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Judging a book by its cover


Don’t judge a book by its cover. We’ve all heard the phrase before, usually said to warn us that if we judge someone by their appearance we may miss out on getting to know an extraordinary person. Whilst this is true when it comes to humans, it’s not quite accurate for books.

Let’s break this down. Firstly, what is a book cover? Put simply it’s the protective covering used to bind together the pages of a book. Nothing to get excited about really, however the design of the cover is. The design not only gives us crucial information such as the title of the book, the author, and of course a short blurb to tell us what the book is about, but it allows us to immediately recognize the genre and for us to get a feel for what the tone of the novel will be.

Good book covers draw in a reader, allow them to recognize their favourite authors, and give them that little thrill of anticipation that you get when you have a really good book in your hands. It’s one of the first things that you see when choosing a book – most often, if books are shelved in the library or at some book stores, the very first thing you’ll see is the spine. Even the spine needs to be able to draw attention, to say, “Hey, don’t I look interesting? Pick me up for a better look!”

The truth is, book covers are made to be judged. That’s their purpose. They’re created to entice you to pick it up, read the blurb, and decide that you want to read more. So what makes a good book cover? What exactly is it that grabs your attention and convinces you to either borrow the book from the library or part with your hard earned cash to buy it outright?

The image used on the front cover is one of the biggest factors. How many times have you picked up a book that has only one band of colour on the top plus the title and author and put it straight back down, not even bothering to read the blurb? The image on the front is what captures our attention, is what sets the mood of the book and gives a glimpse of what to expect. It should evoke an emotional response, it should intrigue potential readers, and pique their curiosity.

The image, layout, even the font should also be genre appropriate. An image of an isolated farmstead with sharp, jagged font isn’t going to appeal to readers of rural romance. They’ll likely dismiss it as being some sort of crime thriller. Similarly, you wouldn’t expect a scantily clad couple in an intimate embrace splashed across the cover of a science fiction novel with the title in curly calligraphy. Humans are creatures of habit and we pick up on patterns very quickly. Without realising, we recognise the typical layouts for different genres and if we don’t automatically recognise a book cover as being our preferred genre, we’ll just skip over it and move on.

Covers also need to look professional. If it looks like a ten year old has knocked it up in Microsoft Paint, you’re not going to give it the time of day that the book may deserve. Just as we humans get a little bit tarted up when we want to make a great first impression (such as a job interview or a first date), book covers need to also look spiffy. If it looks like the publishing house hasn’t put time and money into the cover, why should we as readers invest our own time and money into the book?

So the next time you’re browsing for a good read, don’t feel bad about putting on your judgey pants and dismissing books out of hand simply because of the cover. It just means that those involved in producing that book haven’t quite hit the nail on the head.