Thursday, April 04, 2013

Book Girls Don’t Cry: Judging a Book by its Cover

Posted by

Inspired by Book Buzzers, Book Girls Don’t Cry is a weekly feature where we each discuss/vent/advise on the chosen weekly bookish topic. Don’t miss Jenni on Mondays, and Amy on Saturdays:

Making a Good First Impression!

You’ve all heard that making a good first impression is important, right? During job interviews, meeting the parents, etc. And then you’ve also heard to not judge a book by its cover, no? Don’t you find both are kind of contradicting? A book cover is the first impression we get of a book, why shouldn’t we judge one by what we first see? At least to some extent. Sure there are tons of great books out there with mediocre covers at best, like so (and yes some of these were changed thank goodness):

And there are meh to awful books that have gorgeous covers (obv. this is my opinion based on my reading experience with these novels):

but between you and me, if I see a book that I have never heard of and the cover is not attractive to me, I will likely pass right by it without even taking a second look. I’m sure we all do this even if some don’t realize it when browsing at book stores. Is it the ugly covers that stop your browsing and makes you think “Well maybe this is a hidden gem!”. Unlikely. So while there are some great books hidden under ugliness, it will take some recommendations for me to pick it up.

Did you know that authors don’t have a say in their book covers when their book is bought by a publisher? Some publishers are more lenient on this and will work with the author until they’re satisfied, but not all. This leads me to self publishing. Self published authors have to go ahead and find their own cover artist. They have every say in their book covers and in the end, they have to look at their final cover and go, YES! This is my book! Consequently, the book cover does reflect, at least a little, what we should expect from the quality of the book as whole–from the effort the author has put into it. Imagine writing a book for months, even years, in the end, after all that work, you don’t cheapen out on your book’s cover, do you? You want it to reflect your hard work. You go and you find a great cover designer to do it justice. If an author doesn’t put the effort in making their cover attractive to its potential readers–a cover that will attract the right readers–then I will likely not put the effort into reading it. This might come off as a little book cover whorish, I realize, but when I get a review request from an author, the book cover will be the first thing I see, and it will be the deciding factor for if I even give the request a chance, or if I add it into the “never to be seen again” pile.

I’m a visual person, and what I think when I see these is: Honestly, Is this the best that they could do?

Some of it is psychological, too. We’re all attracted to different types of people. You would not have married your husband if you didn’t find him attractive, right? A personality can change how you see their looks, sure, same as how an ugly cover can become great once you read the book, love it, and see the covers meaning. On the other hand, however, unless it has already high praise, when I pick up a book that has a cover that really doesn’t do it for me, I go in unmotivated, almost expecting to dislike what’s inside of it. Like arriving on a blind date with someone that looks to be really not your type. While some will preach that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, I say the cover exists for a reason.

Do YOU judge a book by its cover?
Also, don’t forget to leave suggestions for future topics you’d like to see! 🙂

You know you love me!
Xoxo, Book Girl!

The following two tabs change content below.
Canadian blogger, wife, mother, coffee lover, and sarcastic at heart! She has had a love for all things bookish since before Amazon and eReaders existed *le gasp*. You can also find her organizing tours and other fun things at Xpresso Book Tours.

Latest posts by Giselle (see all)

48 Responses to “Book Girls Don’t Cry: Judging a Book by its Cover”

  1. Nick

    Whether a book cover is attractive or not, like you said, depends on a lot on personal preferences.
    Even if they say not to a judge a book by its cover, I just can’t. I’m always attracted to pretty covers and I’m sure I’m missing out on a lot by dismissing ugly covers.
    But whatever, that’s human nature!

    Also, I completely agree about self-pub books. Most of the time, when you look at the cover, you know for sure that the book is a self-pub because the cover is so poorly designed.

    Anyways, great post, Giselle!

  2. Sara @ Forever 17 Books

    I definitely judge a book by its cover. There have been many times I’ve seen a book mentioned on blogs or goodreads but I won’t even read the summary because the cover doesn’t appeal to me. Sometimes I eventually do, if I come across positive reviews.

