Tag Archives: reading

Book covers. Judging a book by its cover.

Book covers have been discussed in other people’s blogs. Usually they poke fun at ridiculous designs. On Google images, you can find pictures of the 10 worst book covers of all time etc. Some of them are so bad they’re hilarious. Mostly they are genre fiction of the kind of inexpensive reads you used to find on a market stall. Self-published books are notorious for having poor quality covers. But what about book cover design on recent highly-rated books from mainstream publishers?

I don’t like some current fashions in book covers. There, I’ve said it. Can’t be plainer than that. Some book cover designs are so awful I wonder what their authors thought about the packaging of their precious months of hard work. Self-published books have some kind of an excuse for having terrible covers, but where mainstream publishers put out our favourite authors’ latest novels in covers that scream second-rate, I get annoyed.

Here are examples of some of the books I’ve read:

bad book cover


What were they thinking putting that cheap red title in letters that look like worn road markings? If I didn’t know Mr Coben’s work I wouldn’t have bought this book. It looks as if it’s about some pervy paedo with a taste for little boys. Yuk!

I have no qualification in design so you’re entitled to tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. But I’m entitled to my opinion and it’s this: current trends in book cover designs can be misleading.

In some cases, very misleading . . .

bad book cover

great story – terrible cover

Oh, Kate I loved this novel, but the cover? It cheapens your plot and characters. It looks like a quasi-erotic historical romance. It is based on historical events, of course, and there is a story of love woven within it, but the novel is so much more. This cover design neglects the hardships endured by your primary female characters. Anyone would think the whole book was about a Russian princess in her red satin gowns waiting for Prince Charming to arrive.

Misleading book covers

Why do they do it? Why do they want to make novels look as if they’re about something else? Here’s more –

misleading book cover

deserves something better than this tired image

Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding is contemporary literary fiction. It rips your heart out. I think somebody must have briefed the designer with ‘It’s a haunting tale of  . . .’ and the designer stopped listening, didn’t bother to read the book and came up with a book cover that looks like it ought to be a ghost story. Ooh- er – something nasty in the attic, eh? And what is Mrs Danvers doing climbing the steps in this version of a burnt out Manderley?

Speaking of Rebecca, look what they did to a reprint of du Maurier’s classic story.

bad book cover design

tasteless book cover

It’s no better than a card from Moonpig or the Dog’s Doodahs or Funky Pigeon. And what’s with all this red, satin stuff again? Is this another case where the cover designer never read the book?

Won’t readers new to the author be disappointed when they discover the story hasn’t got any red satin glamour about it at all?

Won’t that same disappointment prevent them from buying books by that author ever again?

What is the point of misleading prospective purchasers?

Here’s another classic novel with a badly updated cover.

bad book cover

dire book cover


Everything about this cover is SO wrong. They couldn’t even choose a font that encapsulates the era of the narrative.


I don’t like book covers where they use a scene from the film, either.

bad book cover

how could you tell what kind of a book this is?

This was a good book before they made a film out of it. Why put famous actors’ faces on the cover? To attract a different body of readers? Misleading again?

It seems to me publishers are afraid of what they choose to call literary fiction.

So, stop calling it that then.

A good read is a good read whatever genre you want to put it in.

Here’s a cheap and nasty looking book cover where the story is about cheap and nasty characters.

bad book cover

should have been a cult read . . .

Layer Cake was given me by friends returning to England. I’d never heard of it and didn’t know it was also a film. The characters are such villains and probably a little stereotypical, but it doesn’t matter because this is one entertaining read. You can’t help rooting for the protagonist. It belongs with other cult reads but with a cover like this it’s only ever going to find its way into the second-hand shop, in my opinion. I get the car and the iron, but what’s with the Humpty Dumpty colours and the primary school layout?

It looks like a Haynes car manual. With an iron. How to repair those small dents in your bodywork . . .

book cover

mixed feelings about this one

One Day I can look at the cover of One Day and see the faces. On other days I see a wobbly candlestick. But then, when the original Batman film poster first appeared I wondered why it had on it an open mouth with strange golden teeth.

