As a bookseller of over six years, I am sometimes asked by to-be authors what kind of covers sell. “Hmm,” I say all the time thinking, “Shouldn’t the contents inside be the selling point of your book?” Then I go on to say, “The cover should be classy, subtle.”
In the meantime, I have begun to observe how a buyer reacts to a book cover. Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi’s The Lost Flamingoes Of Bombay has the gorgeous semi-nude Meghna Reddy in an arty calendar-like pose on the cover, giving the misleading impression that the book is all about sex. I find several readers avoiding the book rather self-consciously as a result. I tell them I had reviewed the book somewhat glowingly and quite often encourage buyers to buy it. Tarun Tejpal’s The Story Of My Assassins shows a scarecrow, making the cover as elusive and cryptic as the title, leaving my poor buyers thoroughly at sea.
One very apt cover is that of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s The Palace of Illusions that has the photograph of a real antique door in Jaipur, all glittered and jazzed up to give the impression of the illusory world of the mythical Mayapuri. There are those beautiful, Indian motifs on cloth covers for translated regional classics.
Then there are books with the name of the author over-riding everything else. Warren Buffet’s Snowball has a smart glossy black cover with a gilded border. Jack Welch’s books have his immensely likeable face on the cover. Similarly, Nandan Nilekani’s Imagining India needs only the face of the man to sell his book.
Vikas Swarup’s Slumdog Millionaire had a much better title and a simpler cover as Q and A. But one supposes that an Oscar makes a world of a difference.
We do judge a book by its cover. I put books on display to be seen from outside the shop. I try to use as bait a mix of the best books, as well as the books with the most eye-catching covers. A bright red book will be my choice over a more subtle cover, and invariably, some attractive children’s books, and some coffee-table books will find pride of place. How else would I lure the unsuspecting reader into my store like the spider and the fly?
Shobha Sengupta owns the Gurgaon-based Quill and Canvas