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Why You Should Judge a Book by it’s Cover

My favourite part of Christmas is the books. Have a look at this epic bundle of Christmas presents I received.

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I’m lucky because my wife is so brilliant at finding books for me that I like. Its extra lucky because, on the whole, we don’t share a taste in books at all. We’re both big readers, but enjoy totally different types of things. When we got our Kindles we linked them both to the one account so that we could both read the books that we bought. In the last few years I think that hasn’t happened once. But nevertheless when it comes to Christmas and Birthdays she has a talent for finding me books that I end up loving. The evidence of that goes right back to when we first met. She was working in my local bookshop at the time and put a book aside for me, saying she thought I might like it. It was The Outsider by Albert Camus, and how right she was.

After reading the book on the bottom of the pile in the picture above I told her again how good she was at finding books for me. She told me how she does it. Its a three step method. First, she looks at the cover. Then, if the cover catches her eye, she checks out the book title. If the title seems like it fits the bill she reads the blurb on the back. If the blurb sounds like something she would absolutely hate, she buys it for me. Simple really.

But it all starts with looking at the cover. Where else could it possibly start? We’ve heard it countless times, not to judge books by their covers. And maybe you can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can evaluate it. Browsing in a bookshop, or scrolling through Amazon, or wherever you might be book hunting, we use covers to scythe through books in the search for something that we want. If a books cover has a stylized graphic image of woman holding a wine glass and a fancy handbag I scroll past it without a second thought. It obviously isn’t for me, and I am obviously not for it.

I had been thinking about this for a while. A few months ago someone saw the cover of my book, Middling, and said something like ‘oh, so its a Lord of the Rings type of thing is it?’ and I had to explain that it is is nothing like Lord of the Rings. Now this guy was probably pre-disposed to see things in a Lord of the Ringsy type of way, since that’s the kind of book that he enjoys, but nonetheless that was a true and instinctive reaction and ought not be dismissed. The cover that I had created (vintage, faded wallpaper with the labyrinth image taken from the books final third) seemed in keeping with the books theme, tone and setting to me, but I might not have been looking at it with the most objective eye.

I think it isn’t unreasonable to expect people to make a quick conclusion about a books contents from the cover. In fact, it would be out-right unreasonable to expect them not to. There was a thing I read – can’t remember where for the life of me – that suggests that it is not just the writers job to write, but also to get the words into the hands of the readers. This means everything must be tailored to get the people who might actually be interested in it confident that it is worth picking up.

I love good non-literal book cover. Something that manages to evoke the mood of the thing, without giving away anything of the content. Here’s a few of my favourites, plucked from the book shelf.

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So I’m working on a new cover for Middling. Something that expresses it slightly better and, hopefully, gives a more accurate impression of what it is. After all, I want people to judge it by its cover and look a little closer at it if it seems like it might be for them, and to ignore it if it seems like it isn’t.

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