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There’s a well known proverb,

don’t judge a book by its cover

taken from the premise that everyone does. It’s ridiculous to suggest otherwise. If we didn’t, all books could be sold in plain brown covers (in fact, I’ve seen some rather snazzy plain brown covers on books).

I get completely fed up when favourite books reappear with horrendous covers. It’s happened with the Green Knowe series, the Earthsea series, the Hitchhiker’s Trilogy… and reprinted children’s  classics get some real horrors.

And of course, the front covers are only part of the problem.

Think of a book shelf. The bit of the book you see is the spine. And on those millimetres of space, the publisher has to provide information about the author and the title and themselves and try to get a reader to pick it out from all the other spines. It’s no wonder that many publishers have gone for a brand imprint; it helps when you can tell your preferred make in amongst all the other products on the shelf.

And then of course, libraries come along and slap even more stuff on the sides, whether it’s genre labels or classification codes, it’s all destined to hide that careful design.

Every librarian gets caught out when newly ordered books have covers that do nothing for them, covers that doom them to sit on the shelves waiting hopelessly for some imaginative reader to give them a chance. And librarians will be as beguiled as anyone else by the right image that appeals to them, whether it packages a useless bit of stuff that should never have been printed or a gem.

Like the Pellinor series for example.

I was attracted by the appearance of this trilogy: the deep dark shades of red and blue and purple; the strange images on the front covers, which reappeared on the spines; the intriguing fonts. Naturally I checked the blurbs, flicked through them, decided to buy them for the teen section of the library … where they sat, waiting for an imaginative reader to come along.

A month or so ago, I became that reader, and discovered a dark and wonderful fantasy series, deserving of a much wider readership, and started to recommend them to folks who would appreciate them.

Then I discovered a fourth book had been published (excellent :-D) and that new covers had been created (whit? why?!!!)

The new covers are not terrible, but they do look any other common or garden fantasy series. They wouldn’t catch my eye, so I’m very glad to have caught them in their primordial aspect (the US editions are truly dreadful, by the way, but that’s a completely different market, and maybe they like sappy teenagers on the covers of their books).

I’ve shown the covers to a selection of young people, and every one of them said that while the new ones suggested a fantasy series, the older ones were much more mysterious (and the thickness of the books put them all off once they saw them in real life :-()

Apart from me sharing an outstanding series, worthy of wider awareness, the point I suppose is that it can be frustrating to encourage teenagers into picking up a different book from everyone else, especially when teenagers are determined not to stand out from the crowd, but you’d hope the publishers were equally determined that the book should be read rather than passed over.

Finally, a reminder that my opinions are my own, and I’m at ease with the fact that the rest of the world may disagree with me. If the new covers get more people reading the books, I’ll be delighted.

Edit: 27th December 2012
I’ve been foutering about with this post for almost a month, but along with Daughter’s new Christmas tablet came greater interest in downloading ebooks, leading to the discovery of a Pellinor story previously unknown to me.

The Friendship is available for free download.

This will inevitably lead to further thoughts about how on Earth I’m to publicise such stuff to my clientele!!!

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