Why You Judge a Book By Its Cover

There’s an old saying that you can’t judge a book by its cover. But is that true for actual books? Read on to find out.

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Three books with question marks on the covers with a yellow background.

There is an old saying that you should not judge a book by its cover. This saying can apply to meeting new people, starting a new job, trying new food, or similar situations. A situation that this saying usually does not apply to is looking at a new book cover. The summary on the back of the book is supposed to be the most important indicator of if you will like the book, as it tells you the plot. However, you won’t get that far if the cover does not appeal to you. We are judging our enjoyment of a story based on the aesthetic pleasure of its outside. There are different categories and styles of book covers that you may associate with different genres. Breaking down these covers into different groups will show why certain people pick them up.

The Brightness of Romance

There are some book covers that will immediately catch a person’s eye. That is mostly due to the color and picture choices that can be seen from miles away. Those types of covers are commonly found in love stories or any books that were published with the intention of having a mostly female audience. For instance, books written by Emily Henry, who is known for novels like People We Meet on Vacation and Beach Read, employ these techniques. Her books often come in bright colors, like neon orange, glowing yellow, or bright pink. The characters on her book covers are usually cartoon-like and have fun outfits. Whether you are interested in the romance genre or not, your eyes are drawn to these covers

"Beach Read" book cover, which is bright yellow with two people reading on beach towels.

Henry is not alone in using these types of covers. This phenomenon has become popular in modern romance novels. This could be because when people see these covers, they see emotions of joy and cheeriness. They can assume these will be fun and light stories that will not require too much deep thinking. In addition, bright and fun colors and well-dressed characters are seen as inherently feminine. The publishers understand their audience and know that these covers will attract their key demographic. It potentially may turn away other readers from trying, as they may think the covers look cheesy and too silly. These are basically covers that are making a tone and genre clear, and while that may not appeal to everyone, there are no fake-outs at play.

The Darkness of Adventure

On the other end of the spectrum of modern romance novels, there are dark fantasy or adventure novels. These are books that are full of dark magic, violent battles, and/or a possible tragic ending. The covers try to reflect that. Almost always, these books will have covers that are jet black. There will also be some creative imagery, usually an object or a symbol, that is meant to be striking or harsh. For instance, The Hunger Games book follows the deep black color scheme, with a gold symbol of a bird with an arrow. Looking at this cover, people can tell that there will be adventure going on, and there will be little cheeriness in sight.

"The Hunger Games" book cover with a black background and a gold symbol of a bird with an arrow.

Why are these book covers so dark and brooding? Mainly, it’s because the plot is dark and brooding. The serious vibe is an indicator of a serious story. The juxtaposition of objects and symbols on a dark background leads to a dramatic tone that is captivating. It could be too much for some people who want a happier tone. However, they may miss out on seeing some action-packed adventure. Could there be positive adventure books? Sure, they are not totally joyful, but the genre is not only angry books. However, they usually follow the same book cover theme. Therefore, adventure is usually associated with darkness, and that can turn away some potential readers who want to read an action that is not so moody.

A Look Back at the Classics

While it may not be fair to lump all classic novels together, that is often the case when it comes to their book covers. Usually, a sign of a classic book cover is its muted tone. They may have good colors, but they still don’t stand out. These old book covers do not pop, and they are also not strikingly dark. The drawings are simple, likely to indicate there are no frills of the modern era. For example, the cover of The Catcher in The Rye is a burnt orange horse going on to a white background. Everything on the cover blends together, and it has lost a spark. That demonstrates how old book covers lack excitement.

"The Catcher in the Rye" book cover with a orange horse on top and a white background on bottom.

Classic novels may not feel the need to draw in new readers. After all, they’re classic for a reason; millions of people have already read these books. In addition, they may want to keep the classic look because that is what generations are used to, and it can help the book feel like a big part of literature history. However, even though these books do not need new readers, would it hurt to try to get new readers? Those who have not read the classic books may be uninterested based on the covers. These books should have a way to blend new and early styles. That way, the book covers can be a nice reminder for the past readers and a new attractive sight for someone who might enjoy a nice old story.

Telling the Truth with Nonfiction

The nonfiction book covers can be a bit different from the book covers of fiction books. A lot of nonfiction covers are based on photographs as a demonstration of reality. The covers can be very in-your-face as they try to make you pay attention to a recognizable image. It may be the easiest cover to judge because you can figure out a lot of details of the story from just the cover. For example, Jennette McCurdy’s memoir, I’m Glad My Mom Died, which has her smiling while holding an urn, gives the idea that this is a book about McCurdy airing the troubles of her family life.

"I'm Glad My Mom Died" book cover which is bright yellow with Jennette McCurdy holding a pink urn.

Nonfiction books span many different genres. There are the historical ones, memoirs, commentaries, and more. However, they are all books with commitments to the truth. Therefore, their covers also have commitments to the truth. You should be able to figure out right away what a nonfiction book is about from looking at the cover. Of course, there will be some nuances to be found in the book, but the cover is what will cause you to be interested in those nuances. The covers should be framed in a way that is approachable to the subject, like with color, a good subtitle, an exciting image, etc. However, people with special interests should be immediately drawn to the nonfiction book that fits them. If you do not understand a nonfiction book cover quickly, then that cover needs to work harder, or that book might not be right for you.

You can learn a lot about a book from its cover. However, while you can make a good assumption about a book from its outside, some of those assumptions may not be totally accurate for your book opinions. There could be a book with an off-putting cover that may actually have an exciting new story. So next time you are at the bookstore, pick up a book that has a cover unlike any you own and see if your assumptions about books and yourself are correct.

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