Saturday, July 19, 2014

Matte Book Covers - Not Always User-Friendly

For years, I've enjoyed reading. Decades actually. Until about a year ago, when suddenly, I found myself feeling averse to reading some of the books I had bought. Every time I'd pick them up, my skin would crawl. Totally bizarre. I tried to ignore it, but the longer I handled them, the worse it got. Finally, I started avoiding my to-be-read (TBR) library altogether. A whole bookcase full of books collecting dust.

Then one day, I picked up a book in the local bookstore, and for the first time, I had an adverse reaction to one there. The same creepy-crawly skin response as I'd had to books in my TBR library. Ugh. Great. It was spreading. Then I noticed something about that particular book. It had a matte cover. Not just any matte. A rubbery one with a soft, greasy texture.

When I got home, I went through my TBR library. Sure enough. All the books I'd had an adverse reaction to had the same type cover. I'm not talking about the semi-glossy matte some publishers have been using for years, sometimes even in combination with glossy (Penguin and its subsidiaries like to use both together, as well as the semi-glossy matte, for example). I'm talking about the rubber-textured matte that has no glossy at all.

I've always preferred the look of glossy. I assumed visual preference was why most books in my normal library - fiction and non-fiction - are glossy-covered. The remainder are semi-glossy matte or a combination of glossy and semi-glossy matte. Most of the books I've read and loved were bought in local bookstores or were purchased on Amazon as published by indie authors who used Createspace (which until recently offered only glossy covers). As it turns out, it's not just personal preference that weighs into the equation for me.

I have vaccine-induced neurological issues. As a result, full-matte covers are seriously freaky to handle. The texture makes my skin crawl. I wish I was joking. I tried telling others that, but I think they're pretty well convinced it's all in my head. A dear friend emailed me today - for the first time, she's getting matte-covered books in the mail, too, and having the same adverse reaction. She'd never gotten one before, so she hadn't given it much thought, even when I mentioned having issues. Now she totally gets it! I feel vindicated, though I hate that anyone else has the same problem I do. (Our husbands aren't keen on them either. I won't relay what my hubby compared the texture to. It's gross.)

My solution? Other than never buying a book unless it has a glossy cover (yes, I seriously considered it), that is. I asked my mother to make a cloth book cover large enough to easily fit on any fiction novel (we used the largest one I could find in my TBR library to determine size). She's brilliant when it comes to that sort of stuff, and I don't sew. I love the cover she made.

Now I just have to get past a now-ingrained aversion so I can actually get my TBR books read. That's not going to be easy. I have to touch them to put them in the cloth cover. It's unlikely that they will remain in my library once I've read them (assuming I don't get rid of them without even reading them). I can guarantee I won't be reading them a second time, no matter how much I end up liking them. I don't want to need gloves anytime I rearrange my library. Know what I mean?

Anyway, for all you authors who have a say in what kind of cover your books have, you might consider this. If you don't, you may create an aversion to your books in the minds of some readers without them even understanding why. It took me a year to figure out why I reacted so badly to some books. I still can't make myself pick one up to read it, even with a cloth cover to protect my nervous system. I feel sick to my stomach when I reach for one, probably because I've reacted to the same books multiple times. (Given it's summer and hot, and handling fabric is icky, I'm not particularly inclined to conquer this right now either.)

For you publishers who are adding rubbery-matte covers, please reconsider. Readers like me will eventually stop buying matte-covered books. Cloth book covers available to me or not, I won't want to hassle with it, or handle such books even for a few minutes to put them inside the cloth cover. I buy a lot of books. I read a lot of books. I doubt I and my friend are the only readers who have medical issues causing difficulty with handling rubbery-matte covers. Please use either glossy or the semi-glossy matte. No bad reactions there that I've heard about. Side benefit - they don't smudge and fingerprint as badly as rubbery-matte covers do.

How many readers have that creepy-crawly, and possibly even sick, reaction and don't know why? It makes me wonder, especially in light of the increasing prevalence of neurological problems induced by vaccines, medications, and other environmental factors. Just something to keep in mind.

By the way, if you're a reader who has this sort of issue with full-matte-covered book - cloth book cover! Get yourself one! If you're crafty or know someone who is, find a fabric with a texture you like and make one or a dozen. At least you'll be able to read without your skin crawling or getting sick to your stomach. (Well, assuming the story itself doesn't cause that reaction. *G*)


  1. I am so glad you posted this. I thought it was just me that these books feel so incredibly icky. I can't stand to hardly look at the book knowing they feel so terrible. Now I know I'm not alone & not going crazy (as I'm the only one I know who feels this way) so I feel way better now. Thanks.

    1. I'm really glad you found this post, and it helped.

      As a side note, I have since this post talked to a multitude of others who have the same issue. In addition, I've met some folks who are avoiding those extreme matte covers because they're exhibiting allergic reactions to them. They suspect it has something to do with the way the ink lays on the surface, but they can't be sure. Needless to say, they are reading less to avoid red, itchy, swollen hands. If they can't get their hands on the book BEFORE buying it, they won't buy it. Some of them are reading ebooks (even if they don't like them) to avoid the issue. Some who don't like ebooks have gone back to only buying paperbacks in brick-and-mortar bookstores. If it's not on those shelves, they never see it. They don't want to order it on-line and it arrive only to find it's got that kind of cover.

      My hope is that one of these days, Amazon and other online bookstores will include cover type in the information they provide to customers. We can only hope, eh?

  2. My friend covers her with clear packing tape.
    Works really well

  3. YES! I'm glad I'm not alone. I can't stand the texture of the matte covered books, they can't easily be wiped clean, I wonder about toxicity because they leave a sticky residue on my hands. Ugh.

    1. I've been meeting more and more readers who dislike, or outright hate, these covers. Most, they don't like the texture. A few have complained about the fact they can't be wiped clean. As far as the residue, I have no idea what may be in it, but something in it appears to cause allergic reactions in a small segment of readers. Not sure the residue is actually toxic, but for those readers, it's most certainly not a pleasant thing.

      Unfortunately, if you buy a hard copy book online, there's no way to know until you get it in-hand what type of cover it has. I just got a hard cover where the dust jacket is that same nasty texture, though the rest of that series (over a dozen books) were a standard semi-glossy. Thankfully, it was easy to contend with - I removed the dust jacket while I read the book and slapped it back on to shelve it. Still using my trusty fabric book cover for its paperback counterparts.

      Anyway, you're most definitely not alone. :-)