Time to Judge a Book by its Cover

The saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” can be an important one when it comes to humans, and the same when it literally comes to books, but this is a bit difficult. The cover of a book is probably going to give you a vibe of some sort of what the story is going to be like – and then again those impressions can turn out to be completely wrong. I’ve seen a novel and thought of an entirely different premise from what it is truly about, and then had the description surprise me. Judging a book by its cover is certainly something I do, even if it’s just for the first second or two, and I doubt I’m the only one.

It’s the illustrators job to create art that they think fits the story. Oftentimes this can turn out as gorgeous work, and other times there are things included that don’t necessarily add up to the content of the book (in that case it is even more likely that one’s initial impression might be different from the story itself, but that’s not my main point). Either way, a cover is designed to give you an idea of what the book is about. However, just as everyone has a different picture in their head when they read a story itself, everyone is likely going to get a slightly different “vibe” from a book cover.

Take The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands as an example. It’s a good book, historical fiction, and follows the apprentice of an apothecary after said apothecary is found dead. Here is the original cover that I saw:

The floating runes, the glowing door, Eoin Colfer mentioning the magic of the story, it all led me to be convinced that this was a fantasy novel. Even the summary on the back didn’t completely reveal to me what it was actually about. It took me a while to purchase the novel, so I had a lot of time to picture in my head what the story was for myself. I don’t quite remember what I thought it would be like, and I know I wasn’t disappointed when I ended up reading it, but it was interesting that I still made up what I assumed the story would be.

That’s what brains appear to do when it comes to books. A few pieces of writing advice mention that it isn’t necessary to have huge descriptions unless it is important to the plot or if it is something the reader would definitely be unfamiliar with. Which isn’t to say that you can’t write long descriptions; I’ve heard J.R.R. Tolkien was notorious for this. However, the point is that the reader will fill in the blanks themselves. The imagination can be quite powerful when it comes to writing. Why shouldn’t it be the same when it comes to pictures, or art?

Colours, art style, the font of the title, an expansive background or a minimalist take, and every little detail that goes into these illustrations, does cause quite a bit of assumptions about the novel itself. Even the expressions of a certain character will give a reader hints of what their personality will be. That’s simply what people’s minds seem to do instinctively.

Of course, reading the description is important in making a final decision, and it is possible you won’t know whether you like the story or not until you actually sit down to read it. I have, several times, picked up a book at first simply because I thought it looked cool, or I liked the sound of the title. The illustrators do have an important job in the publishing process, because it is their art that will first draw the reader in.

It is quite interesting how we interpret things, and what it is that makes different people invested in different books from the get-go. Perhaps judging the book by the cover won’t be the most correct judgment, but it’s the one readers may go off of due to their own minds nonetheless.