Reader Logo by Elizabeth Baines

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:

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.

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’.

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.)

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


charleslambert said...

Yes, yes, yes. Yes.

(Irrelevant, I know, but the word verification thingy is offering me "semicant"!)


Elizabeth - great points made. It is v diappointing that male readers might be put off women's writing by covers. (Not to mention author names!)

Emily said...

Awesome set of ideas.

"It would prevent serious women’s books from having pink covers clapped on them"

I tend to avoid anything with a pink cover - and the downside of this is that I'm sure I do miss some good stuff that just happened to have that pink cover slapped on.

Emily said...

(not saying pink-cover books are bad - they're just not what I go for very often)

Annalisa Crawford said...

Good ideas, especially in terms of the marketing - how many good books are being missed by general readers because they are being marketed at the specific?

Kathleen Jones said...

I love this - it is so TRUE! How I hate marketing. The only criteria should be what's inside the covers.

Rachel Fenton said...

As much as I love book covers I think you've made some very valid points.

Jasper Fotherington Smythe V said...

The trouble is, these are all the things that agents and publishers have a vested interest in keeping. Moreover, readers (myself included) are hardly innocent. I buy Marina Lewycka's second book because I liked her first book. Not only did I like that, but I also liked the way it looked and felt - like a real objet d'art. Capitalism makes consumers of us all, and the tragedy is we enjoy it. If we go along with your (in many ways laudable)suggestions, we should also get rid of packaging per se and sell all our goods in brown paper bags. Again, a great idea, but how close are we to it? Hang on, I've just seen one of your pigs!

The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy said...

I confess I am also a sucker for book covers and opening lines. And I may also be drawn to an author - old, young, male, female - but more by a word or comment that begins to intrigue. I tend to dodge the 3x2 table as it all seems to obvious. And yet, you can't be angry at authors for having success. It is another buy-buy-buy industry I guess.