Can You Judge a Book by Its Cover?

  You can’t judge a book by its cover.  How often did I hear that phrase as a child? According to Ginger Software,  “The origin of the idiom ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ is fairly recent. The phrase is attributed to a 1944 edition of the African journal American Speech: “You can’t judge a book by its binding.” It was popularized even more when it appeared in the 1946 murder mystery Murder in the Glass Room by Lester Fuller and Edwin Rolfe: “You can never tell a book by its cover.”            I confess to being influenced by the covers of books. If done well, a cover conveys a message about the contents of the book in a single image. The old cliché, “ A picture is worth a thousand words,” may be true. I know I fell for the cover of “Before We Were Yours,” by Lisa Wingate even before I  remembered reading its reviews.            But can you really judge a book by its cover? How much impact does a cover have on the sales of a book? And what about eBooks? I asked the Miss Demeanors to comment and whether they had any say on the covers of their books. Tracee:    I think book covers DO matter. Enormously. Particularly for attracting new readers. While I look for the ‘next one’ from authors I read religiously, I buy plenty of books by people I’ve either never read or never heard of. The cover of a book is often what converts me. Had I heard of Anthony Horowitz? Yes. But something about the cover of Magpie Murders caught my eye. Now I’m a huge fan. (Can I emphasize how huge?) Covers set a tone and that’s what we are looking for when we choose a new book. Place, time, tragedy, thriller, romance. You should get a hint from the cover. On the other hand, designing a cover to suit a trend in the market is annoying if the book doesn’t life up to the promise suggested by the ‘following the trend’ cover. (I won’t name names here.) The great team at St. Martin’s Press designed my book jackets. David Baldeosingh Rotstein specifically. The first in the series arrived as a complete surprise. As a former architect I purposefully didn’t imagine what it would be, since once the image is formed it is hard to erase. When I opened the file containing the cover art I was thrilled, possibly because I have a predisposition to blue covers. If I’d been disappointed I feel like we would have worked through it…. but that’s not been put to the test! I trusted that the publisher knew how they were marketing the books and the design needed to fit that end. I imagine there can be a disconnect between what the book is, and what the author thinks it is (it’s not a thriller, it’s a cozy).   Robin:     I definitely think covers are important. What I’ve noticed is the artwork alone often indicates the genre – thrillers tend to be bold with minimal or subtle imagery. The covers to Cate’s books or Meg Gardiner come immediately to mind. Cozies tend to be less dramatic and more visually descriptive. I know the cover is one of the ways to attract new fans. I can’t tell you the number of people I know who say they buy books from new authors (whether debuts or new to them) based solely on the cover. I’ve also heard a few complaints about ebook titles and authors being harder to remember because the reader doesn’t see the cover very often. As far as input, on the non-fiction books I’ve done, I had input on the second one. Zero say on the other 2.  Susan:     I’ve been very happy with my Maggie Dove covers. In some ways, the cover of an e book is even more important than of a physical book because you only get one chance to attract the reader’s attention. I feel like the Maggie Dove covers have been warm and whimisical and slightly ominous, which fits the books. However, I’m attaching a photo of the three covers for my first book, The Fiction Class. The one on the left was the American version. The one in the middle is the large print version. And the one on the right was the British version. I liked that one best because it was so blue, but the American one probably captured the tone more.  Cate:     I think covers definitely matter. If someone is scanning a book store or a list of noteworthy thrillers inn amazon, the cover can pull you in for long enough to read some of the press coverage and blurbs.  I loved the cover for Lies She Told.  Alison:      This is a very good question, and I don’t know the answer. This is my first cover. I knew I wanted the Wasatch Mountains on it, but beyond that I didn’t have a clear idea. My editor and the publicity department were pretty insistent that Abish Taylor be on the cover. I have the feeling that they were going to “guide” me to the cover that was best (read: I had some input, but know that the title and cover design decision were, ultimately, decisions made above my pay grade).As I look at the cover on the ARCs, I think it gives a flavor of the book inside: a female detective looking out onto beautiful mountains under an ominous sky.      Alexia:      Yes, I judge books by their covers. There are so many books out there, I look to the cover to give me a quick hint about what’s likely to be inside. I know I risk missing out on some great reads this way but I have to narrow the selection somehow.Henery Press has an in-house artist who designs all of the covers. She tailors each cover to the particular series but still gives them all that “Henery Press look”. (In other words, no, I don’t have much input into my covers. My only request was that the Gethsemane Brown covers not be “cute” because I don’t do cute. I get to suggest instruments to include on the cover, but my suggestions aren’t always taken. I actually went back an wrote a trumpet into Killing in C Sharp since there’s a trumpet on the cover.)I don’t think I have a single favorite cover. I like covers with strong graphic elements and a retro flair. For example, The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book and A is for Arsenic, The Disappearing Spoon, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. Michele: I love the cover of No Virgin Island, my first book and felt it conveyed the mystique of St. John and island living. It was pure luck. I had little say in it. When I first saw the cover, it took my breathe away and reminded me of being handed a new baby in the delivery room after I gave birth.   What do you think? Do you purchase books based on their covers? Share in the comments or join the discussion on Facebook.

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