Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

These are words that I had stressed to me often growing up.  I never realized how literally they would come into play in my adult life.  Hi, my name is Melody, and I do in fact, judge books by their covers.

My life-long obsession with books began at an early age.  I would walk through the local brick-and-mortar bookstore, waiting for that “EUREKA!” moment when a book cover called to me so that I might pluck it off the shelf, scurry to the sales counter, drop my hard earned allowance and dash home to immerse myself in worlds unknown to me.  A particularly humorous instance of this process happening once when I was sitting on the floor of a bookshop with a stack of books around me, the kindly shop keeper inquired if she could help me find anything to which I replied “I’m just waiting for something to jump out at me.”  She made a peculiar face and rushed away to the back before I realized that I essentially parked myself in the paranormal section with a collection of ghost stories.  Suddenly, waiting for something to jump out at me took on a whole new meaning.

Not much has changed since then.  I still love to walk the sacred space between the shelves of my local bookstores in my rare free time, knowing that occasionally I still have just enough left of my hard earned paycheck to dash home with another book that I can escape into for untold hours.  However, most of the books that I read and review come into my hands via digital ARCs or print advance review copies shipped to my door directly from the publisher pre-release.  A new book arrived yesterday from a large publisher, and I’m not exaggerating when I say I squealed in delight when I ripped open the bubble mailer and unearthed my next great adventure, what turned out to be a paranormal romance from an author whose books I’ve never read.

STEAMY!  Sensual!  Am I having a hot flash?  A well designed cover should make all sorts of thoughts run through your head which should make you want to read the book.  And I couldn’t wait to read this one based off of the cover.  A tattooed, shirtless, and handsome man a breath away from kissing a beautiful, barely dressed woman.  Then I flipped it over…  It’s a YOUNG ADULT book?  Wait…  What?  I flipped the book back and forth about ten times.  There must be a mistake.  No one would put such a steamy cover on a YA book, targeted at ages 14 and up.  Would they?  They did.  And suddenly my literary world stood on its ear, and I have yet to crack the spine to open the book for the first time.

I started to look at this cover with the eyes of a parent.  Today’s teens are the constant targets of over-sexualized images in the media.  I had always considered books as safe.  How many parents wish their kids would turn off the television, computer, video games and smartphones to pick up a book.  But what books might they pick up now if they just wander down the aisles of the book store?  And what kind of content might a book contain if this is the imagery that the publisher chose to use to make a first impression of the book?

I asked several individuals of varying age and gender to tell me the first word that came to mind when they saw the cover.  My boss, a 55 year old Marketing Director replied “SEX!” while a mother of four saw a romantic couple, the idea of young military love, “It’s the clean cut with the tattoo that does it”.  Most shockingly from my thirteen year old son, “Pornography” was his impression.  While I’m sure his view is colored by the fact that romance novels are to some degree “gross”, nevertheless, each person i asked noticed a very strong sexual tone from the cover.

I will never advocate censorship, but I fully support common sense.  So I’m left wondering where common sense had gone when the team behind this cover neglected to consider that many “YA Readers” are YOUNG.  Active readers who are reading above grade level.  We aren’t talking age 14 and up.  I personally know several children under age 10 who are no longer challenged by their age appropriate material and head for the YA section.  Sure their parents should be with them helping them with selections, but their parents can’t make them un-see what’s on the shelf while innocently shopping in a bookstore.  At least with the television, we can change the channel.  Wow, excuse me while I struggle to come to terms with that last sentence, and wonder if there is no place our children will be safe from over-sexualized images anymore.

Final note: Authors have very little control over their book covers.  That responsibility most often lies in the lap of marketing and PR people and countless others at the big publishing machine.   With respect to the author’s work and creativity inside the book, I have intentionally not included the cover or the title.  I will not be the torch bearer and incite controversy over a book which I have not read.  Such tactics benefit neither the author OR audience.   We need look no further than the 50 Shades debacle as proof of this.  I will read the book, and will review it.  But I’m confident now that I can do so without letting my frustrations over its cover cloud my judgment.

Melody Evans is a Social Media Manager for a family of healthcare companies and a freelance book review blogger for Up All Night Novels.  When she’s not  forgoing sleep in the endless pursuit of literary satisfaction, she can often be found diligently glued to her keyboard, seeking new outlets to express her love of all things geek chic.

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