Judging a book by its cover

It is interesting to consider the concept of paratext in terms of how the editors, printers, and publishers choose to illustrate the text. It is especially fascinating to me that the authors of a book are relatively uninvolved in the creation and selection of their cover art. Covers of books are the selling point, the image that draws us in as readers, and whether we like to admit it or not, we do judge books on their covers. So why are authors often detached from this process?

A book cover is a marketing tool; it is ultimately designed to engage and more importantly, sell. Even if the cover doesn’t represent the text in the way the author intended, the cover is still illustrating something, thus it will always convey meaning. This makes the cover art away to convey a text’s meaning in addition to the author’s text, giving this form of paratext even more power in its affect on the audience.

I experienced this inconsistency in meaning on a smaller scale this past winter break. My dad recently decided to self-publish a novel he had written, and hired one of his friends, a graphic designer, to produce cover art for the novel. I had read the book a while back, and saw the final copy this past month. The cover art, in my opinion, poorly represented the meaning I found in the book when I read it. While the art itself was relevant to the plot of the novel, I felt the stylized nature of the images gave off a vibe that I felt was inconsistent with the story. My point is that everybody has a unique reaction to a text, and no one’s interpretation will be exactly the same. Cover art serves a purpose, to pull in the reader, and everybody has their own tastes and opinions about what serves this purpose the best. The intersection between paratext and illustration poses a conflict of interest between the marketing tools of materials supplemental to text and the author’s intent of the meaning their text should convey.

2 Replies to “Judging a book by its cover”

  1. Meredith –

    I, too, found this class topic very interesting and had never given paratext much thought (at least consciously). Julia also posted about paratext and came to this conclusion: “So I guess paratext serves the company first and the author last, while the reader either is or isn’t depending on the publisher’s approach. What do you guys think?”

    I think that she is absolutely right when she says company first and author last and your example of  your dad’s book is evidence of this. You had a unique experience in that you read a book without looking at the cover. I wonder if you would have experienced the book any differently if you had to look at the paratext every time you went to read it.

    Another note… I wonder if the size of the book (width, length) influences the consumer as well? I would think, just as with the artwork, the dimensions of the publication are at the mercy of the company.

  2. Meredith,

    I agree with your point that it seems crazy authors do not get to have more say on how the cover of their book ultimately looks. I think part of the problem comes from the fact that it would be nearly impossible for the company and the author to come to a consensus on a cover that both accurately encapsulates the meaning of the novel while gaining more traction from the consumers. However, since humans are attracted to images faster than words and book covers often leave a lasting impression, the company gets to decide how the cover eventually looks. In that sense, while the cover itself is a piece of art, it can also undermine the purpose of the book and the author’s idea of his/her own art.

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