Thursday, 31 October 2013

Do you judge a book by its cover?

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“I judge books by their cover, because, well, isn't that what they're there for?” L. Kondor

As an avid lover and reader of all things literary, I have never questioned why I choose a particular book when I’m browsing a shelf. I simply pick up what appeals to me and flip it over to read the blurb... a quick flick through the pages and it’s either in my basket or hastily returned to its previous location. However, as an author I found myself wondering about that magical ingredient; that detail on the outside that makes someone want to look... inside.
So I Conducted an experiment; and below are the results.
My Question?

I posed this question to an eclectic group of readers and authors, from a multitude of genres, and the majority of them admitted that it's all about the cover.

What was the majority? Take a look...

So, what is it about the covers that drew the reader's eye?  Here are some of their comments:-

"I get put off by the wrong font, or a bad stock photo." D. Winter

"It has to be well done, unique and interesting." L. Lablue

"Striking portraits or colours and abstract textures or designs that call up an emotion in me." R. Davmor

"Bold and unique. Thought provoking and curious." C. Storm

"A good cover should be like a work of art, it should speak to you." S. McFinnigan

K. Brown, a bookseller who has firsthand experience says, “Yes, books are judged by their covers. We sell & promote books that we have vetted through our writing competitions. However, we vet only content, not covers.  The content could be excellent, but if the cover doesn't convey that then it is bypassed by potential readers. Sad, but true.” 

So the next question should be why? Why do we, as readers, limit ourselves in such a subjective way? Ultimately, a cover is simply the outer skin of an authors work; so what makes readers shun the 'ugly duckling'?
Here readers give their opinion:-


“I think of books like plates of food. You eat with your eyes first. It's human nature. If I'm browsing a book store, I'm looking for that restaurant quality dish. Beautiful, clean, composed. Of course, it's not always an accurate depiction of what is inside. The cover might snag my attention, but I take a bite first before I walk to the checkout with it.” S. Allton
“If the cover looks well-designed, like it's had some care and thought put into it, I usually assume that the text itself has had the same care and attention!” D. Winter
“The cover of any book/ebook/report/pitch deck is like an invitation to come inside. Think about how the entrance of your house is perceived by visitors.” J. Sondy
“I find different genres tend to have common styles. romance cover images are either real people or landscapes, Fantasy books tend to have digital or painted artwork, or fantastical creatures. Scifi has something futuristic, astrologic or spaceships.” C. Tempest
“The cover is your one chance to make a good first impression and is worth attention and investment.” Ken.L


This posed another interesting issue:

“I always have the option of more books than I can procure, so looking at the cover is a way to CHOOSE between them.” Mark.H


So I asked Mark if he thought a cover is a way for a reader to refine their choices in a superfluous market? Did he mean a bad one may guarantee he doesn't pick it up but a good one may not guarantee he does... He quickly put me right. I wouldn't say that a bad cover guarantees I won't pick it up, but it does lower the chances of taking a closer look quite a bit.” He went on to explain IT’S not just physical factors (in a cover) but mental ones as well - stuff that people subconsciously decide without realising it or being able to articulate it. Is the book too long? Do I feel ‘in the mood’ to read this type of book? Does the author’s name sound cliqued? is the blurb on the back poorly written? Is it related to another series of books that I haven't read?

If we struggle to explain to ourselves why we don't want to pick up a particular book ‘because of a feeling’, then not liking the cover is a convenient excuse, and one that can be rationalised.”


So that said, what chance does any author have to impress the masses? It sounds like an impossible task, but all is not lost! A cover may not please all of the people, all of the time, but there are readers out there willing to look past the bruised skin of the fruit.
We mustn’t forget the 30% of readers who already have that X-ray vision; the ones who go straight for the synopsis, first page or sample chapters on the internet; the ones who listen to recommendations and read reviews.

“I always read the synopsis and then a free chapter.” T. Haas

“I am attracted by the title. If someone has the imagination to think of a good title, I reckon the story might be good.” T. Schlesinger

“How good a cover is might say something about how much money the author or publisher had to spend on it, but otherwise it doesn't indicate anything at all.” Brian.R

“I now am a first paragraph reader, since I learned the first half page is what makes you want to read any book.” Bill.L

“A great title is the hint of promise of what's inside.” Rachel.P

“I think writing a good synopsis is a skill and one that should be practiced.  It's a difficult line to walk because you want to give them just enough to pique their interest, but not make it overly burdensome with too much detail.” Ken.L

My conclusion? Yes, a cover is important – but designing a cover that is unique, bold, emotive, though-provoking, not busy, genre related but not cliché, the reader’s favourite font, pretty, without overused and cheap images... is going to be impossible for even the most imaginative individual in such a large and diverse market.

“There are plenty of hidden gems that don't even have covers.” Marcy.P

My advice... read! That’s what books are for after all. Words need to be read. If you’re in a shop read the back, open it, smell it, read the first chapter – the first paragraph and make your judgement.
If you’re on the internet you have no excuse, there are sample chapters available to read online or to download to your e-book device for free. Don’t like it? Delete it. Love it? Buy it for a fraction of the cost of a paper copy.

"My task which I am trying to achieve is by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel-it is, before all, to make you see. That-and no more, and it is everything."
- Joseph Conrad

A final thought courtesy of L. E. Christopher:- "If the first few pages have awkward sentences or mistakes, I'm definitely not buying it."

This is not official research. Figures are based on a restricted sample of participants.


  1. I do judge a book by its cover. I hate to admit it. A good cover will pull me to the blurb, then the blurb may convince me to read the book. I always tell self-published writers to invest in a great cover. If the cover is blah, most will pass it by. The cover thumbnail is what catches a reader's interest as they're scrolling through online bookstores.

  2. These are absolutely fascinating results, and I've just realised that I got caught out by my assumptions around the question. Because the first part of the two-part question was "Do you judge a book by its cover?" I assumed that the question was ONLY about the cover, and not about any other factors that might influence me, such as the title, or the relative importance of all factors involved in my decision making process. I wonder if anyone else made similar assumptions?

  3. A very helpful blog. Thank you. It makes us authors think even more about what we do and how we should do it (like those titles I take for granted sometimes). It will be impossible to please everyone with a cover, as every person has his/her unique taste, same with everything else that makes a book.
    All in all, this taught me to put more thought into everything!