Paola Calvetti, book club and covers

October 12, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

I wanted to remind you that our book club Les copines d’abord is currently reading Paola Calvetti’s book Noi due come un romanzo. It will only be published in English in January 2012 but it is available in French (L’amour est à la lettre A) and in German (Und immer wieder Liebe: Roman). Join us if you’re interested. I’ll post the review on October 27.

After reading Litlove’s post NOT chick-lit about how books are marketed for women and sometimes make look good novels like Harlequins – Sorry Litlove for summarizing so harshly your thoughtful post – Paola Calvetti’s novel came to my mind. Before reviewing the novel, I thought her book was a perfect illustration of how books are marketed differently according to the country and according to the supposed gender of their readership. The novel is the story of Emma, 50, who lives in Milan and quits her former life to open a bookstore. She also starts a correspondence with her former high school sweetheart Federico. If you only read the pitch I’ve just written, it can be anything from the stupidest romance to a most subtle description of fragile feelings and love of literature. (You’ll have to wait for the review to know where it stands between the two.)

Here is the original Italian cover. The title means “The two of us like a novel”. I think it’s good, not too cheesy and puts forward the most important thing in the book: the letters. The colors are mostly black and white, nothing supposedly feminine. Nothing screams “I’m a novel for women only”



The French title is L’amour est à la lettre A. (Love is at the A letter), not at all the translation of the original title, which always bothers me. However, it refers to the letters and the bookstore, which is good. The French cover of the hardcover edition looks like the Italian cover. The paperback version shows Emma, but not her face. Is it because she’s 50? A picture of a young woman would be lying. Does that mean that an elegant fifty-year-old woman isn’t good for sales? I have another problem with this cover, it forgets Federico, who does have a voice in the story.

The German title is Und immer wieder Liebe: Roman, something like “And love forever: a novel”. The two German covers are quite opposite. I absolutely loathe the one with the bouquet in pastel tones. It looks like a Victorian novel. I don’t understand where the country setting comes from, most of the book is in Milan or New York. When I see a cover like this, I expect the stupidest romance. The other cover is better, but the red and black colors look sexy and somehow recall the Twilight covers. Where is my urban fifty-year-old Emma? Where’s the bookstore? Where is reading?


The English cover could be good without that rose. At least, there are books and letters. There’s nothing with a rose in that book. But look at all this pink!! An overdose of pink: pink background, pink rose, pink books, pink ribbon. It tastes like a stupid romance too. Seeing this cover, do you imagine a divorced active bookseller in Milan? I see a stay-at-home woman in the country in the 19thC.


If I’m in a positive state of mind, I’ll think that it will mislead romance readers and help them discover something else. If I’m in a ranting mind, I’m sorry for Paola Calvetti… This summer, I read Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. This is the adult version of Princesses and pink toys. A book for women? Pink. Cheesy. Corny. Flowers. Homes. Country. Long skirts. These covers forster the idea of women as romantic, interested in “girly” books and also tells men that these books aren’t for them. Honestly, can you imagine a man in a train carriage with a book with that cheesy book-letter-rose cover? He’d want to put a brown bag on it.

I don’t fit the description of the female reader these publishers imagine. I bought Paola Calvetti’s book because of her publisher, 10:18. I know that most of the time, I enjoy their books. If it had been published by J’ai Lu, with a cover like that and such a title, it would have stayed in the bookstore.



  1. October 12, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    I’m in love with your analysis!
    Hoping that you’ll love the novel, thanks for your attention
    Paola Calvetti


    • October 12, 2011 at 1:27 pm

      Thanks for visiting.
      Do you have your word in the choice of covers and of titles?


  2. October 12, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    The marketing of female writers in the UK is dismal. Everything is sold as romance, and light fizzy romance at that. Everything is a Helen Fielding clone.

    Except it isn’t. It’s just sold that way. I think it’s deeply questionable. It’s a form of dishonesty. Misleading potential readers because you don’t believe you can sell a work on its own merits.

    I’ve no issue with Helen Fielding (not my thing but I have read some and I think she has talent). I’ve no issue with chicklit though I don’t read it, but I do have an issue with books being marketed as chicklit just because of the gender of the author.

    It’s reductive. I do like the Italian cover by the way. It shows some imagination.

    My particular pet hate in the UK is covers that make the book look like a romance set during the 1940s. There may be a man, in fog, wearing a heavy overcoat. There may be a woman in what might be (but can’t be pinned down as) a period dress. There’ll be some bright colours and possibly a little boy in shorts. Open the book and it’s a novel about a woman having a nervous breakdown in a sink estate in Hull.


    • October 12, 2011 at 1:26 pm

      The Italian cover is definitely the best one.
      When you think that Bridget Jones is based on Pride and Prejudice…I like her books, in their category, they’re good ones, like Cadfael in their own category.
      I know what you mean about the 1940 covers.


