Hello! I’m one of the new interns at Beaufort Books, Dmitriy, or Beauchamp Bagenal as I will hereafter forever insist on being known in and outside the office. I chose this name because the historical Beauchamp Bagenal was a rake and a rapscallion who was known as the handsomest man in Ireland during the 18th century. He was a consummate evildoer known for his prowess in politics, dueling, and womanizing (your choice on the greatest of the three vices, innocent reader), and tales of his exploits put even Lord Byron’s excesses to shame. It was a natural choice, given that a publishing intern’s duties really span the gamut from blogging and editing to unbridled lechery and sanctioned murder.
In my first post, I’d like to address an old adage: don’t judge a book by its cover. I believe it is no longer accurate in today’s world of book publishing, and that it should now be reserved primarily for metaphors about meatheads who contain multitudes.
Today’s book covers should instead be celebrated for the guidance they offer. They are specially designed to appeal to their primary target audience. Publishers invest a lot of time and effort into making this happen (as I’ve already witnessed during my first few days at Beaufort), so it would be downright rude to ignore their suggestions! If taken literally, the advice to not judge books by their covers was much more relevant to 19th century school children, who primarily dealt with nondescript leather bindings of assorted varieties. “Don’t discount this tome just because the binding has torn, Billy, and bring this draught of laudanum up to Sister Wetherby before that consumptive cough of hers wakes everyone again.”
Today’s covers are designed to be judged. And that’s a good thing. You can pretty much immediately tell that the giant book in the glossy red cover is a spy thriller your Uncle Larry will bring on the airplane, or that your spinster Aunt Sheila or 13-year-old Cousin Sherry will both secretly adore the book with the shirtless male model with flowing hair and smoldering eyes. A cover will tell you if you’re picking up a book of contemporary poetry to read ostentatiously in a pretentious coffee shop, or if you’re finding a life-advice manual to make you a better businessman/chef/public speaker/thief. Of course, there will be exceptions, and surprise! You’ll never be able to form a full opinion of a book until you actually read it (womp womp), but a cover is absolutely an excellent place to pass a first judgment.
Both readers and publishers seem to have tacitly acknowledged this fact. In recent years, editions of Pride and Prejudice saw a sales boom because they were redesigned with a cover resembling a Twilight novel. Moreso than seeing this as a ploy to inveigle tween girls into reading the classics, one should instead realize it was a brilliant deduction that readers are actively expecting covers to catch their interest. Why shouldn’t Elizabeth Bennet’s love life be considered at least as enthralling as Bella Swan’s? If anything, it’s a disservice to the book to publish it with a dry English landscape on the cover: how many tweens want to read something that so blatantly screams REQUIRED FOR SCHOOL?
And while we’re happily affirming that it’s okay to be judgmental, why not also add that a cover is a decent place to assess publishers themselves? There’s something sexy about a book with pleasing aesthetics and tactility (sorry, e-readers, but you just can’t compete here). A cover that doesn’t get smudged or greasy after I handle it? Be still my beating heart. And if a book completely defies one’s expectations about its content based on the cover, maybe that’s a reason to become wary of that publisher in the future. Covers shouldn’t cover anything up.
- Beauchamp Bagenal