Thursday, 14 October 2010

how many books can you fit on the head of a pin?

I know this is supposed to be a Bad Thing but I love judging a book by its cover. In this increasingly digital age (as we keep being told), covers might be the last bastion against against the mounting need to cram all the books into a teeny little living space. Or, to put it another way, it's the greatest and most exciting challenge a publisher now has to face: how to market a book without a cover.

If done well, a cover can be a great marketing tool. Blurbs, carefully wrought designs, author quotes, and, if you're lucky, a lovely big picture to gawp at and reference in case you forget what the main protagonist looks like.

It can also be a dead giveaway that you're reading a fantasy about a big dragon who enjoys shouting things like 'puny mortals!' and burning villages to the ground (thanks, Hobb).

But publishers are sly. They know that some of us like our Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror in anonymous jackets that could easily pass for semi-intelligent thrillers or modern romances (shudder). Many want covers and jackets that will blur beneath the common commuters' eye and don't invite judgement on the reader. This is also a great marketing tool if you want to spread the net a little wider and target the fabled Mass Market. One point to eBooks then. You can't judge a book by its eReader (although, interestingly, it is possible to judge a person).

But what will this do to the content? And will happen to the content that the SFF 'fan' has been loyally consuming for all these years? Those of us who have been here from the start, since before being a geek became cool? Who still aren't cool? When SFF publishers begin to commission with everyone in mind, will these genres suffer, and be resigned to the subbasement of SFF in place of the new favourite kids, Urban and Dark Fantasy? Suddenly everything might become about vampires and catering to fragile tweenage hearts.

Or will it? There are still license-based imprints out there like Games Workshop's Black Library, or midlist imprints like Solaris, who are doubtful to ever snub Warhammer in favour of another Urban Fantasy about a kick-ass girl fighting sexy demons.

Anyway, really a cover shouldn't matter, or the format either. A book is made up of its content. But I still want to be able to judge a book by its appearance (on screen or off). I want to know that publishers are working hard, keeping on their toes, to make their content look appealing. To publish content they can make look appealing. And I want to know how they're doing it, and I want to be there when they do so that I can make my choice.

Join me. Revel in it. Judge.

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