Do you remember the one I mean?

two ways of seeing it?

Can you see the teeth? Ah, well.

So it might be just me.

What do I know?

Sometimes book covers are spot on even if they are still misleading. Here’s an example of one I think works well.

book cover

designed to arouse curiosity

The cover for 50 Shades does its job well, in my opinion. It makes you wonder about what’s inside. The cover is actually classier than the narrative and that’s where it’s misleading, but the lady made a packet so she must be right.

I like the lone figure in the landscape appearance of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. Not only are they appropriate for the storyline but they are instantly recognisable as another Jack Reacher walking into trouble novel. You know you’re not going to be disappointed. There’s no misleading.

The lone figure image worked well for Carlos Ruiz Zafòn’s   Shadow of the Wind. Great book; great cover.

book cover

mouth-watering cover, full of promise

I loved this book. The lone figure is not a Jack Reacher type, standing tall (all 6ft. 5 of him ) ready to get his fists out and sort the problem. The shadowy figure here has his head down; his shoulders slightly stoop. You know you’re going to feel sorry for him or worry about him at some point.

There’s mystery in that fog.

There’s danger in those dark buildings.

book cover

a paler version


The cover is enticing.

The lone figure emblem didn’t work so well second time around.

Or, maybe it did. Maybe it was truthful. It was a paler image for a paler story. I think it was a mistake to stick with the same kind of imagery as the first book.

Do you get disappointed by book covers? Do they sometimes put you off buying a book?

How important do you think book covers really are?

I’d love to read your opinions. Drop me a line and share your thoughts.

What kids used to read

Have you forgotten what kids used to read? I was doing some research for an idea I have for a new novel and I came across a childhood book of mine as I rummaged through old notes and boxes of stuff. I was astounded.  My search came to a halt and off I went down the sidetrack. As you might remember from a previous post, it often happens – don’t worry.

I’d won a prize at primary school and in those days prizes most likely would be a book token. I was 8 years old. This is the book I chose.

what kids used to read

I read this when I was 8yrs old

From the Royal Series by the publisher Ward Lock & Co, this classic children’s book by Robert Louis Stevenson had been our class reader. I loved it. I liked it best when our teacher, Mrs Hall read from it. I wanted to be able, like her, to put expression into the action and read aloud with confidence.

The book cost 4 shillings. I remember my mother being surprised that this was how I wanted to spend my prize token. Treasure Island was really for boys, wasn’t it? Was I sure that this was what I really wanted?

She showed me other books from the same series.

what kids used to read

I read this one later

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was one I read when I was a bit older. What Katy Did or what she did next didn’t interest me at all. However I did enjoy Little Women when I was around eleven. So, I went home with Treasure Island and read again the story of all those great characters.

NextWhatKatyDidNow here’s an interesting thing. Look what Ward Lock had to say on the back cover of the Royal Series and I quote exactly as printed on the dust cover.

Ward Lock 1957 said . . .

These stories should be read by all young people, for they are an essential part of our cultural heritage and as significant in the educative process as any subject in the school curriculum.’

Wow! They go on to say,

Above all, through an exciting world of imagination, they will gain knowledge of human beings and their ways that would otherwise take a life-time to acquire.’

Blimey! Sounds like they were publishing books for young Martians.

Ward Lock now publishes text books for teachers and students. I wonder what they think about how children’s literature has changed over the years. Or ways it hasn’t changed at all. Here’s a link to their current web site.

Here’s an excerpt from Treasure Island Chapter 4 – punctuation as original –

‘It was already candle-light when we reached the hamlet, and I shall never forget how much I was cheered to see the yellow shine in doors and windows; but that, as it proved, was the best of the help we were likely to get in that quarter. For – you would have thought men would have been ashamed of themselves – no soul would consent to return with us to the “Admiral Benbow.” The more we told of our troubles, the more – man, woman, and child – they clung to the shelter of their houses.’

I wonder how many 8 year olds would get their heads round that now?

