How can you judge a book by its cover when the same book is packaged so differently? Yet I do all the time. In fact, looking at the covers above of TLOD, which are all pretty bad, you would be forgiven for judging the same book (badly) though you saw 30 or more covers (I think that's how many languages the novel was translated into; either that or 21     None of the covers of The Land of Decoration were what I imagined when I saw the book in my head, and The Professor of Poetry, though it began well, soon went downhill once Waterstones got their hands on it (as TLOD paperback did once Richard and Judy were partnered with the publisher). These days covers have to 'grab', 'entice', look 'pretty', or 'quirky', or dangerous. Covers are made into visual junk-food, delivering quick information, quick 'kicks', quick 'thrills'. In this context if you want to make a book look different, you should put nothing on the cover at all except perhaps the title (and some publishers do this now - the beautiful Fitzcarraldo editions, for eg).

    Women authors, even respected ones, such as Louise Erdrich and Anne Tyler, often seem to have terrible covers, much worse than their male peers. I can't say that Hilary Mantel's recent covers are terrible, but I heard she had some pretty awful ones in her time. But finally, some female authors, who are 'serious' and 'literary' are getting covers to rival their male counterparts. I only wish TLOD and The Professor had been a little bit more in that ballpark.

     An author has very little say about the presentation of their work, however. And for a writer, unless there is a second edition of their work, the cover lasts forever (unless the book goes out of print). If you imagine an artist or musician having their work packaged in a way they feel is antithetical to its real nature, you begin to see how frustrating it can be!

Don't Judge a Book


stories and things



leaving the text alone

Beckett and mysticism

why real directors are writers

Dr Seuss and Tom McCarthy

why the novelist's job is harder than God's

the thing about autobiographical fiction

how to write a successful novel

George Herbert and Judith McPherson

the value of not doing

thoughts on TLOD

don't judge a book

things I was thinking when writing TLOD

time, words, are the enemy

the master's voice


why I didn't want to write anymore

the value of not knowing

when do you give up on a book?


time, identity and fiction