Sorry to Say, but You Do Judge a Book by Its Cover

The cover is a sales pitch, but are you buying?

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09/16/2022

Lindsey Naples


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Everyone has heard the adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But my initial response to that is (and always has been), why? The cover of the book is essentially the sales pitch for your story. And judging a book by its cover is not only something everyone does, it’s also one of the first things you do when face to face with a book!

 

Direct to the Source: My Friends

My friend group is made up of avid readers, so when the idea for this blog popped into my head, they were the first people I went to. “I have an idea for a blog,” I texted. “I’m going to write about book covers and their influence on people to buy the book.”

 

The first response was immediate: “Oh, I have thoughts.”

 

I sat back and watched the responses pop into the group chat (“I like when bookstores wrap the books and only give a small description, but I agree that the cover is the ad for the book”; “Is it an interesting cover design with a unique color palette?”; “It’s the first thing that makes you notice it”). One friend even sent a link to a wonderful blog called The Casual Optimist that has a section dedicated to notable book covers of the month (check out August’s here). But through the back and forth, I noticed that they all were generally on the same page as I was: Cover design is incredibly important—both to your brain and to the marketing team for the book being published.

 

Impacting the Sale

A 2017 article from Writer Unboxed explained it beautifully, stating that “covers are like that first handshake between strangers; there’s a right and a wrong way to go about it in order to make a positive impression.” And for those marketing the book itself, it is potentially one of the first (definitely important) aspects of a sale. However, on a personal note (and a viewpoint my friends all agreed with), the only books I refuse to buy based off covers alone are the ones with the film/TV adaptation as the cover. I will search for the original cover design or simply not read it. I am stubborn and this is a hill I will die on.

My fiancé is currently reading Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and I, in a desperate attempt to add more non-fiction into my life, am reading Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Death by Black Hole (as if I needed any new reasons to be terrified of space.) Both have simple, to-the-point covers. Nothing extravagant or particularly of note but they convey what the book is, and they do it nicely. This is the “right way”.

 

But there is a “wrong way” to go about it—the cover can actually hurt book sales. General rules of thumb to have in mind for creating a good book cover are things like keeping it professional/clean, keeping it interesting, and keeping it genre-appropriate—don’t put a picture of dinosaur bones on the cover of a romance novel set in space with nary a mention of dinosaurs.

 

This household's current reads:
(Death by Black Hole (L), Jurassic Park (R))


Keypoint Intelligence Opinion

Yes, plot and writing and all that good stuff is more important to a book as a whole, but the cover of that book is what (like it or not) pulls you in. It is one of the first key components of bringing you into the plot, letting you experience the writing, getting you to crack open the spine and dive in. I understand that the best book could have the least interesting cover, and I’ve read my fair share of awful books with amazing covers. So really, the saying should go “Don’t judge a book only by its cover,” don’t you think?

 

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