    I often feel bad for authors when they get a bad cover and they have no say in it. If I was an author, I’d want to be involved with the cover design because I’m sure it’s something they’ve thought of ever since they started writing their book, what it would look like. It’s sad how horrible some self-pub covers are, though I realize money might be an issue. But they aren’t going to make money if it’s something people pass right over. 🙂

  3. Amy

    Great post love! I think that most of us judge books by their cover. With so many books out there and especially with how many us book bloggers or avid readers read, a cover is important. Why choose a book with an ugly cover when there are so many others that catch our interest with gorgeous covers.

  4. bookittyblog

    I do judge a book by its cover. Until not so long ago I thought it was wrong to do it but like you said, why make a cover that won’t catch anyone’s attention? Or just plain unatractive. I know many selfpublished authors don’t have the resources to have a cover designer but if it was me I would wait until I can get a professional to design a nice cover that would match the writing and effort I put into the book.

    • Giselle

      I don’t think it’s wrong I think it’s just a natural human instinct. We’re all attracted to things that are pretty. I think more and more authors and pubs are realizing this and putting in more effort, too.

  5. Jenni @ Alluring Reads

    Dude, you included old lady cover! HOW FREAKING DARE YOU! *glares* But I totally agree that all the top ones are bad but they are good books (some I’ve read, some I’ve heard great things about.) I was really shocked to find out that published authors have little to no say in the covers of their books, that doesn’t seem right to me. I mean who better to slap a cover than the person who wrote it, right?

    Oh in other new, guess what, sad news coming here, so sit down.

    Are you sitting?


    Here goes.

    I found out on my BGDC post this week that they are changing the Crewel cover! CREWEL IS GETTING A COVER CHANGE *hands over tissue* I know I know, it’s sad.

    • Giselle



      I knew it. They change all the covers after a year, now right? It’s like a new “thing” it seems.

      Old lady covers FTW!

    • Kathy Ann Coleman

      I hate that. (When series get cover changes.) And Crewel has a nice cover (haven’t read it yet, though. Should I?) Now I have to decide (If I do choose to buy it) whether to get the cover I know I like, or risk waiting for the cover I “know” *might* match anything else to do with Crewel. Ugh.

  6. Kristin@BloodSweatandBooks

    I felt the exact same way when I saw D.D. Chant’s Fracture. If I hadn’t read the author previously (Broken City is an awesome read) I’d probably have passed it by.

    Wait Crewel is getting a new cover? Why??? It is so pretty as it is. 🙁

  7. Savannah Bookswithbite

    Even though I’m not supposed to, I do judge a book by the cover. And usually when I do that, I feel guilty so I give the book a try. Sometimes the book is better than what I thought it be and other times, its not so good.

  8. Ashley

    I always judge a book by its cover.. especially self published ones. Self published authors are in charge of their covers 100%. They may not design the cover themselves, but they are at least in charge of hiring someone to do it, so they have the power to ensure that the final product is something good. If they’re not going to put enough time, money, and effort into getting a good cover, why should I put the time, money, and effort into reading their work? If they skimp on the cover, maybe they also skimped on the editing or the writing itself…

    I do have a bit more leniency with traditionally published books, since I understand that not everyone actually has control over their cover in that industry. But I still can’t help but judge. I figure that if a book is good enough (even with a crap cover), the buzz will find its way to me eventually. Like Legend by Marie Lu. I don’t like that cover but the book got enough attention and buzz (since it is good) that I finally decided to pick it up, and I’m glad I did!

    • Giselle

      I agree 100% on self published covers–it’s why its the first thing I will look at when I get a review request and to be honest I rarely look any farther than that lately O_O I know some may not have the finances but I think this is one thing you save up for if you plan to make writing your career.

      I like the new Legend cover but the old one was pretty blah yeah. I probably wouldn’t have thought much of it had it not gotten so much attention on my Goodreads.

  9. Angela

    I do judge a book by it’s cover a lot of the time. I can not help but do it. Maybe that makes me shallow reader but oh well. Pretty cover is more likely to get me to read the book than an ugly one.

