Book Covers Are Judging Me

Sometimes it feels like the publishing industry has us all boxed off into dastardly delineated categories. We are either readers of crime, science fiction, sports autobiographies, or bird-watching manuals, but never all four. Everything must be packaged according to its genre, and there are labelling rules.

  Generic Crime CoverChick-lit novels use loopy fonts, and have caricatures of shoes and dresses on the cover. Crime covers must be on a background of either black or white, and feature a gate, road, or implement of indeterminate ability to cause head trauma. Literary fiction covers depict shadowy figures facing away from you – but you know without even looking any way closely, that they’re pretty damned sad on a deep, metaphysical level (that is, when they take a short break from ennui).

Genre covers have to look the same, you see, because readers are stupid. And if we don’t recognise our genre within 2 seconds of approaching a bookshelf we will be distracted by hunger, fatigue, or something moderately shiny, and walk away without buying any books at all.

Book Couture

To add insult to injury, public perception affects us as readers too, because we become defined by what publishers decide for us, whether we agree with it or not. Books are as much an item of fashion – intellectual fashion, if you like – as any handbag or coat. We all make judgements about each other based on appearance, and whatever we’re seen to be reading forms part of that judgement.

 Generic Chick-Lit CoverWhen I started reading Harry Potter, I used to keep it open flat down on my lap on the bus because I didn’t want people to see me reading a children’s’ book. (Ah, look, I was in my 20s, and far too concerned about what random passers-by weren’t thinking about me; plus, Harry Potter hadn’t become cool for grown-ups yet. If that sounds like I’m trying to make myself out to be some sort of daft hipsterish trendsetter, I totally wasn’t. I just never got over my love of children’s books. I’d still sell my granny for a decent fairytale.)

But I still don’t want what I’m reading to be advertised. Just like a fashionista might not want to be seen in last year’s nose clips, or an indie guitar prince wouldn’t be seen dead at a One Direction concert, I don’t want to be defined merely as a fan of whatever I happen to be reading on one particular day, because I am a book snob. I don’t like that I am. But I am.

The Multi-Book Strategy

I might protest that I’d defend my right to read frothy formulaic romance to the bitter end, yet I’d be mortified to meet someone for the first time whilst holding one. So I employ the multi-book strategy.

My current bus/handbag book is terrifically intelligent looking. It was written by an exotic Easterner and sports a ten-word title that positively screams out how smart I think I am. I am enjoying it, but I’m also finding it easy to put it down whenever I have to.

On the other hand, on my bedside table lies a book which is interfering with sensible bedtime; a torrid romance between two people who are perfectly lovely in every way, except for how stupid they are about each other and how obvious it is to everyone except themselves that they will be getting married quite shortly.

Just like underwear and gloopy spot cream, both are essential for my daily life, but only one is ever allowed to be on my person when I leave the house.

 Generic Book Cover for RomanceOn another snobbery-related note, I don’t like publishers deciding that the book with the great story and fascinating characters is exactly the same as another crap one with the same cover. Not all genre fiction deserves the same packaging, but that’s marketing for you.

I wish my books had interchangeable covers which I could switch according to my mood, or according to which persona I feel like projecting at the time. But until I transfer to 100% e-Reader usage – which is unlikely – I’m stuck with juggling my public and private reading selves.

Are you a self-professed book snob? What do you refrain from reading in public?


  43 comments for “Book Covers Are Judging Me

  1. April 22, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    I’m totally with you on the sometimes lamentable cover art seen at every turn (particularly that odious ‘white couple staring into one another’s eyes with their foreheads touching’ trope so often seen on Nicholas Sparks-type novels), but we diverge on the topic of public and private reading personas. I mainly read children’s books and I read them anywhere – I care not who sees me. Fiddlefaddle. I will, however, always check out what other people are reading and silently wonder whether we could ever be friends based on the books we happen to be clutching at the particular moment in time when we meet. Sometimes I mourn the friendships manqués I could have had with people who were unlucky enough to be reading ‘Atlas Shrugged’ or ‘Mein Kampf’ beside me on the bus.

    Or, maybe not.

