Forget the idiom, we DO judge a book by its cover

The Guardian published the article How real books have trumped ebooks celebrating the recent and hopefully continued uptick in sales of physical books over ebooks.

In this article, James Daunt, the chief executive of Waterstones makes a wonderful point about selling books:

A very large part of the way I sell books has been about how you present them, how you bring the customer to them and exploit the tactile sense of a physical book. We’ve changed the furniture at Waterstones to make that happen. We have smaller tables with more focused displays. Everything is aimed at persuading people to pick things up, trying to catch their eye, making bookshops a place where you discover beautiful things.

True enough. I have a Kindle and I often read eBooks. But I know that if I like the book, despite having an electronic copy, I will also buy a physical copy. The authors get double the royalty payment out of me. Books for me are little worlds I can hold. Pages I can feel. Despite having paper copies of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, I’m still investing in the new and gorgeous hardback books. Why? Becuase they’re keepsakes, tiny treasures.

I appreciate a good independent bookstore like Camden Lock Books which is where I’ve found some of the quirkiest books ever. But Foyles is one of my all time loves. And going to a bookstore without any specific book in mind is like discovering your next love. You pick up one book, then another. Sometimes you’ll only buy one book, sometimes you’ll buy ten. I’ve rarely left without buying at least one.

The fact is, a decisive factor that will draw you to a book is the cover. It’s essential information for anyone looking to self-publish. Time and effort spent on your cover will work wonders! We know what looks smart and what looks tacky. There’s a BuzzFeed article which all but makes this point. Compare that to Short List’s 50 Coolest Book Covers.

Funnily enough, given my now fervent love of Terry Pratchett’s work, I came to the series later than I should have purely because, as a child, Josh Kirby cover art put me off. It’s a terrible confession, but it’s true.

Should we make these sort of judgements? Of course not. But unfortunately, given the sheer number of books we could be reading right now, it’s not uncommon to use our first impressions to shorten that list. Unless the synopsis has hooked us or we know something about the author prior to picking up the book, we will judge a book by its cover.

A cover is, in many ways, the first page of your story. It gives your readers sense of the theme and world. A bodice-ripping romance is going to look different from an epic fantasy. Your cover is your way at waving at your target readers and saying ‘hey, over here, I’m just your type! Look how new and shiny I am!’. That’s what all books say to me, at least.

I just want to end with a quote from Larry Correia (whose books, you have to admit, have some amazing cover art), an American Fantasy writer who sums this up perfectly:

Aspiring authors, get this through your head. Cover art serves one purpose, and one purpose only, to get potential customers interested long enough to pick up the book to read the back cover blurb. In the internet age, that means the thumbnail image needs to be interesting enough to click on. That’s what covers are for.

Is anyone self-published and like to share their front cover work with us? Has there even been a book you love with a cover that might have put you off? Share your experiences!

9 thoughts on “Forget the idiom, we DO judge a book by its cover

    1. Yes, the title! Forgot about that. I’ve known a few stories who’s titles would have put me off (or given me the wrong idea) if I hadn’t read the synopsis. Just as important as the cover.

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  1. I never jumped on the e-book band wagon, the book cover and the physical act of turning real pages (and seeing how far through you’ve read with a real book mark) is all part of the enjoyment – not to mention seeing my books sitting all nice own cosy in my shelves. Real books rule 😊📚

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  2. “But Foyles is one of my all time loves.” My husband and I LOVE bookstores–we are completely incapable of passing one by. But the big book event each year in our lives is going to the Foyles in Charing Cross where, each armed with a basket, we divide and spend two hours looking for books. Then we meet up in the store’s cafe and talk about the books we chose. Foyles puts them all in a big carton, and for a very reasonable price ships them to our house in the States. It makes leaving London a little more bearable, knowing the books will be waiting for us.

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    1. That’s my idea of heaven! Because I’m a Londoner and, until recently, worked close to that particular dream Foyles, it’s all I could do not to go there every lunchtime. I’d be broke! But have soo many books. I’m so glad you visit and Foyles is able to accommodate you like that!

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