Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Judge the book by the cover and don’t buy them wrapped

We all know the twentieth-century saying: don’t judge a book by its cover. There is beauty in the saying; you should not judge somebody’s character or, in this case a novels content, by its appearance. However, I wonder whether this turn-of-phrase so popular in the 1940s has lost its accuracy and charm to the modern reader.

Two summers ago, I travelled alone to Australia for three months. In that time I did a fair bit of reading: I enjoyed non-fiction reads like Malala Yousfazi’s I Am Malala to fiction novels like Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Then, I was looking for something else to get my hands on.

As I was walking down a cobbled back street in Freemantle, Western Australia, I came across what looked like Belle’s father’s bookshop from Beauty and the Beast. Outside, there was a rack of books, all wrapped up in brown wrapping paper; on the packaging, somebody had written certain words to provide a flavour of the novel. The sign above the books read: “Have a Blind Date with a Book”, clearly appealing to the well-known turn of phrase all English speakers know: don’t judge a book by its cover. I was intrigued and simultaneously unsure about it; I couldn’t read the blurb, I couldn’t see who wrote it, all I had to go off of were abstracts like, “new beginnings”, “love”, and “death”. After debating on whether to invest my time in this book ‘date’ or not, I decided to give it a miss and save dates for people.

At the time I regretted not trying the ‘Date a Book’ idea

At the time I regretted not trying the ‘Date a Book’ idea. It was right up my street considering I am an English Literature and Creative Writing student at Warwick. However, this summer I did one week’s work experience with the Commercial Women’s Fiction Team at HarperCollins in London. My preconceptions about what it would be like to work as an editor in a publishing house were definitely incorrect. I thought that the work would be isolating and lonely; that editors slaved away reading first drafts, correcting punctuation and grammar from nine to five.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. There were meetings with the International Sales Departments, the Marketing Team, the Design Team, and Editorial Management Team. The Editorial Team had a meeting specifically to “brainstorm titles” for a book being released in the upcoming months; everyone had to attend and the list of potential titles were three A4 pages long! After this brainstorm, the editor had to email the author back and forth to see what titles she was happy with, she also had to confirm the title with the Head of Marketing. Often, one party would agree on the title and the other would not. Then, we were back to square one: brainstorming more titles that could appease both the author and the marketing team. Before books are printed, there are unproofed copies printed with the “jacket” (the book cover) design on the front to see what it looks like in the flesh. To me, it seemed as though just as much hard work and effort went into designing the front cover as it did to come up with the story arc of the novel!  

After witnessing the process behind finalising a book cover first-hand, it feels criminal to cover up this product of this hard work with brown paper packaging

After witnessing the process behind finalising a book cover first-hand, it feels criminal to cover up this product of this hard work with brown paper packaging. Particularly as I know how well-researched, demographically and visually, it is, as well as the amount of professional teams that have to agree to the design before publication.

If you want to read a book that you probably won’t finish, or that you will never normally read, maybe a blind book date is for you. But, for me, I am going to continue to choose my books by reading the blurb, investigating the author, and trusting word of mouth recommendations. Perhaps we need a new saying: blind dates are for people, not for books.


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