Family Resemblance

I’ve mentioned before that I get updates every couple of days from Random House, with new entries in some category or another. Yesterday, I was asked to Fall In Love with This April’s Romances.

It doesn’t take a decade of architecture school to notice that there’s some kind of graphic-design collusion going on here. (And not all of these are from Random House; I browsed in Goodreads and found these and dozens of others just like them.) Whether the romance in question is straight or gay, whether the couple are white or multiracial, romance books this season are cartoons. Solid, saturated colors edge to edge. Big, blocky text with no borders or shading. The couple in question portrayed by drawn figures, barely more than silhouettes, their clothing and hair also only blocks of solid saturated colors.

Publishing, which we wish were more about individual stories, is really about product, as is true of most industries. (Certainly it’s true of colleges, which have to make their own products uniform enough to be transferred across schools and adhere to disciplinary-society standards.) These books are being sold as just nine different flavors of Doritos, the same chip with different powder, the same bag with different colors, the same general experience with a little twist.

So the literary agent community—just salespeople in the end, like Realtors who have to make each unique home into a commodity—start to ask for these categories, with all of the expectations that they entail. Fads abound, rocketing and exploding and fading into the night. Here’s a bet; romance covers won’t look like this in three years. Some other flavor profile will have taken the fore.

And in closing, let me say this. If one of my fiction books is ever published, they can do whatever they want with the graphic design of the cover; that’s product design, not storytelling. But I promise you that I will fight every last step to ensure that the words “A Novel” do not appear anywhere. What the hell is that even about? I mean, they’re not cookbooks. They don’t look like SAT prep guides, or nonfiction history, or religious tracts. We’d find them in the fiction section of the bookstore. Of course they’re novels! Are we so afraid of collections of short stories that we have to have some kind of safety seal on the book cover? Bah.

I’ll write more tomorrow about why I’ve been so crabby the past couple of days. It’ll help me get over it.