Prattling on about the way books are marketed

So there’s something really strange going on in the world today. People do not like to be told that things really aren’t as bad as they think- especially when it comes to issues that they care about. But sometimes things really aren’t as bad as some people think. Especially when it comes to the way books are marketed.

Over the years, I’ve seen *a lot* of different complaints and claims made about publishers that to my mind are misguided, nonsensical and really inaccurate. The two main grumblings I’ve heard are book cover designs being deliberately aimed at one gender or another and using initials for female author’s names.

Straight off the bat I could say that these are really storm in a teacup complaints. But I thought it would be worthwhile to break down some of this and provide a counter-argument for a change.

The first and most obvious issue with the objection that book covers are marketed in a certain way is that capitalism doesn’t work the way these people think. Commercialism is quite simply about supply and demand. It’s about the freedom to choose. As fun as it no doubt is to cook up some half-baked conspiracy theory about how publishers have some sinister agenda to hide female writers from us, or deliberately discourage men from reading certain genres, just from a business perspective I can say this would be a really foolish thing to do. To be blunt, if a commercial operation can take your money, it will! If these marketing techniques didn’t work at all, no one would use them.

book covers.png

No prizes for guessing the book genre here…

But why then are books marketed this way? And why is it important? Well, we as book bloggers will all admit that we *love* judging books by their covers. Book covers are often designed in a way to give us some indication of what to expect. When I see a half-naked man on a cover I know what I’m getting in for. I like to have my expectations met and don’t like being misled about what’s actually between the covers. In all honesty, I wouldn’t buy a book that didn’t show me anything about what’s inside and I’d be peeved if the cover was, say, an innocuous picture of a boat and it turned out to be hard-core erotica.

Now we are all old enough here to be able to make these decisions for ourselves, but I would like to point out that there doesn’t seem to be a major issue of bias in the way children’s books are chosen. Given that 78% of people in the publishing industry are women, I’d be interested to hear people trying to make that argument. Anecdotally I can add that as a child I had no problem picking up masculine books, like Alex Rider, which FYI were stocked in my all girls’ school library. And I have male friends whose shelves are stuffed with Diana Wynne Jones, Eva Ibbotson or Enid Blyton books.

One final point that I’d like to make is that there is a logical reason behind the decision to use non-gendered names. JRR Tolkein started the trend over fifty years ago, anonymising his name to give his fantasy works an air of mystery. That’s the first thing that comes to my mind when I see initials being used. To this day, it’s still a trend for both male and female authors of fantasy to give their books the allure of the unknown. An author like V E Schwab would certainly be playing into that tradition- and I would argue that given she was already published under Victoria Schwab, it kind of negates the argument that she needed to do this in order to be successful. And let’s be honest, it’s never been a secret that J K Rowling is a woman- but even if this was a decision that was made because she was woman, I feel like this was a kick in the teeth for aforementioned authors like Dianna Wynne Jones, who had conquered this market twenty years prior. Anyway there is no comparison with using initials to authors like Austen having “a novel by a lady” written on the cover of her books or Charlotte Bronte going by Currer Bell. Personally, I think it’s a shame to make a mountain out of a molehill over an issue like this given the stark comparison.

Forgive me for this random, rambly piece- this is just something that has been on my mind a while and thought I’d share.

So what do you think? How do you feel about the way books are marketed? Let me know in the comments!

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42 thoughts on “Prattling on about the way books are marketed

  1. alilovesbooks says:

    I do get a little bit fed up with all of the half naked men on the cover of romance books purely because it’s been done to death but I do think the cover should definitely give you an idea of what to expect.

    My biggest grump about book marketing is the jumping on the bandwagon thing. Books never seem to stand on their own anymore. They are always the next Gone Girl or Fifty Shades or perfect for fans of John Green. I get why they do it but it drives me nuts. They should be trying to be original not copy someone else.

