Judging a book by its cover

I spent some time at the bookstore today. I finished up the John Green book that I was reading while I was waiting for my car to be serviced. (Oy that was an expensive proposition.) I managed to leave the bookstore without buying any books, although I did buy a magazine. I don’t think that counts. But oh, was I tempted! There were so many books that looked so good, so interesting, and I wanted to try them all.

I will admit to judging a book by its cover. I think that almost everyone does, even though they won’t admit to it – it’s something that we’re not supposed to do. Not for people, certainly, but I think that for books…well, that’s a different story. First of all, the publishers want us to judge the book by the cover. Or at least, they want us to buy the book based on our immediate reaction to the cover. Otherwise, why would they spend so much time, money and effort on making such beautiful covers? The bookstore is filled with gorgeous books that have all kinds of artistry on the front. There are titles that are shimmery, as if painted with silver or gold, covers that have mysterious shapes and smokey backgrounds, others that show attractive couples holding hands, hugging each other, or standing aloof from each other. Each cover is designed to gain our attention, to pull us out from inside our heads and draw us in. We are meant to pick up the book, examine the beauty of the cover, flip it over and read the blurb on the back. We are meant to feel the weight of the book in our hands. Some books are published on extra heavy paper for just that reason. And they are priced accordingly. We are then meant to open up the book and examine the pages within. Are the margins wide enough (or narrow enough, depending on how you view it)? Is the font pleasing to the eye? Is the type face too big or too small, or, as baby bear would like it, just right? How do the pages feel between the fingers as you turn them?

All of these things are designed to pull you into the book, to get you to bring it to the front of the bookstore and plunk down a fistful of cash (or credit, debit, gift card or whatever your preferred method of payment may be). They want you to buy their books. The authors want you to read the book, they want you to love the book, they want you to share that love with other people. The publisher wants you to buy it.

Which is why they want you to judge that book by its cover. Because if you didn’t, then you wouldn’t be interested enough to pick it up in the first place.


Consider the new marketing of Wuthering Heightsand other classics. They have been re-released with new covers that look an awful lot like the covers of the Twilight series. They’re placed especially in the Young Adult section (or at least they are in my Barnes & Noble), and if you glance at them alongside the Twilight books, they are difficult to distinguish from each other. The covers are black, with a rose or camellia or some other flower on the front. Just like the Twilight books.

It’s brilliant.

Because the customer will pick up the book thinking that it’s a new book in the series, and then they’ll see that it’s something else entirely. Hopefully they’ll be intrigued enough to read the back, flip through the pages, maybe even take that book home with them.

See? They want you to judge the book by its cover.

I am curious to know how well that’s working for the publishers, by the way. Are they actually getting more book sales this way? Are people suddenly reading more Emily Bronte because it looks like a Stephanie Meyer book? Or are the potential readers putting the books back down again as soon as they realize that it’s not the book they thought it was?

Curious questions, indeed.

So I put to you the following: we are meant to judge people by the strength of their character (to paraphrase…), by the person beneath the skin. We are meant to purchase a book based on a judgement of its cover. We are meant to fall in love with the contents of the book once we get it home. But we wouldn’t take the book home if we hadn’t originally judged that book by its cover.


2 comments on “Judging a book by its cover

  1. Cassie says:

    I’m upset about these new covers, not because I don’t want people to pick them up and read them, but because there’s something about a classic. I do love the fabric covers that Penguin has come out with though. Wuthering Heights is such a beauty though, it doesn’t need Twilight similarities I hope.

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