Dress Issues

Peirene revels in beautiful dresses. She loves circles – the ultimate female symbol – and sports them on her covers.Ugly dress. Image by  State Library of Victoria Collections

Some approve of such feminine dress sense, others really don’t.

There are bookshops that refuse to stock our books. Even though the demography of their clientele suggests that they ought to welcome our literature.

Take the case of one of our local book shops. When the first book came out two years ago and received wonderful reviews, I introduced myself as a local publisher and assumed – naively – that they would support us. Book No 2 and No 3 followed. The bookshop still wouldn’t stock Peirene books. I went back to visit them, Maddy too. We offered catalogues, bookmarks, posters, events. To no avail. Eventually we admitted defeat. We can’t force people to love us. The Nymph shed a few tears.

At the beginning of December I met our sales reps. “Some bookshops are reluctant to stock your books because of the covers.” “Is it the strong branding?” I asked. “No. They are happy to stock other branded publishers. But they don’t like your circles and the colours aren’t bold enough,” I was told. We discussed the options and decided to try an experiment.  Sacha, our designer, drew up mass market cover jackets for Beside the Sea – no Peirene branding, fat quotes across the front, photos of desolate beaches, windows with raindrops and sad looking women. The paper and print, cheap. No flaps. All together we came up with six suggestions. The Nymph was again in tears: “If you take away my identity, you take away my raison d’etre,” she lamented. I calmed her down: “We would never do that. We are just contemplating an additional mass market version of one or two titles.”

We sent the new covers to booksellers and asked their opinion. We received predictable responses. Bookshops who don’t want to stock us, didn’t reply. And the booksellers who replied, including Waterstones HQ, said they love our existing branding. They understand our wish to become more commercial but then none of them voted for our commercial covers. After all they know that the books, the authors, the brand – combined with a little hand-selling – does find buyers.

So, overall I found the exercise interesting – but I came away feeling prouder than ever of our beautiful feminine Nymph.

“Can I just make one point clear,” Peirene told me this week. “I don’t mind wearing the odd hideous outfit – but only if the dress makes me famous or sells my books. Can I do the choosing?”

I am delighted Peirene wants to dress up in a good cause – but I may reserve the right of veto.

Image by State Library of Victoria Collections.

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