Should you judge a book by its cover?

What’s your favorite type of book to read? A paperback that you can slip into your pocket and read on the bus to and from school or work? A hardcover that protects a favorite book from damage over time? An e-book that you can take with you on an electronic device?

With so many choices, how do you choose which book to read next? Of course, when you’re looking for a new book, the first thing you’re likely to see is the book’s cover. A book’s cover is like an advertisement. It’s supposed to intrigue you, give you an idea of what the book is about and entice you to give the book a closer look.
We’ve all heard the proverb “don’t judge a book by its cover,” meaning that we shouldn’t let first appearances become our judgment.
The saying, of course, applies to much more than just books, but as this blog is focusing only on books, I’m taking issue with the literal meaning of the old adage. People judge books by their covers.
It’s the truth; it’s just the way it is. We all do it or have done it at some point when browsing books. I will be the first the raise my hand and say I am guilty of this.
Imagine browsing the columns of books available for sale on Amazon’s website — no doubt you’ve done this recently. You can picture a few key attributes of the books listed there: title, price, availability information, shipping options. Above all, though, you’ll notice the cover. Whether it’s a “Big 6”-published super-seller or an obscure text used for an advanced math class, Amazon — and any other online (and non-online) bookstores display book covers prominently.

Covers Matter

Whether you choose to believe it or not, the opinion you have of the last book purchase you made was a result of observing these attributes — to a certain extent. The last book I picked up was based off the cover. I was briskly walking past a table of books when I saw a vintage looking cover out of the corner of my eye. I stopped and studied the cover for a good minute or longer before flipping it over to look at the back. I turned back to the front again and looked closer at it. That was when I noticed tentacles flowing from the front to back of the book. If the cover intrigues me, I then read the last page of the book. If I’m interested, I buy it. If not, I set it down and move on.
We eat a meal with our eyes before we even take that first bite. Subconsciously or not, the same is true with books. Before we even crack the spine we’ve started enjoying that book with eyes. Again, whether intentional or not, our overall judgment and opinions of a book have already started forming based on what we see.
The cover of your book matters. It can lead to more sales (or fewer), it can allow you to price it higher by conveying a message of quality, and it can lend credibility to you as an expert on your topic.
If you read a lot, you’ve most likely come across books that just didn’t thrill you like you thought they would base upon their colorful, exciting covers. Likewise, you’ve probably picked up books with boring covers that turned out to be wonderful. I have experienced both of these outcomes. Picking up a book that looked so inviting, only to be let down by various things. On the other hand, I have taken books just because they were free and was pleasantly surprised.

The point of all this “cover talk”

This argument isn’t meant to convince you that the only thing that matters is your cover — far from it. A great cover design is just one out of many variables that go into a great book launch and continued sales.
It just so happens that a book’s cover is one of the first (and possibly only) things a potential reader might review before making a decision. In a perfect world, this wouldn’t be the case. We would value things based on more than just outward appearances. Sadly, we live in a world that is far from perfect. As humans, whether we intend to or not, we are all guilty of this. We all at one time or another have judged a book based upon the cover. Again, I am not proud of this, but I will admit to being guilty of this very thing.

What do you think?

Have you judged a book by its cover? Have you had experience designing your own covers, or paid someone else to do it? Why did you choose the option you did, and what was the result?
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