By the end of Chapter 5 there have already been three deaths: Jim’s father upstairs on his sick bed; Captain Billy in the inn from a stroke after drinking too much rum; and Blind Pew who is trampled by horses.

Murder and mayhem just to get you started. Good guys and bad guys.

In what ways do you think children’s literature has changed?

Please join in. I’d love to hear from you.

Thank you for visiting my website.

Gran Lit. Are you serious?

How very dare you? You mean, it’s only for Grannies?

Nonsense. Hilary Boyd writes for people not for bookshelves. (My words)

Don’t call it Gran Lit

I’m so heartened by her attitude to publishers’ need to classify fiction into genres.

“Bollocks,” she said when the Gran Lit classification was first suggested to her.

Gran-Lit writer

photo by Quercus

Oh, Hilary, please come to France and be my honorary sister. Who says people don’t want to read about older women?

Not me.

Who says you can’t have romance and sex with older characters?

I didn’t say that.

I’ll tell you who said it: Publishers. To be exact, their readers. You know, the ones who hold back the gates from the likes of aspiring novelists such as you and me. They are the ones who are in charge of the slush pile. They pass on to the people who really make the decisions only the books that excite them.

But they’re all teenagers, darlings. They only know about fantasy: werewolves and vampires and robots and spies and spaceship ghosts and the like. They also read those books with photographs on the front of men (boys) who are built of muscle and iron and their women nearly wear red or black satin. Or else they read titles like Carlotta’s Christmas at the Cup-Cake Café and the cover looks good enough to eat if you’re into sweet and sickly Candy Floss.

See? Fantasy. Do I sound full of sarcasm? Of course I do.

When they’re older, they’ll get a life. In the meantime, I mustn’t be too hard on them. They got it SO wrong, didn’t they?

Who makes up the majority of the reading population?


We’re still here. We’ve had our kids and years of sleepless nights. We’ve looked after ageing parents during their last days. We’ve lost sleep all over again when the grandchildren were unwell. We’ve had our own illnesses and close shaves. We’ve had a life. And, let me repeat myself, we’re still here. And we’ve got a little money to spend on small treats like a damned good story to read.

We’re old enough and wise enough to read all manner of different kinds of books. We have open minds. We’ll read about police detectives, little girls in France, 6ft 5″ ex marines on a one man mission to rid the USA of scum bags, widows with autistic sons, kids in a fight to the death struggle – you understand me – and once in a while, we want to read about people with whom we can identify more closely.

See, the young readers employed by the publishers couldn’t possibly understand that because they haven’t got there yet.

So it’s hats off to Quercus for publishing Hilary Boyd in the first place and having the nous to put her out as an ebook.

The Boomers have spoken. Gran-Lit? Bah, Humbug. It’s L.I.F.E., darlings. People get older. Even publishers. And now they’e having to get wiser, too. Go Hilary.

What makes a satisfying read?

What is it that makes a book satisfying for you? When you’re choosing your next read, do you look for some kind of guarantee it’s going to hit the spot?

satisfaction guarantee

can any book guarantee reader satisfaction?

Imagine – you’re in the zone – receptive to suggestions – you’re browsing genres – willing to take a little chance – open to new ideas. You spot an interesting cover – you read the blurb. Maybe you read the opening paragraphs, too. You’ve never heard of the author but you’re bookless and looking forward to your next read. But it’s got to be satisfying.

Chances are, what makes that book hit the spot for you won’t be the same as what makes a book satisfying for me.

satisfying read for a cat

do not disturb!

We like different things, don’t we, all of us? We’re attracted by different images and colours which make us choose to investigate book titles further. We might insist that we were open to new ideas and receptive to suggestions, but we were still subconsciously bound by our preferences. Those preferences grew out of our personal experiences with books and reading. You can’t prefer something you’ve never experienced.