    Anyway. I enjoyed the post, as always! 🙂


    • April 22, 2014 at 4:44 pm

      I agree completely on the ‘could we be friends’ snap judgement – that’s so true! Except nobody would ever be my friend on the bus or the tram after they see me
      1) craning my neck to try and see the front cover and/or title of what they’re reading
      2) reading over their shoulder to see if it’s any good or
      3) muttering under my breath about why can’t they turn the bloody page already because my stop is coming up
      Anyway, if anyone spots me on public transport after this, there’s no need to put your guard up, I’m harmless. Most of the time 😉


      • April 22, 2014 at 5:03 pm

        I’d share the page with you. Sharing is caring after all. And a budding friendship would have blossomed on the creaking seats. Ah, the urban life.

        Liked by 1 person

        • April 22, 2014 at 5:11 pm

          Aw, thanks! I hope what you’re sharing is decent quality literature, though. As I said, I am a snob 😉


      • April 22, 2014 at 6:10 pm

        You remind me of myself… 😀


  2. April 22, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    Ha! I dare anyone to catch me reading a frilly book, I keep it a secret even from myself 😉
    However, I wouldn’t mind reading this on the train


    • April 22, 2014 at 5:10 pm

      I think every reader has stuff they don’t admit to, whether to themselves or anyone else… The only thing that 50 Shades did, was bring the shame briefly out in the open! We’re all back in the closet now, though!


      • April 22, 2014 at 5:54 pm

        True. I think it’s about time we acknowledged that even that respectable physics professor with the pressed suit at day might be engaging in a heated Edward vs Jacob debate at night. Really, in this new world, we never know.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. April 22, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    With my publishing history (Harlequin Mills & Boon) I can’t afford to be a snob but I do think covers vary from country to country.

    I once had a story (contemporary, set partly in Indonesian holiday island, partly in London) with at least 3 covers:
    1) Doris Day and square jawed chap, complete with picket fence (US and Canada);
    2)distant waif in v. loose frock,shades of Emanuelle, no man in shot (Scandinavia);
    3) butterfly landing on rapeseed plant, no people present (Japan)

    Have to admit it took a certain amount of squaring the shoulders to acknowledge Doris Day in public.

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 22, 2014 at 9:25 pm

      What the… how in heaven’s name did they come up with the different marketing for those territories?? So now we know that the Japanese hate people, and North Americans never stop wanting it to be 1950. I must remember that in the future for the marketing of everything.

      And I think it’s a shame that M&B romance is the victim of snobbery. Most people have no concept of how difficult it is to write a successful romance, especially for the big publishing houses… you should be proud.


  4. April 22, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    Sorry.meant to say great post, and love the comments.


    • April 22, 2014 at 9:26 pm

      Thank you Jenny. You score 1,000 points for that 😉


  5. April 22, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    I love this and I agree. I think book covers are as boring as hell which is why I tried to do something different with mine. I wanted to give pointers as to the things I like,, which influenced the book. I reckon that a reader looking at those would pick up clues and be able to tell far more about whether they’d like the book than if they just saw a monochrome picture with an olive green, street light orange, teal blue or red overlay.

    Then again, I’m weird like that. What draws me to book covers is the lettering.




    • April 22, 2014 at 9:31 pm

      I don’t think that’s weird at all. I’ve actually been put off what could have been great books because the font made it look amateur, or confusing. That, and the title, go a long way towards making me pick it up to read the back in the first place, so if I’m not attracted by those 2 elements, it’ll never get bought.

      I love odd or different book covers though, and I love yours. They’re eye-catching but in a way that makes you want to read the blurb, which is all that counts. Very nice work!


      • April 24, 2014 at 9:52 am

        Ooo. I feel all warm and fuzzy now. Thank you. I agree that if the cover looks rubbish, I will be wary starting to read – although I will take a chance on a slightly shonky cover if the title and blurb are good.




  6. April 22, 2014 at 7:19 pm

    I think if anyone saw me reading Jeffrey Archer or Dan Brown, I’d kill myself.

    But then, if I ever found myself reading Jeffrey Archer or Dan Brown, I’d kill myself.

    I did try (to read them–not to kill myself). I couldn’t believe so many people could be so wrong. They are, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 22, 2014 at 9:33 pm

      I know. But readers only like them because they were told to, by the machine. You know that.

      Although if I knew how to make the machine tell people to like my stuff, when it comes out, I’m pretty sure I’d think they were right. Funny that!


