I have a special bookshelf just for classic novels. They are beautiful books, hard-bound, some in leather, some with gilt stampings and fancy papers. Not a single one has an illustrated cover. Just the title and author’s name stamped on the front and spine. It occurred to me that these editions were not targeted to a specific market. They’re just novels, suitable for… anybody.
I thought about this when I finished reading Dead Six, by Larry Correia and Mike Kupari. It’s a thriller, I suppose a military thriller to be more exact. The cover has a military patch with a grinning skull and silhouettes of handguns. Very macho. Very much targeted at a male audience. The story is filled with gun battles and descriptions of military hardware and gun battles and fights. Pretty much non-stop action throughout. It has other stuff, too. Friendship, romantic relationships, betrayal, loyalty, heartache, triumph. I wonder how many women turn up their noses at “that kind of book” the same way many men turn up their noses at romance novels. Turned off not by what’s inside, but by what’s on the cover.
Then again, maybe I’m not the typical (whatever that means) female reader. Here is an actual conversation I had with a friend over on facebook:
Me: there’s a giant snow blower in this one that had me gagging
Marina: heh. snow blower
Me: and zombie werewolves meet the snow blower
Marina: you and I seem to actually be teenaged boys
I understand why writers and publishers have to target their audience. They need to get the word to the people most likely to read a certain type of book. They need to spend their promotional dollars wisely. They know genre-centric readers are heavy buyers, so it only makes sense to lump books into genre categories and emphasize the elements in packaging that would most tempt the target audience.
And yet, often that same packaging turns off readers who might otherwise enjoy the story. Several men who’ve been induced, for whatever reason, to read my romance novels have told me (with slightly befuddled expressions and a touch of suspicion as if I’d somehow gotten one on over them), “Not bad. It actually had a pretty good story in it.” Well, gee, thanks, fellas. Or should I say, thanks, Harlequin, for packaging the books to look as if only a female could or should enjoy them.
Imagine if book producers eschewed cover illustrations and flashes on spines that denote genre, and put all books out with only the title and author’s name on the cover. Make it impossible to judge a book by its cover. Huh.
Anyhow, it’s kind of a bummer to know there are many readers– mostly female– who’ll be turned off by the guns and the skull and the spine flash, MILITARY FICTION. They’re missing out on a damned good story, full of treasures like this:
“Think she’s lost enough?” I asked Carl. He shrugged. “It’s for your own good, Jill. If you’re captured, this way you can’t be tortured into telling them where our hideout is.”
“You mean if I run away, I can’t sell you out,” she snapped. “Well, duh, I was lost the first couple of minutes, but that was a while ago, and now we’re on the Gamal bridge going over the ocean. I can tell. The embassy is only a couple miles from here. It’s the only big bridge in town, and it sounds like we’re on a big bridge, so unless we drove all the way to Dubai while I wasn’t paying attention, can I please take this stupid bag off now?”
Carl leaned over from the driver’s seat. “She’s got a point.”
“Next time it’ll be a blindfold and a gag,” I muttered. “Okay. Take it off.”
Jill complied. “See? Told you.”