On Covers, Readership and The Bell Jar

Recently there has been lots of fuss around the new cover for The Bell Jar (see above). Lots of people have been saying that the cover doesn’t reflect the book, that it makes the book look unsubstantial, that it has an aura of chick-lit around it.

Really this post isn’t about The Bell Jar cover as such, but I feel seeing as it’s what has inspired this post then I should at least make my own feelings on this known. So, in brief. I can see how the cover can be seen as being chick-lit like. The lipstick, the pretty woman, the mirror. However I think if it’s a chick-lit cover then it’s chick-lit about a sad woman, I mean look at those lips, look at that reflection. If it does indeed attract chick-lit readers then once they see the image closer up then they will see that it is different, but may be interested enough to look further.

Anyway Faber & Faber answered the concerns this week. Key in their reasoning was the idea of a new readership, a reader who…

will enjoy its (The Bell Jar’s) brilliance without knowing anything about Plath’s other work.

There’s a certain deja-vu about it all. What was it that Bloomsbury said of the new editions of Harry Potter? What did Headline say of their new ‘chick-lit style’ Austen covers? It always seems to be finding a new readership, but does it work?

Well there could be quite a shock for people who pick up The Bell Jar based on its new cover, especially if they are reading it based solely on the cover image. Whilst I can personally see a sadness there is it just because I know The Bell Jar? If I knew nothing of the Bell Jar would I pick it up expecting something light and easy? Even having read the blurb (which gives no real allusions) would I still expect everything to turn out perfectly (because, you know, there aren’t sad endings in chick-lit)?

Even if this new cover gets people to buy The Bell Jar who wouldn’t have previously will you actually be getting a new fanbase (for want of a better word)? How many of these people will give up when they don’t get what they expected and how many will become Plath convertees*? I imagine that there would be people who wouldn’t have considered Plath before who find they actually enjoy The Bell Jar so look into her other works, However I also imagine that there will be people who go for The Bell Jar expecting something else and feel a little like they have been tricked.

After all that’s what a new cover is about isn’t it? About making a book appear differently. I don’t really think that the new cover for The Bell Jar is too bad for this but whilst Jane Austen is in a way the mother of chick-lit the chick-lit style covers do suggest something other than a classic. If you live in a hole and have never heard of Jane Austen you may actually think they are your stereotypical chick-lit books based on the covers (see right). Just don’t ask me what type of hole you can live in to have access to chick-lit but still not know who Jane Austen is.

So what do we think? Are different covers a good idea because they might bring new lovers to old books? Are they just a trick which might get up sales for a bit but ultimately lead to nothing? Or are they just an attempt which will never do anything?

Have you ever bought a book based on a new cover?




*yes, I do realise that convertee is not a real word, but it works, so I’m keeping it


Filed under Musings

14 responses to “On Covers, Readership and The Bell Jar

  1. I think the real problem here is people’s perceptions of chick-lit. No they don’t all have happy endings. Some of the most heart-breaking books I’ve read have had “silly girl covers”. I think the Headline Austen books are pretty, indeed I own a few of them and she is chick-lit. She just happens to be classic chick-lit. They are books about women’s trials and tribulations. Yes there are some truly awful fluffy romance reads but relationships are important to people. They should be written about.


  2. I think you are [probably right about there being a perception of chick-lit as being fluffy, but that still means things with chick-lit covers would be expected to be fluffy. There’s also the issue of what you categorise chick-lit. For example I wouldn’t categorise Jodi Picoult as chick-lit, but she has been categorise as such. It’s a pretty ambiguous genre.

    As for the Jane Austen covers. They fit her in the sense that she is chick-lit, but the covers don’t say classic to me (as pretty as they are) and generally speaking classics are a fairly difficult read where chick-lit is easy.

    I am certainly not saying chick-lit doesn’t have a place. Whilst generally I don’t read your stereotypical chick-lit I do enjoy it from time to time, and I agree that relationships are an important thing to write about.


  3. A cover should reflect the themes and atmosphere of the book. If I see a cartoon character of a skinny woman sipping a latte I’m expecting a relaxing chick lit novel.


  4. Yes, certainly I would from that too? Would you think chick-lit from the cover above though?


  5. This cover doesn’t particularly bother me and I love The Bell Jar. I think the Austen cover bothers me more. I almost even like the idea of attracting a wider audience with a more universal cover. I think the image of a blatantly depressed woman would be off putting to some people who might otherwise genuinely enjoy the novel.


  6. I can see what you mean there (although I can’t off the top of my head think of a cover which shouts depressed woman at me).

    A part of me likes both covers, as covers in general, but I’m not sure how much they fit with the books.


  7. I think different covers will target different audiences and some may be more ‘socially acceptable’ in some groups (e.g. the Jane Austen cover might be more acceptable to a group of teenage girls who only read chick lit). I like covers, but ultimately I would choose between two copies based on availability and price. I think ebooks have spoiled me though, many have no cover image and occasionally just a black screen.
    BTW, happy birthday!


  8. I’d definitely think women’s fiction.


  9. therelentlessreader

    Part of me wants to applaud any effort to get people reading. The other part of me thinks that messing around with covers is just silly.


  10. I suppose when a book is older to then the original cover can look a little old fashioned which may put people off.


  11. Covers are I suppose what initially attracts you, but like you I would go for the cheapest available. I quite like the green penguin ones, the covers aren’t very exciting but they’re cheap and they’re not really bad to look at (although now I have a kindle I tend to go with the free version)


  12. Really interesting blog. I have to admit that I am guilty of being more inclined to read a book if I like it’s cover, but with classics this probably wouldn’t be the case. I suppose it’s all about getting something to stand out on the shelf to readers who might not usually pick it up.


  13. Thank you 🙂 I think the problem with trying to make something appeal to those who wouldn’t usually read it is that there might be a reason that it doesn’t appeal to them- beyond genre. Starting to get people into new genres is maybe a good thing, because it’s easy to get stuck in a rut, but I think maybe cross-genre fiction is a better way to do that than through trying to change a particular book’s image.


  14. Pingback: The Art of Hiding- Amanda Prowse | Lucybird's Book Blog

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