In this space a week and a half ago I linked some interesting articles on women and publishing. One of the linked articles discussed book covers in particular and linked an interesting exercise in cover re-design which I think is brilliant. Go look at the link, especially the slide show with redesigned covers starting with Game of Thrones. Yep, brilliant. This got me thinking on some recent experiences I’ve had in book marketing. Let me tell you about two of them. In the first I was the one books were being marketed to, and in the second I was the one doing the selling.
- At the bookshop where I work we get publisher’s catalogues and staff review these to help our manager make decisions about books to buy. Several months ago I was looking at an independent publisher’s catalogue. This publisher has several imprints. The catalogue pages were colour-coded so that you could see where one imprint ended and the next began. So far so good. But. The pink pages contained books whose covers shrieked that they were marketed to women. The blue pages contained books marketed to men. The pink books were (generally) fluff. The blue books were (commonly) serious. I almost hurled the catalogue across the store. There’s nothing wrong with fluff. But the men I know like a nice bit of brain candy as much as women. Our preferences in the kinds of brain candy we choose might be different, but still. C’mon people. Get serious. I’m slightly embarrassed to say that at the time I was in the middle of applying for work with that publishing company. Maybe I’m glad things didn’t work out?
- I do the initial work on the marketing emails that go out from the bookshop. Mother’s Day was last month, so I duly designed a gift suggestion email about M-Day that was approved and sent out. We got an email back from a woman who teaches New Testament wondering why there were no biblical studies books suggested for M-Day in the email. Well there were, but they were a click away in the “more suggestions” list found on our website. But a translation of the Psalms was featured in the email. For Father’s day there will be cookbooks. We are trying hard not to follow stereotypical categories.
Last weekend I had a conversation about Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher. My friend the Library Page asked if it was more history or romance. I said it was historical, but commented that the cover marked it as a romance. I also said I thought she’d enjoy it.
Any thoughts on gendered marketing? Experiences? Not judging a book by its cover?
Last week a Publishers Weekly blog post looked at the differences between US and UK book covers. Fascinating stuff. There is also sometimes a difference between Canadian and American book covers, and sometimes even titles. Example: Canadian author Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes. In the USA and in some other places, the book is known as Someone Knows My Name. The author’s webpage (linked above) shows the US, Canadian, and Australian covers for the book. Apparently the title change was a good idea for the US market. I’m not sure what the book is called in the UK.
I’m not sure what to make of all these local versions of books. But, I figure it is all marketing right? And marketing is about tuning in to the culture and making a product attractive to people, so I guess it makes sense. But it can be confusing. I work in a bookshop, and sometimes people come in with the UK title of a book, and we say it isn’t available, then we figure out that the book has a different North American title. Good times.
What do you think about books and the different covers or even titles in different places thing? Legitimate? Confusing? Both?
How many people have I driven away with the title of this post? How do you know it won’t be interesting or good just because the title has the word feminism in it? Why judge a blog post by its title?
It is a cliche that one should not judge a book by its cover, but how often do we do just that? That is the subject of this column on sexist covers that men run from. Please note that the author of the column is a man. (True confession: I didn’t read the name of the author and assumed it would be a woman until I got to the part where he says I’m a man. Oops.) He raises some interesting issues on covers and pre-judging books, and shying away from books that are by women, even if they fall into the general category of books one usually likes.
In other feminist news, I picked up a used book at work the other day (this is not news) called Encounter with Books: A Guide to Christian Reading, edited by Harish D. Merchant, published by InterVarsity Press in 1970. I’ve only read the contributor list so far. In this list, as I habitually do, I looked for women contributors to the volume, expecting to find none. Instead of none, I found 4 — of a total of 67 contributors, that is 1 woman for every 15.75 men. Ok, for 1970, not too bad. All the women contributed to book lists under the banner “Humanities and the Arts.” One was a co-author of a list, so only three lists in the book were authored by women only. Those lists are: Drama, Dance, and Children’s Books. Hah. How stereotypical. I’ll get over it soon, but I was a bit steamed last night when I first did the assessment.
And in yet more feminist news, some people are doing a study of the use of feminine pronouns in books using that giant online repository of text, Google Books. Interesting!