    The Reading Cave

  10. Sirtsu

    Dude, I love your choices! I think it hugely affects what kind of books I pick up at a bookstore based on the cover. Also, when I order books online, I always choose which cover I like the best – UK/US/Australia etc and which print/publisher, because I want my shelf to look good. Anyway.. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer and Unspoken have great covers. I’m so glad they changed Shatter Me cover. It was completely ordinary before, but it’s so gorgeous now. I love the points you make + even self-pub books can be good – look at The Sea of Tranquility, Hopeless, Ten Tiny Breaths etc. It shows the effort you put into your book. LOL @ that husband reference. Lovely discussion, Giselle!

    • Giselle

      Haha I do the same with online book purchases! And often it’s the UK cover that wins they have epic artists or something down there!

      Shatter Me was just weird that dress is a tragedy! I’m not a huge fan of the redo do the eye makes no sense to the story. Sure it’s pretty but what’s the meaning? O_O

  11. Megan R

    I think it’s only natural to let a book’s cover factor into your decision to read a book or not. And I agree about self-pub covers. If you put work into your book, put work into your cover!

  12. Faith Sullivan

    In today’s world, image is everything. I think it’s funny that if you go back and look at the covers of first editions of classic literature – there were as plain as can be. No photos, illustrations, fancy fonts, etc. How times have changed.

  13. russell1200

    I thought the Dracula re-Kindled cover was funny when I took a second look at it. The thorny one wasn’t bad, although the title didn’t do much for me.

  14. Christianna Marks

    Your choices are great! I love how you covered all of the basis in this post! I also don’t understand when a self published book has a shitty cover. You are so right when you say that they have all the control in the world and that sometimes they still don’t use that power. Always use your power! Right?

    Loved all of the covers! And I have to admit that even though I don’t want to I do judge a book by its cover.

  15. fishgirl182

    totally agree. a book cover should try to attract readers and at least look like they made an effort. if a friend recommends a book and it happens to have a not so great cover, i will consider because someone recommended it. but if i see a book i know nothing about and it has a lame cover, too, i will most likely pass it up. there are too many books and i can’t read the back cover of every one, unfortunately.

  16. Kelley (Another Novel Read)

    I agree! It’s kind of hard NOT to judge a book by its cover. You’re right: they’re there for a reason, and if I’m not connecting with the cover, I expect not to connect with the book. I love that you posted so many example covers, too. I see topics like this every now and then, and they always make me wonder. Like, what were the people thinking who approved the bad covers? What was their reasoning? Is it laziness? Were they trying to appeal to a certain market (girls who like pretty dresses?)? Were they trying to entice people with color psychology (Ready Player One)? I don’t get it. But yeah, I’m sure I pass over some great books because I just don’t like their covers. And I’ve read a few less-than-great books because I loved their covers.

  17. Nereyda @Mostly YA Book Obsessed

    It’s crazy how authors have no say in their covers. I get why but I also think they should at least have some input. Self published authors I am conflicted over. I get that covers can be expensive BUT if you expect to make a name for yourself in the industry then you have to be willing to put in the money (just like you have to put in time and effort) into your book.
    Of course I judge a book by its cover! So many review requests I immediately delete or ignore if the cover is bad. Sounds mean but oh well.
    I ranted about this earlier but I can’t freaking stand the same couples on covers. It’s gotten ridiculous! If I see Daemon and Katy or Lucas and Jacqueline or that new couple on one more cover I’m gonna scream!
    And authors please make your book cover sizes the normal size and for the love god, please do not ever use Comic Sans font on your book cover!

  18. @HarleyBearBooks

    Exactly. If we shouldn’t judge books by there cover then the outside should just be blank. I remember picking up Divergent just because I liked the cover and was so pleasantly surprised. I think this is why I have a hard time wanting to read self published books. Because often the covers aren’t that appealing and it makes me think the inside content won’t be either.

  19. dianerinellaauthor

    This has been an endless conversation for me lately. One of the big problems now is the use of stock art. (Guilty!) Often we see cover pics of the same models taken in the same photo shoot, or worse, the same image reused with a different title. In fact, the use of stock art is so great (even traditional publishers are using it) that it is hard to find a good image to use without manipulating the heck out of it. There is one image in particular that keeps getting used. I read one book with it on the cover, and now I feel like I don’t need to read the others because I have read it already. Very sad.