    Liked by 2 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Fair enough- it’s not really the kind of thing I want to be caught reading in public 😉 (but tbh I don’t think they’re always the kind of books I’d want to read in public anyway)
      Oh gosh yes- I ONE HUNDRED PERCENT AGREE!!! That drives me mad!!! I get it too- but that can be a very short term marketing policy- cos if enough people say “no it’s not like that” people won’t buy it and a lot of people won’t read the sequel. Also it just winds me up so I wish they would *stop doing it* 😉 (which isn’t really the best argument, but whatever)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Zezee says:

    It’s weird, but my first reaction was to disagree, but I do agree that marketing tactics would’ve changed if present ones weren’t working.
    I think it’s no longer an issue what books men read or that a woman has written a book. Such complaints were mostly for times in the past when women had to use pseudonyms to get published. I think that reaction is changing.
    I don’t have any major issues with book covers, except when they have awful designs. The only thing that nettles me is that the race of the people on the majority of YA books, and even adult books, is White. Still, since the majority of those books often have White casts, it makes sense.
    As for authors’ names, I hardly pay attention to authors to care what their names are. It might be that J.K. Rowling used that name because she was told boys wouldn’t read her books, but personally, I doubt the kids would care. I just assume authors used initials n pseudonyms these days for privacy and a bit of freedom (Robert Galbraith). Some also use different names according to the types of books they write (say, YA books and erotica).
    I found it hilarious when I read a bunch of complaints from people who felt so deceived my Rowling’s use of a male pseudonym.
    My prob with marketing practices is when we’re are told a book is like another (the next Harry Potter or Hunger Games or Twilight, etc) but when read, the book has one small thing in common to what it’s compared to (magic school, simply dystopian, vampires).

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      haha well thanks!! I can agree with that- as you said attitudes have changed. Yeah I don’t like bad designs either. And I’d like to see a change there too.
      Yes I definitely agree that kids really don’t care about this sort of thing. My older brothers were the first to read Harry Potter for instance. And they read all my mum’s Enid Blyton books too. I don’t think the gender of the author ever occurred to them 😉 Yeah that’s definitely true!! And for sure agree with you- particularly when it comes to erotica. (Funnily enough there’s an author that blew my mind by having about 3 different pseudonyms for each genre she wrote in.
      hahaha that’s so silly.
      Oh gosh I agree with that so much!! Absolutely drives me *crazy* when they do that and I wish they wouldn’t! It’s gotten to the point where I’ll see “Jane Austen meets Vampire Academy meets Sherlock Holmes” and I’ll put that book back with a sigh of “give me a break”

      Like

  3. thesarahdoughty says:

    I agree. For the most part, I think authors will choose what name they want on their books. Now, I have heard some stories about some authors writing under a pseudonym of the opposite sex, anonymously, per an agreement with a publisher, but I have no concrete proof this actually happened. With regards to a cover, I think it’s important to represent what the interior will have. You’re right, if there’s a half naked man or couple on the cover, there’s little doubt what will be inside. I remember locking up and reading Jory Strong’s book, Ghostland. Now I figured out just by reading the back cover that it was as a paranormal romance, but the cover suggested it was an urban fantasy (it was a fully clothed woman, looking pretty badass in front of a decrepit Golden Gate Bridge). Some reviewers were outraged to find how much sexual content was included. Although I do understand that those “traditional” cover styles are getting old, at least people know what to expect. There’s still this strange stigma about holding a book that’s obviously a romance of some kind, but e readers are allowing people to read a little more anonymously now. If, in the future, I’m lucky enough to offer a print version of my books, I’m not sure how I would tackle that issue. Perhaps with a hardcover, I could disguise the couple behind the jacket, like King did with his alternate world behind the hardcover of Lisey’s story. But I suppose I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Thank you so much for your comment! Yes definitely. Ah yeah I’ve never heard anything concrete either, and given that on balance that would be a pr disaster I’m inclined to disbelieve it- but who’s to say what happens behind closed doors.
      Yes for sure! I’ve had that trouble before too! Especially being surprised by the fact that there was nothing on the blurb to indicate it was more erotica than urban fantasy than the marketing suggested. It’s not that I have a problem with that genre- it’s that I want to know what I’m picking up cos it might not suit my mood or I might be looking for the story it sold me.
      Yeah, I can see people getting bored of the same old covers- that’s fair. And I also would be embarrassed to read certain books in public- but to be honest I don’t want to read those books while I’m out and about anyway!
      Oh that’s a really awesome technique- I like the sound of that!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. deborahkehoe says:

