Once, after I’d held a workshop with some youngsters in a library, one of them, a twelve year old girl, asked me if a ‘book on the shelves upstairs, The Darkness’, was by me. Pleased, that she’d bothered to look for it, I said yes. She said ‘Rubbish cover, isn’t it?’
The same book won silver in the 2011 Forward National Literature Awards for Mystery and averages 4½ stars on Amazon USA and 5 on Amazon UK, so it couldn’t be all that bad. Anyway, that apparent difference between what’s outside and what’s inside a book brought up the old thing about not judging a book by its cover.
However sophisticated we think we are as readers, apart from the cover there’s little to go on when we choose a book. OK, if you’ve read great reviews or a friend you trust has recommended it, that may swing you. But when it comes to picking out a winner from the hundreds of thousands of new novels that keep on coming, it’s the message, the ‘feel’ communicated by the visuals that helps you to start narrowing the field. And it may not be the positive impulse of ‘Wow, what beautiful artwork!’ but rather, the dismissive ‘Ugh!’ as experienced by my twelve year old.
I’m in the process of re-publishing my series of Jack Carston novels and, to my surprise, the new covers, designed by Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics, are giving me new perspectives on my own work. Look at this – three covers, the same book. What’s a reader to do?