Do you judge a book by its cover? I must admit that I have before too. It’s just that sometimes I enjoy sitting in the yard on campus and letting myself fall into an epic romance — but I’d like to do so without holding a book that has a man with his shirt ripped open and chest glistening as he catches a fainting (swooning?) woman. It’s a little embarrassing, but who knows, maybe by not picking one, I missed out on what could have been my new favorite book.
In Newton, Australia exists Elizabeth’s Bookshop, a bookstore that has adopted a method meant to keep readers from judging a book by its cover. The idea of the project is that the staff pick some of their favorite books and wrap the copies in brown paper so that buyers cannot see the cover; on the brown paper, the staff writes bullet points that vaguely describe the story within, and readers can decide if they like the sound of the novel or not without design bias. For example, one book in the stockpile has the points: Marriage, fight, accident, and nightmare printed on the front. Another: tragedy, justice, solution, and divergence.
My sister’s friend recently published her first novel and every day she questions whether the cover of her book is overdramatic in the worst way. She wonders how some things about it may set someone off from her story, and thinking about it, people tend to be on the touchy side when it comes to media images. With recent pictures of models who are deemed “too skinny” has come the argument that skinny shaming exists, especially because some women just have a high metabolism and cannot help their weight. If a book cover has a thin woman on the front, will that push readers away? Or what about the opposite? Would a larger woman make petty minds turn an eye? You rarely see black people on the cover of novels — unless the book involves some sort of fetish — but maybe that’s because white characters are safe in a world where racism still triumphs over unconscious and conscious minds. The race of the people on the cover of a book can be a factor in someone buying something.
According to Debate.org, 51% of buyers believe that you can, in fact, judge a book by its cover, which means that about 1 out of every 2 people who pick up a book think they can figure out if they will like a book or not simply based on the cover art. However, a thing to consider is that fact that while authors are asked to give their opinion about the cover created for their work, their opinions are not always the final one. The opinion of the author is simply considered, but because they have sold their work to the publishing company, the company has the ultimate final decision on what artwork will represent someone else's work. Many know from English classes that people can interpret books in many different ways, and a cover can be a different interpretation than the author wanted or meant. Therefore, there is no guarantee that the cover will in fact fairly represent the plot of the novel.
With the covers covered, readers are more likely to enjoy something when they’ve read points that deem the book as something they would enjoy, and could be pleasantly surprised to find the next great novel that they would never have picked. The great novel in the brown paper bag.
Check out the Elizabeth's Bookshop website here.