Let me give you an example. If you asked me six years ago if I’d read any Cornwell, Reichs, Slaughter, Gerritsen etc. I would have said, I don’t think I’d enjoy that kind of book.
I had never been tempted to try titles in that genre. They simply didn’t appeal. Then a friend came to stay and left books behind. I was bookless and read them. Now I have a collection of aforementioned authors. It turned out I enjoyed the genre after all and I’ve since broadened my reading experience to include action thrillers. Who knew I’d turn out to be Jack Reacher’s #1 fan?


a dog’s fave genre?

But then, as I’ve said elsewhere on my website, I love variety. My bookshelves comprise an unusual mix, some might say. Authors now have a better chance of attracting me to their titles because I’ve experienced a wider range of books.

But, I’m still not too easy to please. The writing has to transport me. I have to care what happens next. Characters have to be attractive to me in some way. I must want to see them attempt to reach their goal. Or the plot has to be fascinating. I have to want to turn the page.

But is satisfying enough to aim for when we’re writing? Would I be delighted if, when I eventually have my novels on sale, reviewers vote them a satisfying read?

Wow factorI don’t think I would. I guess I’m aiming for the Wow factor. I think I have to. As a novelist, I’m unpublished. It’s been hard enough to break through into magazine publication and I know that to achieve success with a debut novel, you have to come up with something really special.

My novel Trobairitz won’t please everybody. Neither will Patterns of Our Lives. They’re for different markets. You can’t please everybody. But I’d like to think I could burst the satisfaction meter for some readers.

What constitutes the difference between a satisfying read and the Wow factor for you?

Teenage Gollums

We have a teenage Gollum boy in the house. That is to say, we have a teenage boy who lives upstairs. We hardly ever see him. He appears at meal times and hovers like ectoplasm, usually in doorways. He is very grey. If 50 Shades of it wasn’t a sex-romp novel, our teenage person who lives upstairs would be the epitome of 50 shades of grey. His face is grey. His hands are grey. The back of his neck is a shade of grey you wouldn’t believe.

This is because he never sees daylight. Like Gollum. Outdoors is an alien concept for teenage Gollums. Why would they ever need to venture into fresh air? Everything they need is, literally, at their fingertips.

IN my teenage years, I read E.M. Forster’s short story The Machine Stops.


E.M.Forster’s chilling vision of the future

First published in 1909, The Machine Stops paints a chilling vision of the role of technology in people’s lives. It’s one of those stories I’ve never forgotten. In this case, it isn’t the characters I remember; it’s the imagery Forster weaves into the plot and setting. The story is a stark warning against humans placing too much reliance on the machines that serve them.

E.M.Forster has his characters living alone in beehive cell-like conditions. They have video/audio connections and everything is at their fingertips, at the flick of a switch or a push of a button. They have lost their teeth and hair because they don’t need them any more. If you haven’t read it, it’s available for free as a download.

And so, Forster’s remarkable prophecy in 1909, regarding the role of technology in our lives brings me back to our teenage Gollum who lives upstairs in his own cell-like conditions. He hardly moves from the one position, hunched over his ‘precious’, his tapering fingers tapping away in the dark.

He’ll probably never read Forster. It’s so sad . . .


Reading anything good? What happens to your own voice?

There’s a Fridayread page on Facebook. People share what they’re reading and what they like in particular about that book.

I can’t join the discussion. I have nothing to share. When I’m writing, I can’t get into a book. It’s as if I’m afraid I’ll somehow ‘catch’ their voice and lose my own.

I keep Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca by my desk as my talisman to remind me of the power of characters. See my post here on the subject. Not only is Daphne one of my sources of inspiration, I find I’m safe with her. I can re-read her short stories and I know her voice won’t get into my head. I’d recognize it straight away and so I’d be able to stop it from turning up on my page.

But, if I’ve been reading Joanne Harris, for example, I know I’m going to start describing my settings the way she does. Before I knew it, there’d be sugary, powdery aromas in my sentences or Gothic shadows lurking in my paragraphs. If I’ve been reading Lee Child, to give another example, my characters would start acting out, different, sharp. Clipped sentences. Move in. Move on. Fast.

So, I don’t read when I’m writing. Except for dear old Daphne.