  3. October 12, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    Something similar happened in the 1980s in SF by the way. Every book had pictures of spaceship battles on the cover. That included books set in the present day, books set solely on Earth, a host of books without a single spaceship in them.

    The concept was the same. An assumption (possibly a correct one) that SF fans like spaceship battles so the best way to market an SF book was to put a spaceship battle on the cover. It meant though that a lot of books got profoundly misleading covers.


    • October 12, 2011 at 1:38 pm

      Yes. That’s how people like me avoid the SF section of bookstore and never read the good ones.


  4. October 12, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    This is fascinating and beautifully analysed by you. That German cover with the window is just revolting, and oh the pinkness of the UK version. Why, oh why? I have several hundred French novels that prove that normally, they do much better with their neutral covers, sometimes with parts of modern paintings (you can imagine I’m thinking gallimard here) or black and white photos, but I don’t like the fact they’ve chosen yet another headless woman for the paperback. I completely agree with you and Max, that this is misleading and wrong and often an insult to the book concerned (although I had to laugh at Max’s comment about the 1940s setting – so true!). It’s all dumbing down and you have to wonder why that should be so important to publishers and their marketing departments these days, when more readers than ever have university degrees.


    • October 12, 2011 at 1:44 pm

      It’s interesting that each publisher has its own style for covers.
      Gallimard never abandoned the neutral cover and I’m proud of them for that. It’s also a way to put the publisher up front: I believe in this book, I don’t need pictures to sell it. I’m Gallimard, I’m a famous publisher that makes you discover good writers.
      Usually, I like covers by Actes Sud too. 10:18 covers aren’t bad either.

      PS: Do you want to join us for the readalong?


  5. October 12, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    I didn’t want to be seen as criticising Fielding. My issue isn’t with commercial fiction, it’s with mismarketing.

    There’s an assumption that fiction by women is for women, which is wrong, and another assumption that fiction for women is ultimately comforting fiction, which is also wrong.

    I suspect women are sometimes headless, or looking away, so the reader can place her own head there. There’s yet another assumption – that women like to identify with the central female character (and, of course, that there’ll be a central female character).


    • October 12, 2011 at 1:58 pm

      I know you didn’t mean too and that you think every one should be free to read what they want, be it computer-written crap. I share that view too and I’m always optimistic, I think some of these readers move forward to more challenging works.
      After reading your other comment about the 1940 covers, I’ve been online to look at the cover of Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk. (it fits the Open the book and it’s a novel about a woman having a nervous breakdown in a sink estate in Hull. description.
      There’s hope, the cover isn’t cheesy. See

      Do you really think that the corny covers are for women writers only?


  6. October 12, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    I think the German is by far the worst.
    Th hardback was ok (from the point of view of someone who hasn’t read the novel).
    I think the worst is that the book looks exchanable. When I go to a German bookshop I see many books with almost the same cover but – theyare all chick lit or romance – so either Paola’s book does fall under that category or this time the editor seriously messed up.


    • October 12, 2011 at 4:24 pm

      She can be compared to Anna Gavalda or Katherine Pancol, to give you an idea.
      So I think the publisher “seriously messed up”


  7. October 12, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    Oh yes, in that case, he did, I agree.
    I’m looking forward to your review and will certainly read it.
    What surprises me is that I saw some self-published books recently with equally abysmal covers. Chosen by the authors. Maybe some authors start to think that readers want these covers. We should start doing a top 10 of best book covers at the end of the year.
    Ha…. there’s a thought.


    • October 12, 2011 at 6:35 pm

      Good idea. After the Top 10 books, the Top 10 covers.


  8. October 12, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    And you know what will be most amazing — they will be different. I’m just thinking of that horrible Beryl Bainbridge cover. Exactly the ytpe Max mentions, foggy, 40s and people in coats. Kissing.


    • October 12, 2011 at 6:41 pm

      Yes, I remember that one.


  9. October 12, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    Great post and good point about the marketing and the covers. I vote for the French one with the headless body.


    • October 12, 2011 at 10:24 pm

      I prefer the Italian one, it’s less designed for women.


    • October 12, 2011 at 10:24 pm

      Typo: the OTHER French one–the one WITHOUT the headless body.


      • October 12, 2011 at 10:26 pm

        Ah, typo mistake. I was surprised that you liked the one with the dress and the feet.
        I like this one too, close to the original.


        • October 13, 2011 at 12:59 am

          Looked at Amazon Us and they have the cover with the rose on the top. Just looking at it puts me off so I’ll be interested to see what you think of the book.


          • October 13, 2011 at 8:33 am

            It’s quite a put off, I know. See you on October 27 for the review!


