Picture the scene. The airport. It’s the final boarding call. You’re poised between WH Smith and the departure gate. Ahead of you stretches a twelve hour flight. Customs have confiscated your paperbacks. Your Kindle has exploded. And in front of you is a table of books from unfamiliar authors. In your head a bearded yoda whispers, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’. But sometimes, what else have you got to go on?
In a sea of scripts, a striking jacket can make all the difference to whether or not your story is picked up, let alone read. This was illustrated by the Booker Prize Winner Julian Barnes, who made a point in his acceptance speech of thanking ‘the best book designer in town’.
Yes, they can be cliched. High heels and swirly pink script for ‘chick-lit’. Hooded swordsmen for fantasy. Women licking their lips for vampire novels, hand-coloured street urchin for misery memoirs. As the TLS noted recently, Legs, Backs of Women Looking Over Water,Tiny Men Walking Into The Distance and Single Female Eye are also popular. But covers are handy and sometimes necessary short-cuts. Maybe they remind us of something we liked in the past. (Hence why so many bonkbusters are marketed like early Jackie Collin’s). Or they create an atmosphere – like Morpugo’s ‘War Horse’, which has a horse silhouetted against WW1 soldiers and explosions.
Which makes me wonder. If you were a book – a thriller or a romance or a comedy – what would your cover say? Does it give a real indication of what’s in its pages? Or is it misleading – or derivative? Does it encourage other readers to pick it up and leaf through? Is it worn and stained with use? Or tightly bound in cellophane – untouched, but unloved too?