Judging Covers of Books

I know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, and yet, publishers pay thousands of dollars to designers to come up with a cover that we can’t resist.  Go figure.

As someone who is in the process of trying to get some books published (perhaps a never-ending process) I’ve been paying more attention to authors.  A lot of female authors’ photos on the jackets of the books they’ve written, seem to show someone who is very much in control.  There is usually a smile, but it is measured.

Photos of male authors often show someone who seems a little bored with the whole thing.  And, the proportion of published male authors with beards is MUCH higher than males in the general population.  I think it’s the influence of Ernest Hemmingway. 

I’ve had a beard several times in my life, including one 14 year stint.  I’m thinking that it’s time to grow one again, in the event that a publisher is looking for a photo for the liner notes on my book.  It may be wishful thinking, but it takes me a while to grow a beard, so I should plan ahead.

My father was not big on beards.  Maybe it was because Lenin had one, or because beards were popular with beat-nicks, and later hippies.  He didn’t say he hated the beard I had, but was glad I kept it trimmed neatly.

It’s funny, but making the conscious decision to grow a beard or a moustache, or to get a piercing in an eyebrow, or a tattoo on one’s neck – well, they are all things people do on purpose.  It would seem that people do these things in order to be noticed, and because those things make a statement about who they are and what they stand for.

And yet, someone with a full beard – let’s say it is braided – 50 facial piercings and a tattoo of Che on his forehead will be the first to say, “Hey, man: don’t judge me by how I look!”

The thing is, we can’t help it.  If I see a guy in a $2,000 suit, manicured nails and a perfect hair cut, I’m likely to draw some conclusions from that guy too.  And, a woman who is showing the maximum possible cleavage has also made a conscious decision to do that, and while my primitive brain responds to that in a happy way, it’s impossible not to draw some conclusions about that person.

It must be said, though, that all of the above are surface indications, and while it’s hard not to make some judgments, it’s also true that the porcupined guy with the big beard and tattoo might be a very reasonable, businesslike individual with a 401-K and sensible shoes.  In fact, he may be politically conservative.  Likewise, the guy in the business suit may be in debt up to his eyeballs, partly due to an out-of-control cocaine habit.

Maybe the thing to do is alter the saying:  “Judge a book by its cover, but then open it up to see if you were right.”  That doesn’t seem quite right either.  It’s hard to be open minded when our experiences want to make us jump to conclusions.  And yet, we owe it to books and people to do just that.  We may be surprised on both counts.


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