Why ‘Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover’ Is Bad Advice

Leslie Jones' AvatarWe’ve all heard this adage. The metaphor means that outward appearance is not a valid indicator of internal worth.


We’re visual creatures. Psychologically, our brains sort thousands of disparate bits of visual input and catalogue them in a way that makes sense to us. We make judgments about the distance from object to object, shape, orientation, and size. We distinguish colors and identify male vs. female. We are genetically drawn to the strongest and most beautiful mates, so we will produce the strongest and most beautiful offspring.

We make other judgments based on appearance: Professional applicant vs. slovenly one. Smoker vs. non-smoker. Power tie vs. Snoopy tie. And then we apply our own experiences to those images to draw conclusions.

A reader browsing a bookstore, faced with two covers, will automatically pick up the one that appeals to him or her the most. While a cover should give a hint about the subject matter, sometimes a cover simply has its own appeal and its own draw.

Take these examples (with apologies to the authors):

Book Cover Chelsea Cameron My Favorite Mistake

In my opinion, this cover is too busy. The man and woman clearly indicate this is a romance. The peacock feather, while it might be significant to the story, all but obliterates the last word of the title. The title itself is three different colors in three different locations, which is distracting and makes it hard to read. I like the green strip at the bottom for the author’s name, but the name needs to stand out. Because it’s green, the name fades into the background.



Book Cover Doug Dandridge The HungerThis cover just strikes me as sophomoric. The inexpertly Photoshopped vampire mouth, knife and bat seem unnatural and out of place. The city might indicate this is an urban fantasy, but it might also simply be a generic background. The fonts are an odd color, and don’t stand out well. The whole thing looks like it was created in Photoshop. If the cover is unpolished, it’s more likely that the writing will be, as well.



Book Cover Time Ninja

This one, again, is too busy. The images do not meld into a cohesive whole, nor do they seem to have any correlation with one another. Spaceship, mechanized robot, flames and ninja seem to divide the cover into quadrants. The author may be trying to convey genre; however, if this is the kind of speculative fiction that defies description, the author would be better off with a simpler cover. The author’s name is tucked away at the bottom with a tiny font that’s nearly impossible to read. The title fades into the clouds. I feel this is an amateurish cover.


Book Cover Kathleen Kent The Outcasts


Conversely, this cover screams professionalism to me. It’s clearly a historical novel, probably set in Texas based on the font used, and has an element of danger. The woman’s back to the reader enhances the image of lack of acceptance. The title and author are easy to read.



Book Cover Rebeccca Zanetti Sweet Revenge


This cover is sleek, clean, and easy to read. It  immediately evokes its genre of romantic suspense. It’s clearly set in contemporary times and in a city. The authors knows to stay away from odd-looking fonts or unnecessary embellishments.




Book Cover VS Nelson Eternal Tuat


I love this cover! The protagonist is startling, intense, enigmatic, and handsome all at once. He is clearly a bad guy capable of redemption. The Ancient Egyptian setting is also evident through his headdress and the background of the Pyramids. The purple is eye-catching without being overwhelming, and the title and author’s names bring the image together into one pleasing whole.


Obviously there are exceptions. Flawless words might hide behind an inept outer shell. However, if you want the best chance for your book to be picked up and at least have the back-cover blurb read, you’ll need to put as much effort into the outer wrapping as on the inner content.



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