    I am actually somewhat annoyed that the trend is towards a half naked man on a romance cover. Since a woman, or at least another partner is usually involved in the plot, I’d like to see both of them. However, I read an article quoting Kristen Ashley as saying initially she likes her covers to be people free because she doesn’t want to influence how her readers visualize her main characters. I totally get that! When a book turns into a movie, aren’t some of the fans disappointed if the actor doesn’t match who they visualized? I don’t think there’s a winning argument on this one, but it’s fun to discuss!

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      haha fair enough. I kind of get that about two people on the cover. For me I prefer a mixture- mostly I want some clue as to what to expect and I think I’d get bored of the covers if they were just symbols (eg hearts or something for romance). And I can say from experience, there’s nothing that peeves me more than being misled by the marketing and having an unrelated book cover (particularly covers that indicate a different genre). Some books have such bland or generic looking people on the covers anyway that it doesn’t make me visualise the characters anyway, but I can see why it would bother other people. I do think a lot of the time it not matching the description in the book tends to bother people more than the picture on the cover. Sure!

      Liked by 1 person

      • deborahkehoe says:

        Too true. I actually wrote about that on a review of mine for the book Break Out. It had a gorgeous male face on the cover and the synopsis read like it was a romance. There was a romance, but it was a science fiction book! Fooled me! I did actually end up liking it, but if I hadn’t liked science fiction I would’ve been pissed!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Bookstooge says:

    Tempest in a teapot is definitely how I’d describe these issues. I feel like they are issues ONLY if someone wants to make them issue because they’re the “bitch about something, anything” kind of people.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Books, Vertigo and Tea says:

    Covers are certainly an important part of marketing as they are often the first representation or “eye catching” element of a book in many cases. So I am sure they are often manipulated to do just what they are meant to, sell us. I am guilty of cover buys, but only blame myself if it ends up being a mistake. I have also passed on books that perhaps I should not have because of covers.

    They only true complaint I have in marketing sometimes is the targeted audience age wise. There seeming to be a ever thinning line between YA and Adult that is baffling to me. And I find that more and more marketing seems to be geared towards attacking both reading groups (not that YAs cannot be enjoyed by adults), but at times it is a very blurred line. This is of great concern when you have a reading teenager in the home.

    Fantastic topic to approach!

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Oh for sure- and I am totally guilty of cover buys too- haha yeah, we only have ourselves to blame. And yup I’ve done the same.
      Oh yeah I definitely get that. I’ve begun to find some books end up in both sections of the library and bookshops- it’s really confusing. I completely understand that!
      Thank you very much!!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Kristina Steiner says:

    You really have me thinking here. When designing the cover for my romance novel I wanted it to be eye-catching in the sense of it being different and I opted for black and white (which connects with the title and the idea of partnership) with the purple font to make it more soft and romantic. I didn’t want it to be cheesy and like most. I think I prefer covers with no people on them. But… You have me thinking now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      haha no don’t worry at all- your cover is really good! It’s really clear from the way it’s marketed that it’s a romance! And I also like when people mix it up (I don’t think or want every romance to have people on it- it’s just an example!!) What I meant was when it’s misleading- for instance- I’ve picked up books where everything about it suggests high fantasy and it turns out to be paranormal erotica… which is very different!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Lashaan and Trang (Bookidote) says:

