10:00 am EDT, May 20, 2016

Confessions of a bibliophile: I judge a book by its cover

You’re not supposed to, but everyone judges a book by the cover a little bit…right?

Book Expo America took place this past weekend in Chicago, and as a third-time attendee, I’d like to say I know the ropes pretty well. The rules are simple: Never turn down a party invite, watch for the warning signs of a book drop (unopened boxes, mysterious tote bags, hordes of people looking angry and throwing elbows), get in line way earlier than you think you’d need to, don’t grab just any book because it’s free, and be sure to share the love (it’s good karma).

Once again I also found myself following a self-imposed rule that goes against an old adage and would probably offend every author at BEA: Judge a book by its cover.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m a huge proponent of giving a book every chance it deserves. Go off of recommendations, read the blurb, crack open the spine, or even check out the ending. (Hey, it works for some people. Or so I’ve heard.)

and the trees crept in cover

That being said, I totally judge a book by its cover. This is your first impression of the story, and despite it not being an all-encompassing look at what’s happening inside, it is meant to give you a slice of what you can expect.

Just like you wouldn’t walk into a corporate job interview in your PJs, you wouldn’t expect a romance novel to sport a cover with blood spatter and severed heads. Or if you do, maybe you’re reading the wrong books. (Or the right ones…?)

Speaking of, I’ve been reading a lot more thrillers lately and even started venturing into the horror genre. That meant I was drawn to every single book with creepy trees sprawled across the cover — and trust me when I say there were plenty of them.

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A book’s title can only do so much to tell you what the novel is about. Usually it’s made up of just a handful of words, and while that does help to point you in the right direction, there is credence to the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

stalking jack the ripper cover

Bright, bubble-gum pink letters lets me know it’s probably a romance or a great beach read. A jarringly red or black cover means it’s probably got some murder between the pages. Lots of fancy dresses? Historical fiction or high fantasy. Spaceships? Sci-fi.

Of course, this isn’t always the case, and sometimes a cover can do the opposite of what it intends. Sometimes it can completely turn me off from flipping a book over and reading the synopsis on the back. Is that a bit shallow? Perhaps. But in a time where we have thousands of books at our fingertips (and especially as a reviewer who gets the majority of her books in the mail from the publishing companies), I want to see a book that breaks ranks. If the cover doesn’t seem to be about something I’m interested in, I’m going to pass it up in favor of one that is.

My main argument here is that a poorly-designed cover makes me wonder if the story is also poorly-executed. Of course, these aspects do not go hand in hand, and the author doesn’t usually have control over their covers. Still, the team behind the story should be putting their best foot forward, and when the cover is the first thing we see about a book, you have to wonder if a bad one was chosen simply because they don’t have faith in the book to begin with.

eleanor herman empire of dust

Everyone has their own taste when it comes to book covers, but I love brightly colored and intricate designs that make me look more closely at the detail. I love the highly Photoshopped images that contain whole worlds between each pixel.

Then again, there’s also credence to minimalist designs. They’re so jarringly simple that sometimes I want to pick them up to see if I can spot anything in the whitespace.

I think it’s time we accept that it’s okay to judge a book by its cover. A good cover holds immense power, and as trends ebb and flow, it’s fun to see who can stand out amongst the crowd.

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