Publishers, Please Stop Trying to Trick Me into Reading that Book
Marketing a book as “fun” and “light” without mentioning its darker, sadder sides does nobody any favours.
Is it just me, or does it sometimes feel like publishers are trying to trick us into reading certain books?
Picture the scene: it’s been a rough week; a rough year and a half. But it’s Saturday night and you’re determined to escape into a romance novel you’ve seen all over Bookstagram. People have called it hot and fun and perfect for fans of X TV show! That sounds like just what you need after the last year and a half of pandemic, political upheaval, and whatever else life has thrown at you. Maybe you’ve lost someone close to you and you’re still processing that grief, but you just want a few hours away from that. And then, bam! The book turns out to be all about grief, and you’re punched in the gut all over again. Nobody had warned you — not the Bookstagrammers, not the BookTokers, and certainly not the publishers, who were determined to play up the hot and fun and perfect for fans of X TV show of it all in all their marketing, starting with the cover.
Fun, cheerful covers are eye-catching on Instagram and TikTok, and they scream “here is the light relief you’ve been waiting for” to a reading world feeling beaten up by life in general and the pandemic in particular. But sometimes, it feels like trickery.
As Book Rioter Gia R. says, “whether we like it or not, a cover is often the first thing someone sees when looking at a book. Sure, we’ll often read the synopsis or the blurb, but that usually occurs after we see the cover. I like to think of covers as the start to a conversation that readers engage in.”
In other words, a cover really has one job: to make us curious enough about the book to pick it up. But it’s not just that: a cover, I would argue, is also an implicit promise to the reader, signalling what kind of book they are getting. Interestingly, UK publishing industry insider Bethany Rutter, of the What Page Are You On podcast, has talked about how she finds it difficult to choose books to buy in the U.S., because she can’t “read” the covers. It’s not something we’re ever explicitly taught, but over time we absorb conventions and…