A while ago, I agreed to review a book. Even though my immediate judgement, based upon the cover, was that it would probably not be good, I agreed to review it because I had only just started my blog and was excited that an author had contacted me directly. From the cover, I thought that the subject matter might be of interest, but that it would be poorly written and tough to read. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised and quite enjoyed my experience. Despite this surprisingly positive experience, I’m not going to stop judging books by their covers because, to me, it’s one of the most important parts of the book-reading process. But why should we judge books by their covers? Allow me to explain…
- A picture is worth a thousand words
If this saying carries any weight, then we would be crazy not to use a book’s cover as a means of judgement. What a cover presents can be like an amuse-bouche for what awaits you inside, a brief burst of imagery that entices us in so many ways. In my (heavily biased) opinion, no series better illustrates this point than the Corgi UK covers of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, illustrated by Josh Kirby. Let’s look at his artwork for Small Gods as an example.
There is so much to take in. A screeching eagle clutching a turtle!?! Bizarre, robed figures conducting a human sacrifice? A giant that can shoot lightning from his hands?!? Not only that, but the style of the artwork, with everything having a surreal-like quality, and the people have slightly grotesque and exaggerated features, excites me about what I can expect to read inside. I’d pick up a book with a cover like that in a heartbeat!
2. ‘Seven seconds to make a first impression’
People love to make snap judgements. We just can’t help ourselves. Research has shown that we make an initial judgement of people within just 7 seconds of meeting them. 7 SECONDS!! If we can judge people that quickly, books don’t stand much of a chance. With millions of books for us to choose from, there’s almost no chance I’m going to show extended interest in a book that doesn’t make an immediate positive impression. A book needs to grab my attention before I’m going to read the blurb, and I’m not going to read a book if the blurb doesn’t pique my interest. Which leads me to my third and final point…
3. That’s what covers are for
Good packaging is essential for products to sell. Look at the tobacco industry, where cigarettes are all now sold in plain brown boxes to make them less appealing to potential customers. Well, books are no different. Publishers and authors have (or at least should have) a target audience in mind for each book. Covers are designed to appeal to those people and, for the most part, they’re VERY successful at it.
So, if you find yourself drawn to a book because of its cover, that’s by design and you’ll likely be rewarded rather than disappointed. Conversely, you know what you like. If a book cover makes a poor impression on you, then the chances are that the book just isn’t for you.
Now, I’m not saying that a book’s cover should be the most important factor in deciding whether or not to read a book (I might be willing to break that rule for a graphic novel or comic, perhaps) but ignoring a book cover completely really just isn’t in my best interests. After all, time that can be spent reading (particularly as an adult) is at a premium, so you can be damn sure I’m not going to waste it on a book with a terrible cover (for a second time).
As a little extra, I’ve put some of my favourite book covers throughout this article (The Quiet American, Small Gods, Radiance – both covers, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe). I’d be curious to know if anyone feels particularly strongly about any of them and why. Can be good or bad. Let me know what you think. Thanks