author for whom every single sale counts.
Ah well, I must climb down from my hobbyhorse and try to relax because I've a very busy day ahead of me tomorrow.
But . . . before I go, I absolutely must add that one of the very best blogs I've discovered in recent months is Caustic Cover Critic (subtitled 'one man's endless ranting about book design'). Though he can be pretty caustic about lazy, sloppy or just plain bad book covers, the Caustic Critic actually offers a constant flow of fascinating posts about the art and design of books. Always full of insight, not just about the covers but the contents of the books as well - because he is fabulously well read and an erudite literary critic as well as a design historian.
If you haven't already discovered this blog (and for all I know, I may be so out of touch that I'm the last person on earth to have done so), for a sample of what this guy is about, I'd recommend this one and this one.