Thursday, 8 April 2010

Don't Judge A Cover By Its Book

Is publishing becoming so fixated with marketing that it’s forgetting about the importance of text? I ask this question after reading The Truth About Melody Browne by Lisa Jewell. Lisa Jewell has been called the queen of chick-lit but that is to do her a considerable disservice. She’s much more like a younger, female and less depressed Nick Hornby. Her books are written in a deceptively easy style that uses everyday details to fix images powerfully in the reader’s mind.

The Truth About Melody Browne however, is a mess and the reason it’s a mess is because it’s been shamefully badly edited. It’s not just the places where a sentence has been mangled, possibly because two versions of it existed at different times and bits of both have got left in. No, it’s things like the end of chapter 41 where Melody, who is trying to recover the vanished memory of her childhood, wonders whether she will ever discover what peculiar quirk of fate caused her to be living in a squat in the seaside town of Broadstairs when she was seven years old; in fact she’s already discovered this several chapters earlier. Or the conversation she has with her boyfriend near the end of the book about how joyful it has been meeting all the characters from her past life that she had forgotten, except she hasn’t told him about her past life yet so he can’t have any idea what she’s talking about.

So what happened to the editing? Was the editor asleep at the wheel? Or did it not get edited at all on the basis that Lisa Jewell’s readers are a captive audience who won’t notice or, if they do, simply won’t care?

Contrast this with the attention paid to covers of books nowadays. In April of last year I delivered the final draft of my next book which was originally to have been published about now. But the first cover got a bad reception, so publication was delayed until July. Then the second cover was also given the thumbs down. Recently I’ve heard that the book will now probably come out in January of next year. There’s no point in making a fuss because, as I’m assured by everybody and his uncle, it is absolutely essential to get the trade behind a book these days and that requires a really good cover.

I think this is all part of our society’s obsession with appearance, an obsession that is ratcheted up with every passing day. Whiten your teeth; flatten your stomach; if you’re a woman get you’re breasts perked up; if you’re fifty plus, don’t show a grey hair; and if you’re a book look glamorous, look sexy, seduce the reader.Don’t worry about the quality of the prose. Time enough to discover it’s a dog’s breakfast once the money has changed hands.


Paul said...

I had a similar experience with a novel that was clearly never edited. It was the writer's first work, and it showed, with terrible sentences, cliched expressions, "big" words, and lots of narrative that really did not belong. Style over substance only takes a book so far, but I suppose that's all the farther the industry wants to expect because it will be time for the next novel to push into the light.

Marion Urch said...

So what was Lisa Jewell's cover like? (We need to know surely.) Though Lisa Jewell probably sells on the brand name with a book out per year. I personally would rather wait for a good cover than have a book come out in a hurry. (I should be so lucky!)

Paul said...

and further rambling thoughts:

All of this cover worry is such a 20th Century concern. In the dawning age of ebooks, it won't matter a whit. (I'm sure someone will determine some other marketing angle to become frenzied about though.)

Brian Keaney said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian Keaney said...

I'm sure they will, Paul.

Marion, Lisa Jewell's cover is mostly taken up with the words 'Lisa Jewell' which are about five times the size of the book's title. The artwork shows an empty park bench with a book and a scarf on it overhung by the branches of a tree on which dangle a few random items, like a family album, a handbag and an ice cream sundae. In the distance is a pastel cityscape. You're quite right of course, in this case the artwork is much les signigicant than the author's name.