If you were to judge your favorite book by its cover, would you still read it?
I’m with grandmalin, (http://grandmalin.wordpress.com/) I grew up spelling the word ‘favourite’ with a u. Favorite just doesn’t look right to me. Nevertheless, that’s not the topic for today. We are being asked to say whether or not we would have read what has since become our favourite book if we began by judging the book’s contents by the cover illustration. Eh? Well, to begin with, how else would we judge the book if not by its cover? If we don’t know the author, it’s most likely the first thing to get our attention. If I even notice an unattractive cover I’m bound to pass it by without picking it up.
I have been known to enter a bookshop because an attractive cover in the window has caught my eye. Before the title and the blurb comes the illustration. Despite what the author believes, it’s not the first line or paragraph, but the front cover that is the hook. That’s why getting a good illustrator is the key. If you’re self-publishing you get to choose (and pay); if your book has been commissioned you have to hope that the editor has your book’s best interests at heart. Having said that, although first impressions do count, if a book wants to keep my attention, it has to have more to say for itself than what is on the cover.
Of course, if you’re like me, you will often begin your search for a good read with the spine. When I’m seriously browsing, I will tilt my head to the side and work my way through the titles. If one tickles my fancy I will slide the book out and look at the front cover and then even if it doesn’t appeal (take note, WordPress), having already expended a bit of time and energy on this venture I commit myself to at least reading the blurb. If I find that interesting then I will read the first paragraph. That’s where the writing hook comes into it.
‘By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes’ says the second witch in Shakespeare’s Scottish play. Agatha Christie used the first half of that quote for the title of one of her novels (Science Fiction writer, Ray Bradbury the second half). Whether or not they are crime fiction or mystery stories, I like books with clues that tell me the illustrator has read the book and is challenging me to work it out. I usually don’t but I will go back to it when I’ve read the book and appreciate the cover even more than I did when I first saw it. In the 1968 paperback copy of ‘By the Pricking of my Thumbs’ that I’ve got in front of me the cover has a beautiful lady, a chimney and a battered looking doll. It’s not my favourite Christie, but those are the best collection of clues. I have to admit I always look to see if I can pick anything else up that I haven’t noticed the other times I read the book.
There was a time, that if I saw a plain red (drama), orange (fiction), green (crime fiction) spine, I knew it was a Penguin. No illustrations (till later) to influence me, just the knowledge that it was going to be a good read. If it was a Penguin book, I knew I would like it and I was never disappointed. So, to (hopefully) answer the WordPress question, some of my best friends have been Penguins.