As an author and a publisher, I’ve spent hours, days and weeks agonizing over book covers. This very first impression the reader will have of the book had better be the right one. Every detail becomes an obsession. That is why, when I first wandered the bookshops of Paris many years ago, I was bewildered by the fact that, most often, book covers look something like [the header image of this blog post]. OK, without the cover as the first “clue,” maybe we can dedicate a bit more time to our afternoon in the bookshop and read the back covers. Nope. Most of the books don’t have blurbs as we know them. In many cases, especially in literary fiction, the back cover has a very short excerpt.For an American, choosing a book in France is a whole new ball game. Surrounded by white book covers, I had two questions. First of all, “Why are covers so simple?” My second question, “How does one choose a book without spending hours in a bookshop?” My curious self wouldn’t let these questions go unanswered. I spoke with booksellers, a publisher and even some readers, and learned that the plain cover is part of a whole reading culture quite different from mine.

Here’s how book buying goes in France: A reader will walk into a shop looking for the latest release from a particular publishing house. Each publishing house has a reputation for a certain style and quality, and readers are loyal to that. For instance, Les Editions de Minuit publishes literary fiction in its truest sense, while Gallimard publishes contemporary fiction. The houses each have a certain cover style. Minuit is white with a blue border and a little blue star logo. That way, the reader who loves books by Minuit can recognize them right away.

So the answer to my question “Why?” is that here in France, publishing houses know that readers often look at publishing house first and author name second. For them, the cover is not a marketing tool for the author who wrote the book—but for the publishing house as a whole! (Of course, France also has a few famous authors who draw the readers in more than the name of the publishing house. But even in those cases, the author’s book cover follows the rule of the publishing house.) This partially explains how one would choose a book. But what if the reader decides to explore the books of another publishing house? Where does one even start? That’s where the bookshop staff comes in. …

Read the rest: Guest Post: Author and Publisher Adria Cimino Talks Book Cover Design—Or Lack Thereof | women’s fiction writers

Meet Adria.