Under Cover

Today’s writing prompt: How important are book covers in getting you to read a book?

The notion of judging a book by its cover is familiar to just about everyone, even those who don’t spend time reading books.

The saying goes, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” But the fact that we still design covers for books, and regularly update the cover designs for older books, suggests that we still do. Even e-books have covers designed for them (I’ve designed several myself)—never mind that the very nature of the e-book renders a cover completely unnecessary.

Personally, whether or not a book’s cover influences me to read the book  will depend on my familiarity with the book, its author, and/or its subject.

If I’m just browsing in a book store (or library), a striking or well-designed cover will attract my attention long enough to pick it up and look through enough of it to see whether or not it looks interesting enough to read. This is especially true when the book covers a subject I’m interested in, but I don’t know about the book’s existence (or have simply forgotten about it) before entering the store (or library).

If I’ve already heard of the book, and am interested in its author or its contents, the cover really has very little bearing on my decision. Unless, of course, there’s more than one edition available. In that case, all other things being equal, I’ll pick the one with the better cover. Or if I’m looking for a specific edition, in which case the cover helps me determine whether or not I’ve found the right one.

More often than not, though, book covers help me eliminate the books I have no interest in from consideration, either because they identify the book as part of a genre I have no interest in, or because they are so awful that I assume the contents can’t possibly be much better.

In any event, regardless of how good the cover looks, there have been plenty of instances in which I’ve bought or borrowed books that I ended up either never reading or never finishing. But that’s another matter altogether.

(22 November 2013)

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