About face…

“That,” I thought, looking at the author’s photograph, “is a really interesting face.” She wasn’t pretty, nor by any means young. The face was quite ‘lived in’ and had probably never been more than vaguely attractive by any conventional or accepted criteria, yet it was a face that had stories to tell. Her eyes sparkled, even in monochrome. Her mouth had a humorous twist… she looked as if she viewed life from her own particular tangent and found it amusing. I knew that I would enjoy the book. And that got me thinking.

We are not supposed to ‘judge a book by its cover’… though we do, all too often, and probably miss some of the finest content by doing so. We are not supposed to judge people by their faces… but we do, all the time, forming that all-important ‘first impression’ as eye meets…or avoids…eye.

The cover of a book, we are told, should be genre-specific and in line with current literary  fashions. There are genre-specific fonts that immediately tell us something about the book, even before we read the title. The size of the author’s name says a lot too and, unless you are a mega-best-seller guaranteed to net readers by reputation alone, the author’s name should never be bigger than the title.

Romance novels should be either pink and flowery or  have a bare-chested hunk on the front. Humour needs a quirky font. Horror needs gothic colours, full moons and probably blood, while crime novels need weapons…and probably blood. And heaven forfend you risk limiting your readership by putting anything on the cover that appears to narrow the parameters of who might enjoy it.

One glance takes in all these details, makes a snap judgement and either moves on or buys. There is research to suggest you have less than three seconds to hook a potential reader on Amazon… and that means all you have to offer is a small thumbnail picture on which the title may not even be readable. The book is judged by its cover.

And it is the same with people. There are subliminal signals that tell us if a person is likely to be someone we will like or with whom we will have something in common. The crinkles and the warmth of a smile, the availability of their eyes, their willingness to share a momentary glance… and before they open their mouths to speak, we have made a snap judgement that can be difficult to change.

This instant reaction is a manifestation of self-defense and part of our instinctive survival mechanism. Cultural standards of attractiveness, the appreciation of symmetry that is an integral part of our judgement of a suitable mate and the signals that speak of trustworthiness or danger… we cannot always identify why we react the way we do. Some reactions seem pre-programmed to keep us safe or find us the right mate and, by extension, identify potential friends. Such programming has its place and serves a purpose, but we will not always make the right judgement.

And what happens when we look in the mirror? When we see a photograph of ourselves that we do not like? What judgements are we making then?

We are all getting older, like it or not, every single day. Our faces change, our bodies change, and we may not be happy with what we are seeing, simply because it is different from our inner vision of who we feel we are. Sally Cronin has an interesting article about ageing that looks at how we ‘fix’ an age for ourselves in our minds… and that can be gravely at odds with what the mirror shows.

How are we judging ourselves? Do we apply the same criteria that we instinctively would for others, or are we instead holding that inner vision of ourselves up as the yardstick and finding our reflection wanting… simply because the two do not match?

I picked up a book to read because I liked the face of the author and I felt I would like the woman who wore it. She was not pretty… barely attractive by conventional standards… she was not young, but she had an interesting face, one that was lived-in, one that had laughed, cried, loved and seen many things leave their marks almost imperceptibly carved in her smile.  That is a beauty that is ageless and timeless… and one to which we can all aspire. Let’s face it… we would all prefer a book to be interesting, regardless of its cover.

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She has written a number of books, both alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com
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29 Responses to About face…

  1. willowdot21 says:

    Very true on all fronts. I don’t know what age I am inside my head but it is much younger than I really am and when I look in the mirror I am amazed to see my mother!
    Was the book interesting? 💜

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Sue Vincent on the subject of our aging faces and bodies and how despite the odd wrinkle or two or sag (and we all have them) our faces can invite people to discover more. As writers we create characters with beauty and flaws to draw our readers in.. Sue points out that our photograph on the back cover of a book or our profile page can also draw them in to discover more. #recommended

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for sharing the link Sue and could not agree more.. I try to persuade people all the time that having a profile photo is one of the quickest ways to gather readers. Eggs on Twitter for example don’t do it for me.. nor do blogs without an ‘about me’ page and photo (even if it is of someone else) I think instinctively when connecting we like to look people in the eye as they are the windows to the soul. xxx


  4. Jennie says:

    Like it or not, we do judge instantly. That’s why a book cover is so important. My dad used to say, “You’ll never have a second chance to make a first impression.” I’m sorry it’s that way, but it is. Great post, Sue.


  5. dgkaye says:

    A beautiful truth Sue ❤


  6. trentpmcd says:

    Skipping your point for the moment, in ways I hate the expectations of book covers. It seems that almost every book that I really like, the cover breaks the mold for the genre, but then, they are usually big name authors and can get away with it. On a personal level, I have wondered about my cover to “The Fireborn”, which checks all of the boxes for today’s style and market, but seems to miss the mark of the book itself.

    Are the most beautiful people the ones we want to spend times with? It depends, but I’m with you, often a pleasant face with a story to tell is much better company than a beautiful face.


    • Sue Vincent says:

      Knowing your style of writing, I can appreciate your concerns over the cover…which, as you say, is striking and ticks all the right boxes for today’s look. It is more than a book about ‘blue zombies’.

      Beauty, for me, has never had much to do with looks. I need to see a soul behind it…and often, with physical perfection, that soul is hard to reach.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. LucciaGray says:

    So true and sometimes distressing. I’m not usually aware of my appearance until I see a photo or look in the mirror…


  8. You are so right, Sue. We do want a book to be interesting and covers are often very misleading as are trailers for movies.


  9. Frankie says:

    I love a face with a story. 🙂


  10. I think we are all, to some degree, held captive by what “the world” pictures as beautiful. Older, okay … but saggy and aged? Not really. Young and round? Well, okay … but not huge and any age. No sagging necks and women can’t be bald (but men can). This stuff isn’t recent. It has been around as long as there have been pictures of people painted on the walls of caves. I think (just my opinion) that no matter how hard you fight it, some degree of this mental imagery of beauty is absorbed by us. I think we can’t help it. I wish we could because the older I get, the more I want to not care that I am older and I look it.

    As for the cover of books, however — I am always baffled at the degree of importance placed on book covers. I don’t even look at book covers. I automatically flip the book over, see if there’s any information about the author. Take a look at the leaves. If, these days, it online, I skip down directly to reviews. I couldn’t care whether the book even has a cover. But apparently most people do care and so often, book covers have nothing at all to do with the book. Frequently, they are created by people who have not read the book or even glanced at a summary of its contents.

    When I worked at Doubleday, I reviewed books for the book club division. I read the books. I wouldn’t write even a little favorable (it had to be favorable because we were selling the book) review without reading it. Most people just read the summaries from the editors in the city (NY, that is). After I read the books, I was astounded at the summaries. It was obvious that whoever wrote them hadn’t read the books either. So who did read the book — other than the author?

    This was more than 50 years ago, so it wasn’t because of social media. I never understood how you could design a cover or write summaries of books you hadn’t even scanned.


    • Sue Vincent says:

      I agree, we absorb this stuff regardless of our inclinations… though we can choose to ignore some of it, we are stuck with the rest, for all sort sof evolutionary and cultural reasons. Even though a lot of that changes over the lifetime of a culture.

      As to books…most of my favourites are plain cloth bound, with dust covers that disappeared before I got them. And I like it that way… no-one elses judgements forced upon me… especially, as you say, from people who never read the book!

      Liked by 1 person

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