    A cover get my attention. The blurb gets me interested. The reviews may talk me out of reading it, or they may sucker me in. It all starts with the cover though.

    You picked excellent examples.

  20. Alexa Y.

    Oh, I TOTALLY judge books by their covers. Whenever I’m browsing in a bookstore or the library, I will always go for the books with the covers that appeal to me. Honestly, it’s a big pull for a potential reader to see a cover that WOWS them – and I don’t get enough of those. I want/need more!

  21. Felicia the Geeky Blogger

    It totally is part of what sales a book to me! I have to want to read the synopsis and visually grabbing me with a cover is one sure way to do it. I am sure I have passed by some classics in the making because the covers are gosh-awful. I didn’t read Ready, Player, One until the guy was in our town giving away some things. Even then I think it set on my shelf until everyone was shouting how good it was.

  22. Michelle @ In Libris Veritas

    I judge by covers…like Harley said if we’re not supposed to then the covers should be blank. The big name publishers it’s harder to know exactly what you’re getting because of the process in which their covers are made, but I’m less likely to pick up an unattractive. Self-published is where the cover really makes a difference. I agree with you, if you spend years on a story you’re going to make sure your cover reflects that hard work because you care. So if I see a cover that’s bland, poorly sized or looks like it was done in Paint I’m probably going to skip over it unless I’ve seen reviews stating that it’s worth it. The perfect example of this is I avoided a book for well over a year because of the cover…and then when it was redesigned to look much nicer I downloaded it without realizing it was the same one. It makes a difference.

  23. Aman

    The covers can make or break a book for me. Atleast when it comes to review request or blog tours. I don’t want to put a not-so-good cover on my blog and I know it sounds mean and maybe I’m mean. I want pretty or atleast meaningful covers, not something loud or obnoxious. But lately, I’m seeing a lot of self pub author focusing on their book covers and they look great. Like Abbi Glines and Colleen Hoover have such beautiful book covers and I love it.

  24. Stellar

    I always judge a book by it’s cover, no matter how much I don’t want to. If I don’t like the cover, I go in with very low expectations, expecting to hate the book as much as the cover. Likewise, when I go in loving the cover, I expect the book to be spectacular. To me, a cover can make or break a book.

  25. Mary @ BookSwarm

    I’m a total cover ‘ho. That’s one of the reasons ebooks are so challenging to me. I know I have a ton of great books on my Kindle but don’t know which one to read next because — gah! — no cover!! I like adding an as-yet-unrevealed cover in goodreads and waiting with bated breath for the cover to come out. It’s like a present!

  26. 88dreamers

    i do judge a book by it’s cover. If it’s pretty i am going to pick it up and have a look at it, if it’s boring my mind doesn’t even register it.
    If it’s an author i know and have read their other books then i barely notice the cover, i just go “yay they wrote another book for me”

    And i absolutely agree, if you get to choose your cover you should make sure it’s the best it can be

  27. Candace

    I’m definitely one to judge a book by the cover. It’s not so much for big house published books if I have seen good reviews, but it’s the self published ones that I judge more harshly. I have SO many books to read already I’m most likely going to pick those with the covers I like. I do occasionally give one a chance with a cover I don’t like though and often I enjoy the story. But I guess it really does often seem like if they don’t take the time to get a good cover then did they take the time to get it professionally edited?

  28. Shooting Stars Mag

    I really do judge books by their cover. If I’m not aware of what a book is about (especially in an actual bookstore) then I’ll grab things to read the summary based on the cover…though, sometimes, I base it off the title if the book is spine out. Titles can be just as important.

    As for the covers you included at the beginning, it is crazy how plain The Fault in Our Stars is…I guess that’s typical of most John Green books and he was big enough for that book to not really NEED an awesome cover to do well. Regardless, it would be cool to see something different…

    I think paranormal books are getting most of the pretty covers these days, whether the book is all that great or not. Bummer. I want more pretty contemporary titles!


  29. Amanda Douglas

    I admit, I definitely judge a book by its cover. I can sit here all day and say that I don’t, but the truth is that I pass by books that don’t have eye catching covers.

    Like you, it takes some seriously good recommendations for me to pick those books up. I feel sort of bad about doing it, but you know…haha.

