Posted by: oneyearbook | March 29, 2009

The covers game

Yeah, they tell you not to judge a book by its cover. That’s valid enough – I prefer to judge a book by the descriptive blurb on the back, or maybe by flipping through and reading a few sample sections. But the cover is a hugely important aspect of the book industry; it is the first thing that can make us pick a book we’ve never heard anything about off the shelf. That can sell extra books if what’s on the back, what’s inside, also appeals.

I'm personally keen on this one

I'm personally keen on this one

So my boyfriend and I play a little game when we browse in bookstores, the cover-judging game. We select a section of the bookstore – from one wooden strut of shelves to the next, say – and each of us points out one book from among those that are face-out that, if we had to buy a book solely on the basis of cover appeal, we would choose. (Those that are spine-out are completely out of luck.)

This one's always a hit

This one's always a hit

It’s interesting to see how often we generally agree. I tend towards those with a strong graphic element, as opposed to photographic, and hand-drawn is good. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which I have to say I normally would shy away from because I don’t like the title, makes me want to pick it up because of the cover image. We always, always pick on Michael Chabon’s Yiddish Policemen’s Union when it’s in the section we’re choosing from. What a great sense of the novel it gives – and what a sense of interest, of mystery. Anyone out there ever bought a book solely because of the cover?

I really hate movie tie-in covers – although the one for Little Children is better than most, just because you have to look closely to identify the actors – but  I understand the necessity of having them.

I like to browse the book-design blogs sometimes, too, to see what’s being celebrated in the design world: this one, this one, and this one, which is extra fun because he shows some of the other options that he designed for each book. I know that writers don’t have the final say-so on the cover design of their books, but I do think it does to be educated about these things because you never know when you will get asked for input.



  1. I’m terribly guilty of judging books by their covers. I actually think it says a lot about the taste of the author (because I assume naively that they have a big say in this… is that actually the case?) and, honestly, it’s the first thing that sets the mood for the story.

    I tend to like photographic ones, though in general I prefer them to be more abstract… I’d have to go through my bookshelf again to see if there’s any common themes.

    It’s funny – I don’t care about the condition of my books. I buy softcovers and I don’t mind if they get wrinkled and stained. But I have to like the cover and the paper and I WILL NOT buy movie covers. I’ve wanted to buy/read High Fidelity for about six years but until they PULL THE COVER WITH JOHN FREAKING CUSACK and put out a new one, I won’t be reading it. Stupid, I know. But there’s other things to read in the meantime.

    Apologies for the caps-lock, that little confession has been festering inside me for six years 🙂

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