Do you judge a book by its cover?

Is book cover really important? Kelsey Gulick thinks it is. In her post she concluded that she pays attention to the book cover and makes her choice based on that. I wrote immediately I don’t judge by the cover, but I feel I should ponder on this.

I’m often reminded of the “don’t judge a book by a cover” whenever I go to the bookstore or library. I notice covers, of course. But I think I base my choices on:

  • the title;
  • the description (it helps the book if there are *no* “recommended” opinions on the cover);
  • a fragment in a random place of the book.

When a book covers catches my attention, I usually check those things. I think I didn’t buy a book only because I liked the cover. I remember that Celia S. Friedman’s The Coldfire Trilogy got my attention years ago because it didn’t feature a half-naked woman (moreover not rescued by a mighty warrior with a big sword) but after all I decided to buy it because the story seemed interesting. Lately I get my books mainly from the library, some of the old ones are cover with a grey paper, so I totally don’t see the cover. What I see first is the title, and if the title sounds interesting, I take out the book to read more about it, about the author and a fragment.

While reading I don’t care how the cover looks like. I can read or buy a book with a crappy cover. Like Polish version of Heartland by Jann Turner. This example probably is the best example of “don’t judge a book by its cover” – it was better than the cover suggested. Btw, I can play a crappy looking game, I can watch a crappy looking anime – when the plot is good – and I feel repulsed when all I see is beautiful people on screen because it’s so fake and plastic. Why should a cover matter? I’m reading the contents. All I see is usually just a side of a book on a shelf.

When I’m in the shop or library, I can ignore (omit) some books because of their covers. I usually ignore pastel-coloured covers, film covers or covers with half of a body/face. Such covers aren’t usually found in the science-fiction/fantasy genre which I’m usually reading. Paranormal romance is imho a subgenre of romance, so I ignore it. I have some books with pastel coloured covers… Because I cared about the contents.

On the other hand, I care about covers a lot. I care about quality covers. I’m so tired with all those “stereotypical” covers. One of the sites there was a slideshow of several books, including one by Amy Tan and one by Lisa See. The photo cover on both was really similar, an upper body of a woman in a Chinese dress without a face. Sounds similar? A lot of books had covers like that. So totally not standing out. How should I notice a book like that? Clarice Lispector’s The Hour of the Star (Polish version) cover was so standing out. A bright yellow cover with big black letters. Now, which one would you notice? I don’t understand the idea behind the similarity of covers. Do you?

Do you care about a book cover? Does it influence your choice in any way?


12 thoughts on “Do you judge a book by its cover?”

  1. Hi Kama,

    A cover appearance actually has some (slight) influence on me.

    Moreover, I think that each and every reader may be prone to the ‘cover effect’ and that’s why it’s highly advisable to read a bit about the book one is about to read :).

    Unless it’s done, our highly visual way of thinking may tempt us into reading something that’s only worth of looking at.

    Well, long life to reviews!

    1. So, what influence it had on you?

      Long life to reviews, but only if a trusted reviewer read the book and can share their opinion. If you just go blindly to the store, and some book catches your attention, what then?

  2. Thanks for your comment, Kama.

    Well-designed, catchy covers would, of course, tempt me into reading the book.

    I like covers that are informative and intriguing at the same time. The one that undoubtedly would have some influence on me, can be found here:

    Not only front covers have the magnetic power attracting me toward a literary work, though; when buying a book, I like to look at its back cover as well.

    Usually I can’t help but do this, being sufficiently informed whether the book is my cup of tea.

    What kind of covers attract you the most?

    1. I could probably ignore the book solely based on cover. But then, it’s Frank Herbert. The covers for Polish hardcover edition are great. At least the first two, because I bought only those volumes. πŸ˜‰

      Clarice Lispector’s The Hour of The Star (Polish edition) attracted me with the small yellow cover and big black letters. I couldn’t not notice it. πŸ˜€ Waktu Aku Sama Mika’s cover attracted me for the simplicity (but I knew about the book earlier). 9 dari Nadira looked so tempting and eye-catching. I have it at home. πŸ˜›

      I prefer simple covers. You can be sure that (at least) 99% of these covers are totally not my taste πŸ˜€

  3. You already know my opinion on this one as I am blatant about my book cover obsessions. To me good cover art/design is a key to the overall process. If the publisher doesn’t care enough to give me a good cover, why should I care enough to pick up the book? But the problem is it is all subjective. What a “good” cover is to me may be a terrible cover to another. The bottom line for me is that I prefer science fiction and fantasy to have illustrated, or commissioned designed covers, from quality artists. I don’t want to see just words on a page, unless those are actually part of an artistic design, and not just a font choice. I also don’t want to see science fiction or fantasy characters/settings rendered poorly (my recent review of Date Night on Union Station being an example).

