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What the Books as Decor Trend Means for Authors

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.


Maybe Book Covers Do Matter?

As many of you know, I say that book cover art doesn’t matter as much as you think it might. That’s because self-published books are rarely in physical retail bookstores. And online cover art is usually viewed at a minuscule size. But maybe I’m overlooking some emerging but somewhat disturbing trends.

Books for "Shelf Esteem"

A Washington Post article discussed how books of all genres are now being sourced for use as decor (These unread books have a long shelf life—as decor, April 18, 2022).

Sure, we’ve all been to hotel lobbies or restaurants that use bookcases and displays of books to give the establishment a literary vibe or to fit in with a theme. That’s been going on for a long time. Has anybody actually read any of those display books? I haven’t. Have you?

Now that whole decor thing is being done with some twists.

Zoom and online meeting participants want to be seen in backgrounds that make them look cooler and smarter than their messy real-life digs might suggest. What better way to do that than with some perfectly appointed bookshelves for perfect “shelfies.” The titles may matter or not. It may also not matter whether the person read the books or not.

That Washington Post article highlighted a company that sources and sells what I would call “background books” for businesses and decor. They dig through thousands of pounds of remainder and discarded used books, sorting them by color and size. Then they might sell them by the foot of linear space.

Along the same lines, a Mashable article reports on a Hollywood actress who said that books are must-have decor for their aesthetic value (Twitter asks: Are books just an aesthetic?, April 1, 2022). In an Architectural Digest feature on her home, the actress admitted to purchasing 400 books to fill some bookshelves primarily for interior decorating.

So apparently, even the worst of books can be resurrected into decor if it’s physically the right color and size.

What Is a Book Stylist?

A New York Times article (Searching for the Notorious Celebrity Book Stylist, April 18, 2022) featured a “book stylist” who connects books and publishers with celebrities who are willing—maybe paid?—to be seen with the books in photos and other media. Unlike books as mere decor, book styling may be for any book, new or old. This helps the celebrities tell a story about who they are and what they want people to think they are. The celebrities may or may not—more like probably not—have read the books. For me, that puts the “lie” in libraries.

Here’s a fun example from the article. Reality TV star and entrepreneur, Kendall Jenner, is pictured wearing a sexy bikini, appearing to read a book—notice I said “appearing”—while she’s perched on a yacht. That’s what I do when I’m on my yacht!

If you’ve followed my rants for a while, you know how I feel about the whole influencer culture. I think it’s just so contrived and fake. This just takes it to a higher shelf.

How Would You Feel if Your Books Were Used as Backgrounds or Props?

If you’re an author and writer, how would you feel if your book’s real value was in that the cover was the right color and size for a shelf display? How do you feel about your book ending up in a remainder or junk pile, essentially having salvage value based on the paper or binding it has? Would you feel disrespected as a writing and author? At least at the time, your self-published print book has reached the salvage state, it’s already been sold, and you made money on it once.

If you cannot handle the thought of your book being repurposed from salvage or a clearance bin, one way to decrease the supply of your self-published book reaching a discard pile is to go with print on demand. Though books could end up in a reject or recycle pile, there might be fewer of them heading in that direction.

I think we again have to question what is a book. I’ve talked about the concept of a book from the standpoint of formats, print, eBook, and audiobook. But is a book also an object of art and status symbol, apart from its function? For a related example, people don’t want Rolex luxury watches because they tell time. So is it a bad thing if a publisher or author hires book stylists and celebrities to promote their books, even if the celebrities don’t actually read them?

As I’ve stressed before, authors need to start thinking of themselves as content creators, not just book writers. In these examples, the content you create might be the look of the book.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2022 Heidi Thorne