I imagine there are very few of us that have not been brought up with the adage not to judge a book by its cover. The words of wisdom, of course, refer to the notion that we should not fall into the trap of merely looking at people, ideas or circumstances from a superficial perspective, but to take the time to delve deeper before forming an opinion. Snap decisions based on such prejudice may deny us the joy of forming rewarding relationships and pursuing unexpected opportunities.
We are conditioned to believe that the most beautiful object or perfect person is better than those with blemishes and less than perfect characteristics. The large visual areas in our brains mean that not only do we respond favorably to the visually appealing wrapper but it also influences how we respond to its content. The conclusions we draw about people or situations act as filters through which we judge everything related to them. This serves to reinforce the prejudices, positive or negative, we have originally formed about a person or a situation.
These words of wisdom are without a doubt powerful reminders when we encounter people or opportunities for the first time. However, I firmly believe that we DO judge a book by its cover. Most of us will respond adversely to a book with either an unattractive or amateur looking cover. We may therefore not give the book a second chance and thereby denying ourselves a possible rewarding experience.
Historically book covers were handmade and adorned with gold, silver and jewels. However, a book cover has become so much more than merely a protective cover to hold the pages of the book together. Despite its functional aspect, the book cover assumes the role of advertising and communicating ideas contained in the book itself. Following the commercially competitive nature of the book industry, the onus is on the cover to provide hints about the style, genre and the subject of the book. Furthermore, every author or publisher expects the book cover to generate sales through its visual appeal. The dawn of e-publishing has further challenged the traditions of book publishing and raises the question of the role of the book cover and whether it is even necessary to have.
An integral part of the book cover is, of course, the title of the book that is accompanied by a whole encyclopedia of psychology of its own. How does one distill the many thousands of words so painstakingly created over a period of months or years into a phrase of a few words? Atticus does not have the same ring as To Kill a Mockingbird, which was the title once considered by Harper Lee. The question that immediately comes to mind is whether it would have become the classic it did with a different title.
Just when I thought I had cracked the title of my book, I stumbled on the advice of a successful author of non-fiction who puts forward a good argument for the title to reflect the content of the book. Furthermore, he added that non-fiction books also have a sub-title that conveys a promise to the readers. The title has to succinctly convey what the book is all about. My book has a very clear purpose, namely as a tribute to Eugene and Pieter and its core theme of terminal cancer is immutable. Even so, the combinations of words that will describe this, is endless. The successful title is a combination of two elements, firstly to stimulate and secondly to inform. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? If only!
A good title should take a number of factors into account. The adage of simplicity has to be number one on the list. Like a name, the title should have appeal when uttered aloud. A title should be memorable and stand out from the crowd of many others competing for our attention. A title should not be too long and, in the case of non-fiction titles, be obscured by jargon.
This, my dear reader, is what has been sending my brain into spasms this week. It will no doubt continue to do so until I finally decide on both the book cover as well as the title. Having written my tribute to Eugene and Pieter, all I now need is a cover and a title.
I am not sure whether to take comfort in the frequently referenced quotation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.