    Sadly a lot of cover issues are for economic reasons. Self-publishing writers are unlikely to have the funds to afford to commission talented working illustrators, and traditional publishing houses can often save money by doing with stock photo art or limited design, particular for books by well-known authors that are going to sell based on name recognition.

    1. Yeah, I know your obsession. πŸ˜€ Tho I not always agree with your selection. Like the Universal Alien’s cover. It’s well done but the cover for me is so “standard”, nothing too special. Maybe it’s too overloaded. Ticker on another hand looks like it was one of a chick lit, nothing to be interested about, even with the different palette of colours. But as they say “de gustibus non est disputandum”. πŸ˜€ What is good for one isn’t good for others. There is never a cover that will please all. Btw, did you notice the “A novel” explanation on covers? So lame imo. πŸ˜€

      It’s nice to notice the covers (I like your monthly post), but I wouldn’t rule out a book just because a cover is bad. Your shelves would look interesting, I think. Could you post a photo of them? πŸ˜€

      It would be ideal if the book and cover were good, but I saw bad books with good covers, good books with bad covers and crappy books with crappy covers. πŸ˜€ I’d say “good book with a bad cover” is what I want if given choice out of those three.

      1. And I truly don’t expect anyone to agree with me on my choices at all. What is important to me is that the “tradition” of hiring artists to create covers be maintained rather than simply having book title and author (the George R.R. Martin books) or a photostock cover with no artistic touches. Both of the examples of covers you mention are good examples. You aren’t wrong in your assessments of the covers for Universal Alien or Ticker, but at least one is a work created by an artist with paint on canvas (Universal Alien) and the other is created by an artist who does really interesting and varied digital design. I would much rather see a talented artist create a cover that I don’t like (and they exist) on genre fiction than I would see either the GRRM trend.

        I can post pics of my shelves sometime, although there isn’t much to see art-wise as they are all spine out. They are lovely shelves that my father made and I keep them very neat and tidy. πŸ™‚

        I won’t *refuse* to read a book because its cover is bad (Date Night on Union Station being the most recent case in point), but I am unlikely to ever flip a book over to read the back and consider it if the cover does not appeal to me on some level. I would never have stopped on the Amazon page long enough to read Date Night’s description if it hadn’t been for several recent recommendations.

        And I certainly realize that this is my own personal quirk, and as it has served me well over my lifetime by giving me several good reading experiences I cannot imagine I will make too many changes to it. Knowing some of these artists from working with them at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live has also reinforced my desires to give my money and time to publishers who hire professional illustrators. It may be very nostalgia-based, longing for the “good old days” of sff cover illustration, but I want to see book cover art continue to be a career that genre artists can aspire to.

        And I’ve never understood that “A Novel” explanation on a cover.

        1. I agree with you on the tradition, and I think that George Martin’s book cover is not so interesting (I got this one on my shelf currently: I’d gladly choose to support illustrators vs film covers vs Martin’s-style covers. I did love our previous talk about illustrators.

          I wouldn’t read Amazon’s recommendations at all. I don’t believe them. I believe in “look inside” πŸ˜› But anyway, I use Amazon only when looking for specific books.

          My personal quirk is reading a random fragment from the book, and if I don’t try “ok, I’ll give them a chance” I’m usually right.

          I’m not sure about the “good old times” you mention, but I’d gladly see a post with some covers examples. πŸ˜›

          1. I like to check out a random sampling of 5 and 1 star reviews just to see what folks are complaining about/praising. I don’t know how much weight I actually give to those opinions, but 1 star reviews can be highly entertaining.

            I need to do more fragment reading, especially since so many books have free samples you can download on Kindle.

            I’m considering “good old times/days” really as that wide swath of time since they started printing science fiction and fantasy in paperback form, with all the great (and sometimes not so great) pulp art covers up through probably the explosion of the internet and photoshop-style editing as it was at this point where you really saw books in general, not just SFF, going away from commissioned paintings or designs to photo-manipulated covers. I would actually like to do more art posts focusing on artists who are no longer working in the industry because they are deceased (Paul Lehr, Richard Powers) or just aren’t working anymore (Vincent di Fate). It all gets back to that whole “time” issue.

            1. Wow, you read random reviews? I never do that. I only read reviews of selected people “I trust”.

              I look forward to seeing the posts on those artists. πŸ™‚

              1. If I’m not familiar with a book/author, I’ll pop on Amazon and read a couple of 5 star reviews and a couple of 1 star. I’m always curious to see what a random person either loved or hated about a book. I don’t lend a lot of weight to those reviews, although I’ve occasionally come across reviews that indicated that a book has a rape scene or something similar that will usually make me pass on a book. I like a lot of old school science fiction, but I have enough to read without having to read a story where a woman is raped as part of the plot.

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