  7. scarlettparrish
    April 22, 2014 at 9:11 pm

    Movie tie-in covers. I hate the thought that people might think, “She’s only reading that because the film’s out soon/was out recently.” I want to tell people “I was a bookworm long before this was filmed. Honest!”

    Not that anyone cares. But I fully admit to being a movie tie-in cover snob.

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 22, 2014 at 9:43 pm

      Yep, totally on the same page (groan) with you there. I hate that people think I’m only reading something because it’s the dreaded word – popular, and movie popular is the worst.

      It’s terrible in particular having that “I knew about this before any of you Philistines ever heard of it” feeling when you are actually only reading something AFTER it’s become popular. I read Gone Girl only last summer after it’d been in the bestseller list for a besquillion years, and I have to say I kinda felt dirty.


  8. April 23, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    Reblogged this on theowlladyblog.


  9. April 23, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Meet New (to me) Authors Blog and commented:
    Author Tara Sparling makes a good point about book covers, why not call over to her blog and tell her about your viewpoint 😀


  10. Rebecca Douglass
    April 23, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    LOL! On the one hand when designing my covers, I want them to let potential readers know the general sort of book (“this is a cozy mystery, not horror, and it might make you laugh!”) at a glance, because admit it: when we are browsing, most books only get a glance.

    But I don’t want to be generic. It has to say that my book is like all these others only different 🙂

    As for my shame: I have no shame about reading children’s books in public. But there is this one writer I was nuts over in my early teens, and I’ve recently been listening to some of his books, and, well, yeah, they’re awful, but in a wonderful sort of way. . . And I’m not carrying any of those covers around.


    • April 24, 2014 at 10:16 am

      You’re so right, Rebecca – isn’t so much of this down to quality? The vast majority of the time, we just don’t want to be seen reading a BAD book. It’s not really to do with the genre at all. I couldn’t be seen to be reading a 50 Shades book in public – but then again I couldn’t bear to read it in private either because it’s far too badly written. The only difference a public place would make to that book is my fear that someone who saw me might not think I knew that!


  11. mrandisg
    April 24, 2014 at 3:14 am

    Interchangeable book covers…I like that idea. It would be great for a series–you could have a set of covers featuring your characters!


    • April 24, 2014 at 10:19 am

      Or a holographic cover – tilt it a certain way and it looks like an impenetrably philosophical treatise on the meaning of life. Instead of the sensational blockbuster featuring lots of money and gossip it actually is 😉


      • May 27, 2014 at 2:03 pm

        I like the Holographic cover Idea the best. I even tried to get my niece, a quite talented photographer and graphic artist to work up a couple of different ideas. The sketches for the different images were quite good. But now we both have to go back to school to learn the technology & process to carry it off. Ahh, homework!


        • May 27, 2014 at 3:57 pm

          Please keep experimenting with it, though, never mind the school side of it – this is time for entrepreneurship. We’d all love to see the results and who knows, if you work out how to patent it (particularly if they’re digital covers) maybe you’ll be in clover!


  12. April 28, 2014 at 6:11 pm

    HA — love these book covers. Hilarious!


  13. April 28, 2014 at 10:39 pm

    I came across a post a while ago that compared the UK and US book covers, was really interesting to see the differences.
    I do hate seeing books with the ‘film adaptation’ book cover. Am always pleased if I have already bought and read the book with its original cover 🙂


    • April 29, 2014 at 9:02 am

      Oh yes! And then we can refuse to enter into discussions of said adapted books, based on the fact that they were so 2 years ago and we’re so, like, OVER them. But it’s nice that other people catch up eventually, haha!

      Liked by 1 person

    • elainejackson12014
      May 25, 2014 at 8:21 pm

      I’m different – I always like the ‘film/tv adaptation’ covers, consider them to be something of a collector’s item since they often go out of print – think my proudest one is the one issued for the BBC adaptation of ‘Crime and Punishment’, was lucky to spot one on ebay for 1p! Mind you, I’ve got two other versions as well…I just like them!


      • May 26, 2014 at 9:55 am

        I never thought of them as collector’s items – that’s a very good point and another angle on this subject entirely…


  14. elainejackson12014
    May 25, 2014 at 8:24 pm

    Great post, I also meant to say!! 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: