What makes you buy a book?

A month or so ago I blogged about the agony and ecstasy of finding a title.

Little did I know then, but the title search was to go on… and on. Because the marketing department changed its mind about the one they’d chosen, and took it upon themselves to find one. I was all titled out and happy to turn it over to them. And today, we finally settled on one–Pride and Prejudice. No, just kidding. It’s The Rules of Gentility. Long ago I suggested Gentility Rules, which might be the sort of thing you’d find spray-painted on a wall in Highbury. (Another favorite was The Lady Vanquishes, apparently lost on a generation who didn’t grow up watching Hitchcock.)

In all of this long, long process, I discovered I knew virtually nothing about how books are titled and the relationship of cover to contents, and now I think I know even less. I thought, for instance, that the cover had to reflect what was inside. Well, yes, sort of. I pulled some Jane Austen covers off the web to illustrate what may or may not be my point. Above left, Penguin Classics. The portrait is a detail of Double Portraits of the Fullerton Sisters by Sir Thomas Lawrence, and very nice too. The period is correct, but…wait. Aren’t there six sisters? And if the one on the left is holding a drawing board, I thought the Bennett sisters were remarkably unaccomplished by Miss Bingley’s or Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s high standards.

Our next entry is the movie tie in edition. Or, the book of the film. You mean, there was a book first? You could read the whole thing before getting to the scene where Mr. Darcy appears with, gasp, coat unbuttoned and cravat discarded. In fact, that scene is missing from every edition I’ve ever owned.
The next two I found are even more puzzling. At left, I believe the original is a painting by Degas. Only about a century too late, and which one is supposed to be Elizabeth? Is the other one Miss Bingley? Is there a scene where they sat at a balcony together?

And the final one is of an interior with two characters in Victorian dress. Inexplicably, the gentleman is sitting while the woman is standing. My first thought, when looking at this, was that they were servants. It certainly doesn’t look like any sort of courtship scene. It rather looks as though the woman is receiving a scolding. “Rats in the soup again, Cook, and not nearly enough of them…”

One thing I did learn from my experience was that the cover does not necessarily relate to the contents. The other realization was that we, as book buyers, are fooled and deceived when buying a book. The marketing strategy seems to be that if a sort of book cover has worked well, it will continue to do so until…look at all the trends we’ve seen in romance–clinches, Fabio, mantitty, cartoons, more mantitty, pink and shiny, bumpy bits (those last two are not related to mantitty), photos. Why does the public fall out of love with a particular style? I’ve no idea. My book is a funny book but its cover will not suggest that because readers of historicals don’t like funny. The back cover copy will suggest it’s funny, but probably will not declare A laugh on every page! The first Regency-set with a fart joke! So the buyer, fooled into thinking they’re on familiar territory, will buy it.

None of the Jane Austen covers suggest that P&P is one of the wittiest books in the English language either. So it’s a mystery of the publishing business.

What makes you buy a book? And have you ever chosen one based entirely on the cover and been bitterly disappointed? Or found a gem with a totally unsuitable cover?

Janet

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