Since you were young, people have told you that you don’t judge a book by its cover. And for the most part, this is a solid piece of advice. At heart, the phrase means you shouldn’t judge someone, or something, based on their exterior appearance. Someone who looks frightening may really be kind and someone who looks appealing can be cruel.
But how can this line of thinking stack up when you are browsing through shelves of paperbacks?
A physical book’s cover is by no means a solid metric to judge that book’s contents but people can’t help themselves. Experts say that more people began reading books in 2020 due to lockdowns. Understanding why the thought of “don’t judge a book by its cover” is more important now than ever.
Fantasy book covers and comic book covers need as much attention to detail as their contents to avoid turning away potential readers and confusing buyers.
Here are seven ways book covers can go wrong and why “don’t judge a book by its cover” is still a great mentality.
Sometimes the cover artist for a book or the designer doesn’t bother reading the contents. Or they may have missed the mark with how they imagine the work. Or maybe they didn’t communicate with the author properly. The end result can be a cover that makes you think that the book belongs to a different genre that it really does.
Take the example above, the cover for the sixth installment of “The Wheel of Time.” With the man’s rugged looks, billowing shirt, large frame and the swooning woman in front, you can be forgiven for thinking it’s a trashy romance book cover. Unless you read the synopsis in the back, you may not know what you’re really purchasing until you flip it open. Luckily, the book received a new cover for its e-book release and for the fantasy audiobook version.
Another error book designers can make is by making the cover say nothing at all. This is not the same as having a plain cover, which can work with the right design elements. This type of error means that people will not have the slightest clue what a book contains even after looking at the cover for a long time.
Check out the example above, the first edition cover for Sarah J. Maas’ “Throne of Glass” series. It says nothing about the book, except that the protagonist is a white blonde girl. Aside from that, the reader has nothing to work on. This can be particularly frustrating for fantasy book covers because they are works full of interesting events that could easily make the cover.
Too Many Blurbs
One of plagues of readers everywhere is reaching for a book in a store and seeing a wall of blurbs in the back. No summary, no synopsis, not even a excerpt, only a block of quotes praising the book. This is not a new phenomenon.
In 1936, author George Orwell said that blurbs were running the publishing industry, promising that every book is an “unforgettable masterpiece.” This can be even more frustrating because most bookstores prevent browsers from opening the plastic wrapper and reading the synopsis inside.
Even worse than a book cover that says nothing is a book cover that’s just plain boring. This is more troubling when the content of the book is so rich and complex. This can stem from publishing houses not having enough budget to hire proper cover artists or designers not understanding that minimalism doesn’t always work.
The above design is for the cover of “The Shadow of the Wind,” one of the most beautifully written novels of recent years. But this cover makes it seem bland, uninteresting and unpalatable, a huge shame when one actually opens it.
Books are products, just like everything else and they need professional looking packaging. But sometimes even big publishing companies forget that they can’t just put a book in a rushed cover. This can dilute the impact of a great novel, especially if the cover not only looks unprofessional but also too far removed from the content.
The picture above is for the famously grim and serious “Hunger Games” trilogy, but the faux spray paint letters and the virulently bright color makes it look like the covers were designed by edgy teens. Fantasy book covers and romance book covers also frequently fall victim to this mistake.
Finally, sometimes covers promise something through the illustration that doesn’t happen at all. This is most obvious in comic book covers. Artist may provide illustrations that include popular characters who have nothing to do with the issue on the off chance that people may buy it. In other works, the artist may draw pictures of events that never happen in the books. In either case, the buyer may be misled by the cover.
With everything that can go wrong with a book cover’s design, it’s still important that you keep the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” in mind. It may help you avoid getting disappointed in your next book purchase.