Cover of Beach Read, a book by Emily Henry

We all judge a book by its cover

My eldest child (EC) is extremely fussy when it comes to food. Now, there is a picture of this kid in the Gill Rapley Baby Led Weaning book, which you may be familiar with if you’ve had kids in the past 10 years. “Try baby-led weaning,” they said, “it’ll make your child less fussy,” they said. Well, no dice with EC (though BLW is bloody awesome and I’d really recommend it). So whenever EC was invited to another kid’s house for tea the parent would ask what she would it. Her favourite food is cheesy pasta, usually, a guaranteed eat, but whenever she was brought back the parent would apologise that EC hasn’t eaten anything.

The book Baby-led Weaning by Gill Rapley

Upon interrogation, when I would say “but you love cheesy pasta” EC would reply “But it wasn’t like normal.” ‘Like normal’ is a big thing for EC, particularly when it comes to food. There have also been incidences where I have had to pick her up early from parties, or she’s not had a great time because things just weren’t how she expected.

Expectation is a big thing, not just for EC, or even just for kids, but for all people. Our brain works for maximum efficiency, therefore fills in gaps or makes predictions for us. A bit like predictive text, why waste energy?

There are various psychological terms for this; framing, priming, gestalt. All of these things describe how expectation can influence how we view or interpret something, something which is used to great effect in branding and marketing. However, it can backfire if not done properly.

Gestalt principles mean that the brain fills in the gaps in images such as these
From Wikipedia

All this is a roundabout way of me telling you why I was disappointed with Emily Henry’s book Beach Read (as were many others according to Amazon’s reviews).

The book itself was a good book, nice lakeside setting, enemies to lovers romance (a favourite of mine), and about writers. It was well written, with well-developed characters. What’s not to like?

But look at the cover and the title. What do they say to you? Sun, beach, warmth, light hearted, fun?

Well, firstly it seemed to rain all the time. The beach put in cameo appearance at best. The characters were dealing with some pretty depressing stuff, and it wasn’t really funny. In short this booked suffered from not meeting expectations. Put on a different cover and call it something different and I think it would have got better reviews. I would have enjoyed it more, because I would have been in the mood for it, rather than picking it up when I wanted a bit of froth.

They say don’t judge a book by it’s cover, but the brain is basically incapable of doing so. So when it sees a picture of a beach scene it pings to a memory of a beach holiday you’ve taken, the title Beach Read brings to mind other books that you’ve read on holiday, perhaps lighter reads. And I don’t know about you but that cover makes me thing of an ice cream at sunset. No ice creams or sunsets appeared in this book.

If you’re here as a reader, don’t let me put you off; Beach Read is worth picking up. If you’re here as a writer, there’s a lesson in how you position your book. Know your genre, know your audience. It’s ok to confound your readers but do it with an amazing plot and dazzling writing. Don’t become a victim to your book not being what the reader expected and wanted, because then even the best plot or writing won’t save you from disappointing them.

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