f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 4 of Book Covers – Choosing an Audience

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Day 4 of Book Covers – Choosing an Audience

There seem to be two schools of thought in publishing.

The first school says that literature, at its best, is written to cross demographics and psychographics. Great stories find the universal truths in our world and explore them in a way that’s relevant to men and women, all races, many ages, and often even people throughout different time periods. That’s why we still read Jane Austen and why people in 150 years will still read Mark Bertrand.

The other school says that’s pretty idealistic and its only the smallest amount of books that fulfill such expectations. Other books need to be pitched to specific audiences. It could be spooky horror covers, sensual romance covers (often using erotically positioned fruit), or stark westerns.

Yesterday’s covers were books I think you could generally call “women’s fiction.” Genre lines are blurring for me these days, so I don’t know where “literary” stops and “general fiction” starts. And if either features primarily female concerns does that make them “women’s fiction”?

Regardless of those answers, a few of yesterday’s covers seemed specifically designed to attract females readers’ attention. And judging from some of your comments, they worked. Good Grief, besides reminding one of Charlie Brown with its title, indeed points at hope beyond loss, all through bunny slippers. Jodi Picoult is one of the premier “women’s issue” novelists writing today and so The Pact is as much about her name as it is the cover. Still, a couple canoodling generally gets women’s attention more than men. Man Walks Into a Room is a female novelist with a male-centric story and thus a genderless cover.

The best example seems to be The Art of Mending. At least from the few folks who seemed to really like it. I credit the designers; they seem to have hit something. That said, personally, I can’t imagine a less enticing or intriguing cover. Want to know that the world doesn’t revolve around you? Look at a book designed with someone else in mind. I would never pick Elizabeth Berg’s novel up. But neither am I supposed to. I am incidental in Random House’s promotion of this title.

It’s always a bit scary for me when a book leans so heavily on one audience, but that’s because in my heart I like to think of books as something that can cross gender and race. The business of it says something else and it’s better to greatly appeal to one audience than leave everyone going, “Eh.”

Today's covers:

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby (US)
A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby (UK)

The Finishing School by Muriel Spark (US)

The Finishing School by Muriel Spark (UK)

Last Orders by Graham Swift (US)

Last Orders by Graham Swift (UK)

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon (US)
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon (UK)

Bookends by Jane Green (US)

Bookends by Jane Green (UK)


On the Road by Jack Kerouac (US)
On the Road by Jack Kerouac (UK)