You should never judge a book by its cover, right? Definitely right. It’s not just that you might pick up a guide to traditional olive harvesting techniques when you were expecting a steamy tale of love and seduction that crosses ethnic divides in the Levant, but that you might be looking at a different book entirely. Have you ever noticed how often stock photos are recycled for book covers? No? Don’t worry, not one but two websites have.
The Rap Sheet has been calling out publishers on their copy-cat covers for over four years now (amongst many other literary things). They’ve amassed an impressive selection of images that get used again, and again, and again on books. Some images seem to be especially popular for a particular genre of books, Russian crime novels, for example. Other pictures manage to span genres with remarkable ease: from private investigator thriller to guide to getting a tattoo.
Euro Crime focuses on European crime literature, film, and TV, but every now and again it turns up some cover clones. It shows you publishers’ penchants for snow scenes highlighted with red, lightbulbs, bound hands, and the colour turquoise. Is it just that these things work, or that they can’t be bothered to be a bit more original?
Obviously the greater variety of pictures that gets used means all the more work for photographers, but a bit of definition is what authors need, too. I don’t want to walk into a bookshop and be confronted with yet another sepia-toned shot of a gaunt woman shrouded in fog beneath a gas-lit street lamp. Maybe it’s a damning indictment of literature; if you’ve read one book with the malnourished miserable mysterious woman on the cover, you’ve read them all. If that is the case, don’t admit to it! Do something about it. And if it isn’t the case, then credit authors with the originality that they deserve.
Dammit, one day, when my cookery book gets published, it won’t have a stock photo on its front cover. Do you think I want it being mistaken for some chest-heaving instalment in an insipid saga of teenage vampirism?
(Headsup to the Steampunk-tastic Wondermark.)