In the United States authors and readers clamor to see book covers, we ooh and aah, we hang large versions on our walls (yes we do). We pick up books with covers that catch our eye. But, what if books had plan covers, distinguished only by color and font? Well, I know they wouldn’t look as pretty on my book shelves, but would that eliminate some prejudice? Would it lower the cost of publication? Would people read books because of the inside and not the outside? Today, Adria Cimino shares her experience as a writer, publisher, and ex-pat in France! Share your thoughts about what draws YOU to a WF book cover (Adria is a publisher, after all) in the comments and please welcome Adria to WFW! Amy xo
The French Don’t Choose a Book by Its Cover By Adria J. Cimino As an author and a publisher, I’ve spent hours, days and weeks agonizing over book covers. This very first impression the reader will have of the book had better be the right one. Every detail becomes an obsession. That is why, when I first wandered the bookshops of Paris many years ago, I was bewildered by the fact that, most often, book covers look something like this: OK, without the cover as the first “clue,” maybe we can dedicate a bit more time to our afternoon in the bookshop and read the back covers. Nope. Most of the books don’t have blurbs as we know them. In many cases, especially in literary fiction, the back cover has a very short excerpt. For an American, choosing a book in France is a whole new ball game. Surrounded by white book covers, I had two questions. First of all, “Why are covers so simple?” My second question, “How does one choose a book without spending hours in a bookshop?” My curious self wouldn’t let these questions go unanswered. I spoke with booksellers, a publisher and even some readers, and learned that the plain cover is part of a whole reading culture quite different from mine. Here’s how book buying goes in France: A reader will walk into a shop looking for the latest release from a particular publishing house. Each publishing house has a reputation for a certain style and quality, and readers are loyal to that. For instance, Les Editions de Minuit publishes literary fiction in its truest sense, while Gallimard publishes contemporary fiction. The houses each have a certain cover style. Minuit is white with a blue border and a little blue star logo. That way, the reader who loves books by Minuit can recognize them right away. So the answer to my question “Why?” is that here in France, publishing houses know that readers often look at publishing house first and author name second. For them, the cover is not a marketing tool for the author who wrote the book—but for the publishing house as a whole! (Of course, France also has a few famous authors who draw the readers in more than the name of the publishing house. But even in those cases, the author’s book cover follows the rule of the publishing house.) This partially explains how one would choose a book. But what if the reader decides to explore the books of another publishing house? Where does one even start? That’s where the bookshop staff comes in. They have read just about everything in the shop and are very skilled at offering recommendations. And the French reader also heavily relies on televised literary programs for the latest find. Finally, where does all of this leave self-published or indie authors and new publishing houses? Well, the road seems a bit bumpy! Since readers tend to demand titles from the established houses, it is difficult for independent writers and publishers to secure a spot for their books in many bookshops. And since most of the book buying in France happens in bookshops rather than online, this is a challenge! Still, there might be a hint of change in the air. At this year’s Paris Book Fair, there was a seminar about how to start a publishing house and a stand featuring independent publishers. I noticed a few more publishing houses have started featuring cover art on their books. Often much simpler than our American best sellers, but cover art all the same. And, to my astonishment, Les Editions de Minuit, had printed up blurbs on bright gold paper and stuck them onto the book display table. I’m happy to see some of the old rules relaxing, making room for new authors and publishers, but, strangely enough, I hope change doesn’t come too quickly. I’ve grown used to the look of a French bookshelf, with a sea of pristine white binders marked only by words. Adria J. Cimino is the author of novels “Paris, Rue des Martyrs” and “Close to Destiny” and is co-founder of indie publishing house Velvet Morning Press (http://www.velvetmorningpress.com). She also is a contributor to short story anthology “That’s Paris.” Prior to jumping into the publishing world full time, she spent more than a decade as a journalist at news organizations including The AP and Bloomberg News. Adria is a member of Tall Poppy Writers (http://tallpoppies.org/) a community of writing professionals committed to connecting authors with each other and with readers. In addition to writing fiction and discovering new authors, Adria writes about her real-life adventures in her blog “Adria in Paris.” (http://adriainparis.blogspot.com/). You also may learn more about Adria and her work by visiting her website at http://ajcimino.com/ or following her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Adria_in_Paris.