How to Judge a Book by Its Cover

Covers of the New York Times notable fiction. Have you read any? Which ones look good?

Whhhaaat? Am I actually telling you how to do something you’ve been told not to do ever since grade school? Yes! Why? Because we all do it anyway. May as well do it right. Follow my simple list of steps and you’ll be on your way to doling out undeserved criticism on authors far and wide in no time! Disclaimer: I am literally talking about books here, in case you missed that. Never judge a book by its cover if the book is, say, an actual human person.

1) Look at the cover. Unlike people, you can’t judge a book simply on the way it sounds or acts, because books don’t talk, and they tend to just sit there. So use your eyes. They are your best tool for judging. Here’s what you should pay attention to:

  • The title: is it stupid? If so, you might be able to overlook this (refer to step 5).
  • On the other hand, if the author doesn’t float your boat, this could ruin everything (refer to step 4 for further comments).
  • Overall look: if the image, colours, art, or fonts speak to you (I mean figuratively, since, as we established, books can’t speak), you may have to stop and proceed to step 2.

2) Pick up the book. How does it feel in your hand? Is it light or heavy? Is the cover slippery or grippy? Depending on your personal preferences, these things could really contribute to your liking this book. Note that this shouldn’t be a deciding factor, but a minor detail to be noted. Moving on.

3) Read the cover. Actually lift it closer to your face and find the following:

  • Awards mentions and medallions: some good books (and some bad ones) win awards. When that happens, it will be touted on the front cover, sometimes even with a shiney silver or gold sticker! You should really pay attention to these, as they are pretty to look at, and very prestigious.
  • Other honours: if the book says something like “New York Times Bestseller” or “Now a Major Motion Picture”, that could be a good sign. While it doesn’t guarantee good writing, it does mean that a lot of people have liked it so far (or it wouldn’t be a “Major” motion picture. Come on.). Alternately, if the cover says something like “As Seen on TV”, or “From the Bestselling Author of the Twilight Saga”, you should probably take a pass (sorry, Stephanie Meyer. I admit I’ve never read your work. I have, however,  judged them by their covers.).
  • It’s also a good idea to read any featured quotes from other people (usually authors or reviewers). If you respect that person and enjoy their books, that means you might have similar taste, and reading this book could make you happy, too!

4) Check out the author. Their picture will appear on the back, or on the inside back flap. Are they good-looking? It doesn’t matter, because we don’t judge people by outward appearance, remember? Only books. Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t read up on your writer: Have they earned any acclaim, or written any other books you enjoyed? Does this person have a degree of some sort, which will make their book’s subject matter really well-researched? Do they live with their husband and son in a New York suburb, or a refurbished barn? Does their bio mention any pets or hobbies? If whatever little info found in this write up is interesting to you, maybe their book will be, too!

5) This is the final and most important step to judging a book without actually going so far as to read it: read the plot summary. If it’s a paperback, you’ll simply look on the back cover. If the book is hardcover, you may actually have to venture as far as the inside front flap. But! If it sounds intriguing, you’re pretty much set. May as well find a comfy chair and give her the Old College Try. Now, dispute remains about whether this stands at 50 or 100 pages, at which point you’re “allowed” to quit the book you’ve started (I can’t provide a source for that). I say it depends on the book length. At the very least you need to have a good feel for the style of writing, and begin to understand the characters. If you can’t stand it, then there, you’ve judged the book as far as you can. If you end up lovin’ it and can’t get enough, well then, congratulations – you can finish the book and are now entitled to give your honest opinion about it when people ask  (or, if you are like me or this blog, even when they don’t!). And that means you are an informed and intelligent person who can say “I’ve read that!”, instead of the simpleton statement “I’ve heard of it” (or “my mom read that”).

So go on now, out into the world with you! I wouldn’t say you necessarily need to follow these steps to the letter, or even in order. You certainly don’t need to print off this list in order to remember them. The truth is, you already knew all of this! I’m just glad you read to the end of this post (thank you for humouring me). That shows the type of stick-to-it-iveness one needs to read whole books! See? You’re not really a judge-y simpleton. Unless, that is, you just skimmed through this entire post….

Further Information:

  • A Non-Reader’s perspective on judging books by their cover, here.
  • Various cover designs of the 10 Best-Selling Books of All Time, here.
  • Browse covers of games, comics, books and more, here.

3 responses

  1. I think I would read Absurdistan, Alentejo Blue, Beasts of No Nation, and The Emperor’s Children. Some of the other ones look interesting too, but I couldn’t make out their title. Oh well!

  2. I definitely judge a book by its cover. It has to have a matte cover with a vintage tint to it. The lettering can’t be too big or obvious. The authors name has to sit nicely at the bottom. There once was a book that I read (The Maze Runner – the only review that I’ve contributed to here on this blog) and the cover was so shiny that it almost made me dislike the book even though the story was good. The cover is IMPORTANT. Hey, wait a minute, I think that would be my dream job! Designing covers for books. Or writing the summary at the back of a novel, like you mentioned a few review above.

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