Here’s a proposal for the publishing industry:
Every book should be published at best anonymously, at worst under a pseudonym with initials that do not reveal the sex of the author, and every book cover should be of plain design, without images and bearing only text, like those early Penguins.
This would stop the following things happening:
1 For one thing, it would have prevented a male member of my reading group saying with scorn (and only half-ironically) when asked if he’d read We Need To Talk About Kevin: ‘Good God, I’m never going to read a book by a woman who calls herself Lionel!’
2 It would stop readers passing over books simply because of the sex of the author.
3 It would prevent publishers and agents, all too aware of such reader prejudices, from rejecting books simply because the subject matter doesn’t fit the sex of the author.
4 It would prevent publishers and literary agents from scratching their chins and deciding that authors of good and interesting books were however too old/too ugly/too personally uninteresting to publish, or – this is where anonymity comes into its own – because their previous books didn’t make a few million. Or because their new book is too different from their last to perpetuate the ‘brand’.
5 It would stop publishers pigeonholing books that oughtn’t to be pigeonholed (or turning them down because they can’t be pigeonholed in marketing terms).
6 It would prevent serious women’s books from having pink covers clapped on them, and thus being aimed at the wrong market (and then failing to sell as well as expected and their authors being dropped.)
7 It would stop marketers altering portraits of classic female authors to make them prettier and sexier, as I read happened recently to the famous portrait of Jane Austen, given extra curls and décolletage. (I’m not sure that this would actually lead to disappointment with her books for readers, but it’s pretty symptomatic of the current superficiality of the industry, a lack of faith in the ability even of literature students not to need a shallow inducement to read.)
8 It would stop another member of my reading group having to try to avoid looking at the covers of books in bookshops, before turning to the opening lines.
It would give power and respect back to readers. It would mean that people might just concentrate on the text, on the words.
OK, so having got that off my chest, I’m off to watch some pigs fly.
Picture credit: id-iom