It’s one of the oldest sayings: “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” Does anyone even know where that originates? I don’t and right now I’m too lazy to even google it.

But here’s the thing, I DO judge books by their covers, and I would venture to say that 99% of readers do as well, if only subconsciously. It’s not that I’ll necessarily buy a book if I love the cover, but certainly I will pass on a cover that turns me off.

When I see a book with a girl with heaving bosoms, half-dressed and perhaps in the arms of some mysterious man behind a curtain…hot stuff but not for me. Also, I’m a fantasy fan, but I don’t like those covers that have comic-style characters, i.e. women in full spandex, men with muscles that can only be attained through steroids, or some glowing weapon or amulet. I think my brother likes them, I just have a hard time taking it seriously.

I assume that marketing departments know these things and design their covers to appeal to the readership they are aiming for, but have you ever read a book where you felt like they got the cover totally wrong? I’ve heard those horror stories, where authors are mortified by their book cover (and if you didn’t know, authors rarely have any say when it comes to covers, unless they’re self-publishing.)

One time I went to a signing of a very popular author, who shall remain nameless, suffice it to say I very much admire this author’s work. The guy in front of me pulled out one of said-author’s books that had the comic-style cover design which I described above, the kind of book I would immediately gloss over, and the author said, “I hate that cover.”

So I wonder how many great books I’ve passed up merely because the girl on the cover was showing a little too much cleavage for my taste. Maybe there were some really great literary merits in those heaving breasts.

Do you judge books by cover? What attracts you and what turns you off?


  1. I always judge a book by its cover, unless someone promises me it’s going to be good despite the bad cover.

  2. I JUST had this happen. I won a free e-book from the author from a PW blog promotion. The cover has a shirtless dude with very cut abs, and is something I never in a million years would buy. I admit, the only reason I gave it a chance is because it was an ebook and I wouldn’t have to carry around a paperback with that embarrasing cover.

    Surprisingly, the story was a fast paced mystery with very little romance until a hot n’ heavey sex scene toward the very end. Still, it’s not as if there were shirtless dudes running around. Had the cover been a noir-y european feel, featuring a woman (who was a strong character not looking for love at all) it would have matched the book and I wouldn’t have doubted it so much.

    Orson Scott Card has a fantasy series about a man named Alvin Maker, and the covers are so dated looking. I was begged to give them a chance and glad I did. I hope they series gets a reissue with kick-ass covers so other people will give it a chance.

  3. I *definitely* do this, though I’ve heard it’s usually the books with boring covers that are best, while the elaborate ones usually hide bad writing.

    • Beth

    • January 26, 2012

    • 1:20 pm

    I have the same cover standards as you when it comes to overly exposed girls and body builders, but I will buy a book just because I like the cover. Or at least, I have. Sometimes this has been a wonderful experiment and other times it’s been a terrible waste of money.

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