    Very interesting post. I actually didn’t know that such complaints were being thrown out there. I couldn’t help but agree with your description of the issue (storm in a teacup, etc.). I never bought a book (or NOT bought a book) because it was written by a lady. I’ve been curious about pseudonyms though, but I assumed that it was just a question of privacy and nothing more. Even names like J.R.R.Tolkien seemed like an attempt to have a shorter name on a cover, a much easier way to remember a name, and maybe an attempt to have SOME privacy regarding his full name. But with today’s technology and access to information (yeh.. internet), I don’t think these name changes even matter anymore. A writer is a writer and its their story that should truly matter. Same should go for covers. Definitely guilty of judging books by their cover (not as the ONLY deciding factor though), but I only see a whole business aspect to it. We live in an age where we LOVE to have CHOICES and books are no exceptions. The same book with 100 alternate covers is the mere proof of the consumerism that plagues our society hahaha. When classics keep on getting a new cover every year, I tell myself that its just a strategy to bring to light something that has GREAT potential to be bought by newcomers or collectors. Movie tie-in covers are to make people read it before the movie adaptation comes out, etc. etc. Some covers try to be very explicit in what kind of book it is, like the examples you give too. If those covers didn’t work, they definitely wouldn’t be still published nowadays, and I totally agree with ya! Great post! 😉

    – Lashaan

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Yeah it’s actually one of those old complaints that I see rearing its head every so often- bit random of me to talk about it right now, but I thought why not? 😉 Yeah I know right- I don’t know anyone like that either. Especially since us book readers seem to be such nice people 😉 Yeah that’s what I thought for sure. Yeah definitely agree with you there. I’ve seen authors have several pseudonyms, but it doesn’t take long for people on the internet to connect them. Yes ONE HUNDRED PERCENT AGREE! Haha yes for sure!! And I was just thinking of movie tie ins when you said that!! Personally I’m not a fan of movie tie in covers- but I can’t deny people buy them cos they see the connection! Yes!! Thank you!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lashaan and Trang (Bookidote) says:

        I hate movie tie in covers too hahahaha I find no appeal in them and see them only as cash-grab attempts by the publishers. I don’t mind there existence though, since they get people to read books, but if I, personally, wanted to read a book before the movie comes out, I’ll most likely hunt for the non movie tie-in. Then again… if its a gift, it holds a whole new significance and “hate” would probably be toned down.. to… love? Hihi 😀 Hell yeh for books as gifts!! I digress. 😀

        – Lashaan

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Thoughts on Fantasy says:

    Great post! I particularly agree with you on the initials front – so many male and female fantasy authors since Tolkien have used initials or middle names. To me these just suggest ‘fantasy author’ they don’t suggest ‘female author trying to hide her gender’.

    As for covers, I also like it when they give you an accurate idea of what to expect, and don’t mind trends. I think I only dislike it when the covers seem lazy (like no one put much effort into doing something interesting within the trend) or when I just personally find whatever trend they are working with awful. For example, I hate a lot of old 80s/90s paperback fantasy covers and it can be painful to buy copies, even if I like the book!

    I do wonder though if an entrenched trend like ‘naked male chest’ is selling lots of books because it is still a good cover choice or simply because it has become such a ubiquitous genre indicator… (i.e. if fantasy covers still looked like trashy 80s ones I’d still buy them because I understand they mean ‘fantasy book inside’, but I’m very glad they’ve since changed!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Thank you so much!! I’m so glad you agree on that one- I get really surprised when people think like that over what’s clearly (to my mind) a fantasy trend!
      Yeah I get tat completely- I can get really bored of some covers and yes- I have some 80s fantasy books and they have some hilariously bad covers!! hehe I think it’s more the latter of being an ubiquitous genre indicator for sure 😉 (I’m not a huge fan of them by the way- I just thought it was a good example of something showing you quite clearly what it is 😉 )