  30. Jasprit

    I didn’t know that some authors didn’t have a say in the cover that their books end up, that would be so annoying if you’ve worked your butt off on your book and it ends up with a horrid cover. I agree when I got to my book store a cover is what pulls me into a book, sometimes I don’t depend on this especially if the author is well known to me, but if a book has a cover like some of the ones you mentioned above, I’m likely to walk straight past it. Thanks for sharing this great post with us Giselle! 🙂

  31. Lauren

    I’m totally cover obsessed. I stalk cover reveals and stick my tongue out at the screen when disappointed and cheer when a book I’m dying to read shows up on Goodreads wearing a gorgeous cover. I try not to put too much emphasis on the cover, especially if it’s underwhelming and for an author I really love, but it’s so hard! It really is the first impression I get, and I have limited time to read book descriptions. If the cover is bad, it might take me months of seeing great reviews before I say, ok, maybe there’s a good story here. But I hardly ever feel the urge to be one of the early reviewers if a cover sucks. Too many bad experienes. Great topic, thanks for posting, and love your examples! Those last ones—yeah, they can definitely do better. 🙂

  32. Jenn Renee

    OF course I judge a book by its cover. Why else would they have a cover. Duh! What I like about being part of the book blogger community is that I don’t have to judge by the cover as much. When I go into a bookstore or the library, I can’t even guess how many good books I may be passing up because the covers do not catch my attention. Many books now, I choose from what I read about on my favorite blogs… reviews, Waiting on Wednesday, Teaser Tuesday, the new release posts, and of course blog tours. So it helps, and even though I catch more from reading about them on blogs, my eyes still go to the covers that catch my attention first. Its build in our mind, we do it with everything from food to shows and movies to people. GREAT POST!

  33. Melanie

    I’m constantly telling myself not to judge a book by its cover. I mean, I grew up hearing that saying ALL THE FREAKIN TIME. But, guiltily, I do it because, like you said, it shows dedication of authors towards their book, after all. When I go to a bookstore to pick up a book at random, I’m always going to gravitate towards beautiful designs.
    When I think about it sometimes, it’s the same for blogs. There are so many amazing blogs out there that look AMAZING or really clean and well thought. Then there are the few blogs that have disorientated colours and typos in the Titles. It really reflects how much dedication goes into their books.
    Great post Giselle, really got me thinking again!!

  34. Micheline D

    Giselle, you’re like my teacher. I may start calling you teacher…or master?! I did NOT know that an author has little to no say regarding their cover if they’re published via a publishing house! You’d think more publishers would want to work with the author to get the tone or feel of the cover just right.

    Anyhoo, on to the covers you chose. I’ve always thought the Sookie Stackhouse covers were hideous…but that’s not the ONLY reason I’ve never read them *snicker* The Shatter Me one you picked I’ve always liked better though, mainly cause close up eyes creep me out, no matter how pretty they’re drawn. Bleh! I’d be holding that eyeball one and my fingers would be all wrapped up in…well eyeball!! O.O

    It really is a double edged sword though cause I think some times a stunning cover is used to cover up a mediocre to horrible book just because someone had a hunch what the masses would run to.

    In any case you’re right, I think we ALL judge books by their covers. I think if a book is good enough, it’ll get noticed despite that (eventually)

    Anyways thanks for another brilliant post, I feel smarter already!

  35. Lyn Kaye

    Well, you make a good point. If you want me to buy the product,then at least try. Covers can be alluring and trappish, but at least someone tried to make an effort.

    Awesome post – love it!

  36. malvoliosStockings

    I’ve always judge books on their covers. I understand why you shouldn’t of course but I can’t help it. I actually feel its disrespectful to the book and to the author if a book has a bad cover. And I’ve always felt this.

    I actually feel empathy or perhaps pity towards greats book with bad covers. Of course the book doesn’t care but i do. I have this copy of Pride & Prejudice with the most horrible cover in existence. Like whoever designed this cover should be banned from ever designing again. Its that ugly. It pains me to know that this great book, which i own, must suffer from this . . . ugg . . . from this yuck cover. Sometimes it better not to judge things on appearances, but when it comes to books, I’m all for it. Please go away ugly looking books.