Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Can You Judge a Book By Its Cover?
Hello Meltingpot Readers,
I'm asking for your opinions here today. As many of you know, the countdown has officially begun on the release of my first novel, Substitute Me. To be honest, I am equal parts thrilled and terrified thinking about the release. Thrilled that my first work of fiction will see the light of day, terrified that people will hate it. Not hate it, more like think it's a waste of ink on paper.
In the meantime, I'm looking at the manuscript for the last time, making last minute edits and praying that the story I wanted to tell comes across clearly on the page. Also, as every author has to do these days, I'm thinking about how to spread the word about the book and convince booksellers to stock it and readers to buy it. Of course one of the many tools used to sell a book is the cover. An attractive or provocative cover at the very least makes people stop and consider.
So, of course, I'm conflicted about the cover being chosen for my book. If you recall, Substitute Me is about the complicated relationship between a professional White woman, Kate, and the Black woman, Zora, she hires to care for her infant son. In alternating chapters, Zora and Kate tell their version of the story.
So the cover drama. Originally the publisher wanted to put a giant Black woman's face on the cover. I said no. First of all, the story isn't just about Zora, it's Kate's story too. But second of all, I still believe that a Black woman on the cover of a book makes White people think the story isn't for them. Am I right? After several variations on the theme, the final cover is pretty much a night shot of the Brooklyn Bridge. No people in sight. And yes, the story takes place in Brownstone Brooklyn.
So we've gone from too much information, to maybe not enough. Now I'm worried that my target audience, which is mostly women (of any ethnic, socioeconomic background) might walk on by because the book looks like a Walter Mosely detective novel, with no hint of what's inside.
My editor says not to worry. She claims that as long as the cover is attractive, people read their own ideas into it. She offered up the example of the book, The Help. "What's on the cover?" she asked me. I own that book and all I could recall was yellow and some spot of purple. "You see," she said, "that book is a number one bestseller and it has the stupidest cover ever that has nothing to do with the story." I started to see her point. But then I thought about my own process for selecting books. I often stroll through the bookstore or the library looking for covers that speak to me in some kind of way. It doesn't always work out, but that's how come I picked up the book Wench, for example. Because I was intrigued by the picture of a Black woman in period dress sitting under a parasol.
So tell me people. What do you think? Can you tell a book by its cover? How important is the cover art to you in deciding what to read? Please share so I can share with my publisher before it's too late.