So, if you read books, you’ve no doubt heard countless times the age old idiom of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. This is the idea that a reader should never determine the quality of a story by the quality of its bindings. Many people do not care about the cover; whereas, it’s very important to other readers.
While I will say that I do not judge the contents of a book by the cover, the cover is definitely what influences me to buy a book first.
When I say I’m like Dug from Up when it comes to pretty book covers I’m being quite serious. For Dug it’s squirrels. For me it’s shiny book covers with bright colours and gold ink and beautiful fonts. I’m a sucker for the pretty books, what can I say?
Looking at my bookshelf right now I can point out at least five books I’ve purchased in the last two months because the covers were beautiful (please note that the books were also just as amazing). I’m even on a mission to collect as many pretty versions of my favourite book, Wuthering Heights, as a I can. I’ve become selective about the books I actually buy, and honestly, the cover plays a huge part in why I buy or don’t buy certain books.
As much as people might say they don’t judge books by their covers, I think we all inherently do to some extent when it comes to choosing to purchase a book or not. Look at cover trends, specifically in places like Young Adult, Contemporary Romance, Historical Fiction, or Fiction Thrillers. When one book does extremely well, books that follow it in that genre tend to have similar covers. Why? Because that cover style is proven to sell.
In Young Adult, fantasy books tend to have artistic renderings or photos of characters (I want to say this started with Sarah J. Maas and Cassandra Clare, but correct me if I’m wrong). In Contemporary Romance, most covers have illustrations of the lovers in bright contrasting colours (ie. Red, White, & Royal Blue). In Thrillers it’s usually some woman staring out a window or running away with dark colours. In Historical Fiction it’s a woman in a dress photographed from behind in the landscape of whatever country the book takes place in.
People are creatures of habit. And in that way so are readers. We tend to like what we know. That’s likely why so many readers gravitate to the same writers over and over again, or writers by the same publishing company, or stories with similar plot lines. We have built in expectations for what a book might be like.
Covers create expectations. If readers are familiar with a certain best-selling book in a genre, than a book with a similar cover can be marketed to the same readers. We can associate the feelings from the best-selling book to this new book that has similar fonts, colours, and aesthetic. Already we have an idea of what to expect from the book.
I don’t think it’s fair to judge an entire book by its cover, but we are definitely attracted or unattracted to the visual appeal of a book. Our initial response to a book cover can decide if we pick it up or not and read the summary. What reaction do we get from the cover? Does it invoke emotions? Does it remind us of other books? Does it stand out?
So, while I have read amazing books with bad covers and beautiful books with disappointing stories, the cover gives the reader a first expectation. In essence, it’s like a present. The shape of the present, the sounds it makes when you shake it, the smell it might give off, the wrapping paper and the bow, all give us an expectation of what’s inside. You may be disappointed, pleasantly surprised, or the present matches the wrapping perfectly.
Do you judge books by their cover? What books have you impulse bought from the covers? My most recent one was The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and I definitely was not disappointed.