Take inspiration from intriguing titles and covers.
As someone who is as obsessed with reading as I am with writing, I can never walk past a bookshop’s window display without taking a long look and several photos before I go inside. The promise of all those different stories, the places I can go to, the characters I can meet, the books that will move me and make me laugh...Is there something that particularly grabs my eye? Always.
With a window display, all any bibliophile has to go on is a title and cover which is why I love it when publishers opt for something unusual, something that demands further investigation. It’s why, back in my twenties, when I lived in California, I was so excited by how different US book covers were. Matte, rather than the glossy covers favoured by UK publishers, they always seemed to have a more sombre, more mysterious design. Publishers both sides of the Atlantic seem to use the same covers now, but at the time, these very different covers intrigued me.
Last week, I was in Amsterdam and walked past an art shop that had two books in the window. It was the same book, one version in Dutch, one the English translation. I loved the title so much I had to track it down and buy it. The title is: Jij Bent de Liefste, which translates as You are the Loveliest, and it's a picture book by Hans and Monique Hagen, children’s poets from the Netherlands. There’s something about this simple but direct title that immediately grabbed my attention.
In my local bookshop in Kew, the current window display at the children’s side of the shop is dedicated to one book, which has a fabulous title: The Pet Potato. It’s by Josh Lacey and Momoko Abe and the cover is brilliant: A little boy pulling a potato on a small cart – taking it for a walk. It’s a title that stands out and says pick me!
Clever and discerning book sellers will give their window space over to books that are a little bit different. There’s no point promoting works that are huge bestsellers as most people will have already heard of or read these titles. That’s why I always love the window displays in independent bookshops. Unable to compete with large chains anyway, they find their customers by offering up lesser-known titles. It's why one of my favourite bookshops is Mr B's, in Bath. That and the fact that the sellers within are as enthusiastic about books as their customers.
As well as being wonderfully enticing – I add titles to my must-read list each time I pass a bookshop window – these displays also serve as brilliant writing prompts. Stuck for something to write? Go and peer through the window of your local bookshop and write down some of the titles that grab you. You can’t read the blurb or open the first page to read a few paragraphs and get a sense of story or tone or genre; you have nothing but a title and a cover to base your opinion on. So use these as prompts. What story would you write entitled You are the Loveliest? Similarly take pics of a striking cover. What do you think about when you see that cover? What would you write about with that as your starting point? How might a title or cover spark a wonderful and original idea?