Escapists Uncensored: Why is it so bad to judge a book by its cover?

Escapists Uncensored

Escapists UncensoredWhy is it so bad to judge a book by its cover?

I understand the sentiment and wholeheartedly approve, but I’d like to take it in the literal sense. I have read a good deal of books, some with covers that have artwork which is magnetic only for the story to be underwhelming and others which are the complete opposite.

I do understand that much of this is marketing. Take Children & Teen Fiction for example. For the most part, books which are for younger readers have beautiful cover work or at least, bold font and coloring to draw attention. Why is it that this stops when we reach Adult Fiction, or perhaps more accurately, why is this less important?

To look at the fiction aisle in any book store has covers upon covers that feel one note, relying too heavily on lettering and vibrancy in the jacket. For truly gripping artwork on covers, one must travel to the SciFi/Fantasy section. Once in this section you are met with a multitude of different art styles which reflect the story within. Like it or not, you can tell the subgenre by simply glancing at its front. Turn the book around and you can usually read a decent summary of what you can expect. The cover is what initially draws us to pick up a book and  often times what remains with us enough to purchase the book. Even in the day of Ebooks, our interest is piqued by the image that floats upon our screen.

I recently was asked what made me choose to want two particular books. When I answered quite honestly, the covers, I was given a blank stare and asked incredulously ‘Seriously?’. My colleague was shocked when I replied ‘Yes, of course seriously!’ Both books were stories I have reviewed and are quite different- one a fabulous read and the other an underwhelming mash up of other more successful stories. The novel I enjoyed had a dark background , epic golden lettering, and a female warrior character dressed in clothes reminiscent of the dark ages completing the front. The novel which was underwhelming had pink lettering in a casual and somewhat childish font with an elaborate bordered  image. This cover picture contained a girl facing away from the fourth wall looking upon Paris with a flying dirigible. Simply describing these two covers, you can tell they were quite different, each with their respective subgenre and target audience.

Covers are underrated valuable tools for the reader. They can promote a new artist, promote better sales, and most importantly they serve as the first window into the world among the pages. For me, covers are a gateway that should be used more often as such. For others they are a warning sign or a product of major publishing.No matter how we feel, we often judge those who choose their books by the cover.  Perhaps our judgment is misplaced  and it’s not always so terrible to judge a book by its cover.

Tell me LE readers, do you judge a book by its cover? Do you think it’s helpful or hurtful?

About Natassia 143 Articles
I am a performer by trade and have been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. My bookshelves are full of many genres but I have a love of fantasy, SciFi and steampunk which have only spurred my performing dreams to help one of these fabulous worlds come to life. I tend to read books with a lot of edge and grit; if it's got zombies, space battles or fantastical steam inventions, I'm in. When I'm not reading or off making my own adventures, I can be caught watching movies of every era, gaming, and being scandalously political like any good steampunk heroine.


  1. I know that many people consider it bad form to judge a book by its cover, and on only one level do I disagree with that (when you’re talking about actual books, of course). If you read a book and love it and then look at the cover and go, “Ugh, this is an awful cover, and that diminishes the whole book in my eyes,” then yes, that’s a problem.

    But covers are often the very first things that people see when they’re browsing for new books. They’re iconic; a good cover can identify a book without needing the title on it to prompt people. Covers are there to attract people; they’re saying, “Pick me over all these other books!” And the covers can tell you an awful lot about what kind of audience the book is targeted to, or at least the audience that the publisher wants the books targeted to. A picture of an attractive female twisted at a weird angle is often going to be urban fantasy with a female protagonist. A very prett teenage girl in a fancy dress is likely to be an appeal to your average teenage girl, meaning an emphasis on appearance and romance. A man with stubbed on his jaw and a sword in his hand is likely to be epic fantasy with an emphasis on action scenes. Not always, but it’s a good rule of thumb to follow.

    Thus by stuff like that, I know what kinds of books I’m likely to like just based on the cover art. I’m not always right. Sometimes cover art doesn’t reflect the book within, and I find myself liking a book in spite of the lousy (by my standards and tastes) initial presentation. Or not liking it when the cover art indicates that the book will be to my tastes. It happens. No system is perfect.

    But covers are a valuable tool in picking up new readers, there’s no denying that. It’s the initial appeal, it’s the first glance, and it’s what pulls a person in and makes them pick up a book and go, “Hmm, I wonder what this is about.”

  2. I’m definitely someone who weighs the cover fairly heavily when I’m purchasing books. A cover is the reflection of the interior. When I see a sloppy cover, I fear the contents are also sloppy. Yes, cover art is an investment. If you’re an indie writer, it can be a significant burden to pay hundreds — if not thousands — for a good cover.

    However, if someone isn’t willing to pay for the cover, I immediately think they didn’t invest in any form of editorial whatsoever. There are mistakes in all books; there is no such thing as a perfect book. Most published novels I’ve read have at least one or two spelling errors in them. This doesn’t bother me.

    But, there is a strong relationship between books possessing good cover art and the contest; usually, the book has been proofread at least once, if not more than once.

    I judge books by their cover, because the cover is a reflection of the care taken with the interior — especially if the book is released by an indie.

    Just my two or ten cents, of course.

  3. I would say, it depends. I agree that with self-publishing, the quality of the cover will likely reflect the quality of the interior. After all, with self-publishing, the author has complete control of every aspect of his or her book, including the cover.

    However, if you’re talking about books published by mainstream press, I almost always don’t judge the book by its cover. That’s because the majority of authors (i.e. those who are not bestsellers, and sometimes not even then) have no control over their covers. It’s the marketing and art department who decides what typefaces and images they can slap on the book so that the book can sell. And then there are some publishers who universally give all their authors really bad covers (Baen comes to mind) even though some of those authors are actually very good.

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