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thoughts on Fantasy says:

        Haha glad to hear you also have some hilariously bad 80s fantasy covers. I often try to hide mine on an inconspicuous part of my shelf 🙂 I don’t read a lot of straight romances (as opposed to fantasy/paranormal/YA ones) so I am fairly ambivalent about the naked chests… e.g. I think the ‘Before Hadley’ one you used as an example is nicely composed and appealing, but I’ve seen a few that are just a close up of some abs with a tacky title slapped on top and I find that a bit ridiculous… guess it still clearly shows you what to expect though 😉 I read a lot of high fantasy romances and they tend to go with women in long dresses either swooning in a man’s arms, wielding a weapon or looking windswept/magical. Can’t say I’m a fan of many of those covers either but I prefer them to the naked chests!

        Liked by 1 person

        • theorangutanlibrarian says:

          haha yes me too. I rarely do- and if I do it’s on my kindle. haha yeah, I’ve seen that kind of thing- and I get what you mean- but like you said at least it’s clear what it’s about 😉 (and as a reviewer you can’t really complain there were “too much abs” after reading it 😉 ) haha totally get that!!

          Liked by 1 person

  10. Donna says:

    Why do I always read your discussion posts during breakfast when my brain is still half-asleep? xD
    I love your points, and there’s no point denying it, we all judge a book by its cover first! That’s why I hate a beautiful cover with a meh story inside xD
    I admit to be quite fed up with the romance covers and their rules of naked people or flashy things on the cover, but it might just be because I’m not a big fan of the genre, I guess the picture of a chair and a clown wig wouldn’t appeal to romance lovers xD. Oh and if they could just give up the taglines about how a book is the next Gone Girl…

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      haha why do I always reply to comments when I’m falling asleep…. 😉
      Thank you- and yes we are all guilty of that for sure- and yes, I am super disappointed when a book with a beautiful cover turns out to have a meh story (I often get confused as to whether I should unhaul it- I mean it looks great on my shelf… but I usually get rid of books I don’t plan to read again… so what to do?)
      Oh yeah I can totally understand that- I probably should have clarified in the piece that it was more of an example than me saying I like this trend. hahaha no- but it would to horror lovers- I feel like that needs to be a cover for a Stephen King novel at some point!! OH GOD YES!!! I swear if I see that again, I’ll be writing a strongly worded letter to the publisher… or you know, just make a comment in a review- I’m lazy 😉

      Like

  11. Cait @ Paper Fury says:

    I have no problems with women wanting to go via their initials! Actually when I was querying my first novel, I went under my initials as much choice, not because I wanted to hide that I’m a girl, just because I like my initials?!?😜So I agree it’s hardly like people are hiding author’s genders these days. (Although I know that’s probably what happened in the past.) And I think also sometimes authors do that to differentiate between genres they write? Like VE Schwab writes under VE for adult but Victoria for YA. It makes sense to me!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      I totally get that!!! Yes- I definitely agree that this was something that happened in the past- but I don’t think this translates into the 21st century! Yeah exactly!! That’s precisely what I assumed. Especially since her books for YA are clearly not supposed to just be for girls, so if that was the reason, then surely she’d just do it for both? I think your point makes much more sense!! Thanks for commenting!

      Like

  12. Aayush Priyank says:

    Stocked in your all girls school? Either you’re a very messed up guy, or you’re a girl. I’ve commented quite a bit on a lot of your posts and I’m noticing this now. Smart observation skills on my part.
    In my defence, though, I’ve never met a female orangutan before.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. authorsinspirations says:

    When i first thought about self-publishing, i was going to abbreviate my name, to create an air of mystery and give my readers a sense of curiosity. i’ve since dismissed the notion, because i realized that’s what everyone else is doing and sometimes i get annoyed with all those abbreviated names myself.

    Liked by 1 person

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