  10. October 13, 2011 at 6:04 am

    The day when men do not care anymore whether they are seen with a book with a pink cover is the day when editors will change their strategy.


    • October 13, 2011 at 8:35 am

      Honestly, I wouldn’t want to be seen in a train carriage with a book with that mawkish pink cover. It’s not the pink, it’s the mawkish. It’s an insult to my intelligence.


  11. October 13, 2011 at 10:14 am
    • October 13, 2011 at 10:28 am

      Yes, not too bad. The title “Voor liefde zie de letter L” means “For love, see at letter L”? It sounds like the French one.


  12. October 13, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Yes, that’ s what it means.
    I also checked the Spanish one which is in line with the Italian, same title, same cover.


    • October 13, 2011 at 1:19 pm

      Thanks. Is Southern Europe less syrupy than Northern Europe, France being in the middle ?


  13. October 13, 2011 at 1:25 pm
    • October 13, 2011 at 1:30 pm

      Excellent!! There are some winners-to-be in the selection. It’s not mawkish it’s genuinely ugly.

      It makes me think of Philippe Meyer who has a music radio show on France Inter. He always starts with the “chanson *on” and the public sends him ideas of corny songs with stupid lyrics or terrible adaptations well-known songs. It’s so funny.


  14. October 13, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    So many different covers for the same book! I think the German ones are the worst, especially the one with the flowers. I think the French one (left) and the English one, I might buy when in the shop, but the Dutch one is too simple for me (I’m Dutch so I should be attracted by it, but I’m not).


    • October 13, 2011 at 2:57 pm

      Thanks for dropping by.
      Isn’t it interesting to see the difference in Western Europe?
      I’m tempted to do it again with another book, to see if we have the same tendencies.


  15. October 13, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    What about a “COMPARE THE COVERS DAY” each of us chooses one book and finds the covers in 5-10 countries.
    It could be interesting.


  16. October 13, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    Shock, I didn’t even see that the pages of the book in the Dutch version form a heart. Shame, shame on me… No, it’s awful as well.
    When I started blogging I reviewed a book that would be called romantic suspense. I liked it a lot but the covers were so horrible. Writer later wrote to me and I told her I live in Switzerland and that the German cover was much better and she agreed. she had a fight with her editor but he insisted, saying it had to be marketed that way in the US. You will see, the UK and the US covers are often very different.
    A while back the designer of the UK editor of Love Virtually contacted me saying that they realised they had messed up the covers and could I please have a look at some new ones and tell her what I thought. … Now, the Love Virtually cover isn’t genius but the new one will have “soppy romance” written all over it.


    • October 13, 2011 at 10:57 pm

      Sure, it’s good to have this one :

      replaced by

      But still, they kept the silly title which has nothing to do with the original (Good against North Wind, for the record) and they HAD to put some pink for Emmi. Grr!! Why can’t she have some green or orange or whatever?
      When you think that the German cover was this…


  17. October 14, 2011 at 7:06 am

    The one she showed me – obviously a work in progress – looked very different…. This one is better.


  18. October 14, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    Emma, I think that the issue of mismarketing books is faced more by women writers than men. Men’s commercial fiction has a very narrow range of covers too, but serious fiction by men is marketed as serious fiction by men. Serious fiction by women is often marketed as commercial fiction and marketed as if only women would want to read it.

    Interesting you chose Arlington Park. I’ve read it (and largely liked it). The cover is much better than usual, but it’s far from the norm sadly.


    • October 14, 2011 at 12:20 pm

      I guess you’re right. I’ve just looked at the UK covers of books by Marguerite Duras, it’s appalling. Penguin covers are better usually.

      I liked Arlington Park too, thought it was well written. I found it depressing though. It reminded me why I don’t want to be a stay-at-home mother, not that I needed a reminder but sometimes you can’t help an attack of guilt.


  19. October 22, 2011 at 1:35 am

    In regard to the English cover, you say “There’s nothing with a rose in that book.” Leaving aside the merits of the covers (in which the author often doesn’t have a choice), I’d just like to point out that there is indeed a rose (many roses!) in Paola’s book. In fact, at one point (p. 267 in the Italian edition) we learn that Emma, ever resourceful, has decided to sell roses along with her books: “Come Elisa Doolittle ho deciso di vendere rose…” Anne Milano Appel,, Translator of P.O. Box Love.


    • October 22, 2011 at 1:46 am

      Thanks for pointing it. Sorry,my mistake I didn’t remember that part with the roses.
      I had guessed she didn’t have her word in the covers or they wouldn’t be so different.
      Any chance that you’d give me your translation of the wonderful passage where Emma describes the comfort she finds in books? It ends with reading the first line of the first page of a book. I will translate it from the French but your version would be far superior and coming from the Italian.


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