Judging a book by it’s cover

I’m sure your mother told you, NEVER judge a book by it’s cover but sometimes,  I have to disagree; of course you can judge a book by its cover. That’s precisely what the covers of books are for. Judging the book.

That’s how you know what the book is called and who wrote it, and there’s often even plot synopsis on the back. Whether there’s a picture of a pirate clutching a booby lass with their blouses blowing in the wind, or a knight confronting a fire-breathing dragon in the cover illustration, you’re going to get a fairly accurate impression of the genre and I feel this can be a good start.

Despite trying not to, it can sometimes be tempting to judge a book by its cover. Hooded figure? Science fiction. Black background and grey font? Erotica. Silhouetted man? Thriller featuring a renegade who, damn it, doesn’t play by the rules. Let’s face it, we all do!

I’ve found these are some common themes on book cover art and styling:

Nonfiction advice or self-help books often display a picture of the author-as-expert, surrounded by a blocky title font.

Literary novels often feature a whimsical, decorated, or cursive-stylized title font, with soft shades of colour and possibly a contemplative picture or imagery.

Romance novel covers usually have a man or woman (or both), no doubt locked in a close embrace, passionate gaze, or another “love” position…

Thrillers or action/adventure covers display the author’s name and title in big, bold lettering, superimposed on a graphical representation of a main story element.

Most readers—me included—will pick a book off the shelf because its cover interests us: the title intrigues; the cover illustration attracts; the author’s name is one we trust.

If you don’t know the author of the book, the nature—and implied promise—of the cover becomes even more important.

If the book does not deliver on the promise of the cover, it will fail with many readers despite its value. A broken promise is still a broken promise. I say cover, not necessarily the back jacket blurb, because the front cover is our first and most potent introduction to the quality of the story inside. How many of us have picked up a book, intrigued by its alluring front cover, read the blurb that seemed to resonate with the title and image, then upon reading our cherished purchase been disillusioned with the story and decided we disliked it and its author?

This is because, as readers, from the moment we pick up a book, we engage in an agreement with the story’s author (but in actual fact with the entire publishing company) for a story whose promise we have interpreted from its cover image, title and blurb. It begins with the cover. A book’s cover is its sales pitch: “This is what I’m about!” the cover proclaims in shades of colour and texture. The cover sets the tone and attitude with which a reader will interpret the book’s title and back jacket blurb and it’s interior.

I feel that the take home lesson for readers and shoppers is this: don’t judge a book by its cover; certainly pick up the book if it looks interesting, then read with an open mind and let the story take you to where it needs to, despite what you may have expected from the false advertising. Chances are, the unexpected journey visited upon you may be a welcome surprise. And don’t blame the writer for something he didn’t have control over.

I know that recently in a lot of bookshops I’m seeing a lot of Blind Date with a Book which is an idea I love, I have been trying to expand my “normal” reading routine and things like this really help. You get a synopsis of the book and a brief overview but with no preconceptions, you might be able to find a new gem!

I am seduced by beautiful covers, by intriguing covers, by covers that know what they’re doing and by covers that have a little mystery. Right or wrong, covers are usually what I see first – they are what prompt me to look inside and find out more. They are just a part of the story, but are they the start of the story or the end? I find cover design endlessly fascinating, but ultimately it’s up to me how I use the information covers provide, the clues they drop and the temptations they offer. Right or wrong, I’m going to assume a cover featuring a vampire is going to mean a story about vampires, but what do covers say to you?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s