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, to my mind; i.e. illustrative, 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, 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 and promising a certain calibre of high-calorific entertainment - unless you are a lucky novelist whose cover doesn't bow to these commercial pressures. But I think, in this context of over-stimulation, 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!

N.B. A note about being a female author:

If you’re a woman and you write a book, the chances are your agent will be a woman, your editor will be a woman, as will the publicist, interviewers and reviewers. If you’re a man, then it's all men, except for the publicist, who will probably still be a woman. I'm not sure why this is; it’s as if the two sexes can’t intersect with each other in the world of publishing. While this is generalising, I think it's often the case. While this doesn't make that much (though some) difference on the one side, on the other, when the novel enters the public domain and seeks its readership, it does matter; because usually, novels written by female authors look like they are written by female authors, in order to attract a female readership (usually a specific sub-set) of female readership. Sadly, a significant proportion of novels (and books in general) written by women are 'dumbed down' in order to appeal to what publishers (rightly or wrongly) perceive to be a larger consumer base. This does not happen to male authors. The luckier female authors do not fall foul of this marketing ploy and are given covers, interviews and advertising (if there is any) that does not scream 'man' or 'woman' (and 'straight' man or woman, at that). I was not one of those lucky ahotrs, and hence I think a lot of men (and possibly more discerning female readers) were alienated from my books from the getgo. I feel in order to give a book a starting chance - or at least not predict and predetermine its' readership - all information about it, whether visual or audible, should be gender, class, race and readership neutral. A good example of such an approach is that taken by the relatively new and small publisher Fitzcarraldo. I would like to see this approach adopted by prize-giving committees too (though I don't think we should have literary prizes as they exist at present).

          Note 15:

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?


what makes a book great

divine fancy


time, identity and fiction