This & That: March 7, 2023
A short rant about book marketing.
Hi there readers!
In this edition of the newsletter, I rant a bit about how book marketing can lead readers astray, offer up a mini list of novels that have made me laugh out loud, and, as always, share some great links.
Let’s get right to it!
Something I’m Thinking About: How Books Are Marketed and Positioned
I just finished a great book called Lessons in Chemistry, which has been a runaway hit for debut author Bonnie Garmus. The characters were a delight, and the plot kept the pages turning, while also telling an important story about mid-century America.
What I can’t help being miffed by, though, is the awful packaging — in the publishing world, that means the title, cover, and description on the jacket. When my wife and I first saw it, we both assumed it some sort of cheesy romance with science in the background, like The Love Hypothesis.
That couldn’t be further from what the book actually is. Lessons in Chemistry is a well-written, empathetic novel about women (and mothers) in science during the 1950s and ‘60s. The characters and prose reminded me more of Fredrik Backman’s big-hearted novels than the lighthearted romance stories of Emily Henry.
I understand that publishers package books in the way they think will give them the highest chance of success. With Lessons in Chemistry, I just can’t help but think that they guessed wrong.
It also points to a larger problem where books with female protagonists are marketed as women’s literature. The wrong title and cover can and does keep large swaths of people (both men and women) from giving these kinds of books a shot. It happens in other genres, too. Fantasy books have universally terrible covers, even if the story inside is full of depth and expertly written prose (something like Mistborn is a great example).
The moral of the story: packaging (and marketing) matters a lot. Publishers won’t be changing how they do things anytime soon, so perhaps we should all start judging books by their first chapter rather than their cover.
The Mini List: Novels That Made Me Laugh Out Loud
In Friday’s newsletter, I wrote about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which had some genuinely funny moments. Humor is a hard thing to do with the written word — especially in novels. I don’t tend to seek out books in the “humor” category, but here’s a few that I really enjoyed.
Squeeze Me by Carl Hiaasen — A funny novel about Florida that includes pythons, Trump, and plenty of spray tan. Good stuff.
Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple — A reclusive and brilliant architect disappears, leaving her daughter and husband on the hunt. A delightful read.
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman — Among all of Backman’s books, this one is the funniest and most light-hearted.
💸 Speaking of book marketing, Kristin Du Mez wrote an utterly fascinating newsletter about book endorsements, aka “blurbs,” which you see on the covers of most books. She manages a mix of empathy and evisceration that’s always delightful to read. If you’re interested in the drama-filled ins and outs of the publishing world, this is a must-read.
👶 We’ve done a fair amount of traveling with babies and one of the handiest things we own is this pack ‘n play cover. It creates a dark(ish) environment for your little ones who have been spoiled by blackout curtains. Wish we would’ve known it existed for the first two kiddos.
📺 With all the hype about season three of The Mandalorian, I decided to finally give the series a shot. Worth it. It’s giving me Breaking Bad vibes, but with aliens and giant monsters.
Thanks so much for the time and attention — I deeply appreciate it.