You Shouldn’t Judge a Book by Its Cover But…

One of the first bookish sayings I ever heard was ‘don’t judge a book by its cover.’ I don’t know how old I was at the time, but I know I was just a little kid, a brand new member of the literacy club. Like all clichés, it stayed with me throughout the years. I said it often. I said it to my children when they were young. And I always thought that it was something I did (or rather, didn’t do) myself.

But a little while ago, as I was scrolling through my collection in my Calibre eBook library, I realized that I tended to pause and read the descriptions only when the eBook had an eye-catching or particularly beautiful cover. And I know I’ve done this a lot since I started using Calibre to organize my eBooks. I wasn’t following my own advice at all, because I routinely judge a book by its cover, at least so far as what appeals to me enough to see what it’s about and potentially pick for my current read.

That’s not to say I never read books with plain or even downright ugly covers. I have in the past, and I will in the future. Even the ugliest cover can’t kill my interest after reading a well written book blurb. But I have to admit, the cover does play a large role when it comes to choosing my next purchase, or my next read.

Does that make me a hypocrite? Perhaps. But the fact is, the cover imagery—whether it be artwork, a photograph, or simply the title and author’s name written in an elaborate script—is our immediate introduction to a book. Without any conscious thought, we’ve already decided whether or not we find a cover to be beautiful, quirky, or just plain ugly. We are naturally inclined to appreciate beauty when we see it, after all, though what defines something as beautiful depends on the person who sees it. It’s only after we’ve registered what the cover looks like, and formed an opinion on it (consciously or not) that we see the title and author’s name.

If I am familiar with the author, that alone is enough to motivate me to pick up a book and read the blurb on the back. Even if the cover is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen. (Rare for me to feel that way about books by authors I really like, but it happens.) If I don’t recognize the author, I’ll check the title. That’s where some further judging on my part happens, because if my gut reaction is that a title is stupid, it a guaranteed interest killer. I’ll just move on and find another book to look at. But if said stupidly titled book has a nice cover, I’m probably going to go ahead and pick it up… which goes to show that, for me, a beautifully done cover can be persuasive in enticing me to give a book a closer look.

Not to mention, a book with a nicely done cover looks more professional. I’ve downloaded a lot of free, self-published eBooks for my Kindle, and many had some of the ugliest covers you will ever have the misfortune to see. A fair number of those were stricken with some truly awful writing and a lack of editing, as well, to the point that I’m not so eager to download those Kindle freebies anymore. When I see a cover that looks unprofessional, the first thing I assume is that it is full of mistakes and bad writing. That’s not fair, but it is what it is. And I wouldn’t be surprised to hear other readers have similar thoughts on the matter.

So there you have it. Despite parroting “don’t judge a book by its cover” for my entire reading life, I do it all the time. I suppose I should be ashamed of my hypocrisy, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve discovered countless authors I’d never read before, solely because I saw one of their books and it had a beautiful cover. (Or an intriguing title written in a nice script, at least.) If not for that, I would have missed out on a lot of truly great reads written by fantastic authors. I’ve started author collections based on the beauty of a particular cover catching my eye. Diane Chamberlain. Liane Moriarty. Nora Roberts. Barbara Delinsky. Susan Wiggs. Dorothea Benton Frank. The list goes on and on.

Yeah… I think I’ll keep judging books by their covers. It’s put me on the path of wonderful fictional adventures more times than I can remember, and I’ll never tire of that.

How about you, dear readers? Do you judge a book by its cover?