Do We Judge a Book By Its Cover?

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by Jill Elizabeth Nelson

When we are choosing our next novel to purchase, how much of our decision is influenced by the cover? For me, covers certainly play a part in first attracting me to pick up one book over another. However, I like to read the back cover copy and perhaps sample a bit of the contents before I plunk down my cash and carry the book home.

Honestly, covers can be deceiving. Sometimes a dull cover can conceal a sparkling gem of a read, and a splashy cover can make a promise of quality that the contents don’t deliver.

How about you? What influence do covers have in your book purchases? I’d love to hear your responses in the comment section below.

Publishers, in collaboration with authors, spend considerable time and effort in conceptualizing and designing book covers. You might be surprised to know that writers who are published through traditional publishing houses (i.e. not self-published) have varying degrees of input on their book covers.

Having worked with several different publishers, I’ve experienced a whole gamut of opportunity to influence the composition of my covers. With one publisher I was given no input. Happily, I was contented with what the design team produced.

With a publisher of a series, I was presented with several different lay-outs and allowed to indicate my preference. Usually they went with what I preferred. In one instance, I noted an error out of keeping with the story line. The cover contained an on-coming car, but in the book the hero and heroine are chased by a semi. The publisher made the change on the cover accordingly. Whew!

Another publisher lets authors provide cover ideas up front, including photo samples, but no input thereafter. I have to wait to be surprised by the outcome when they email me the finished design for my personal promotional activities within a few months of release date.
Frame Up
For the most part, I’ve been happy with the covers. Only once did I feel that the cover didn’t measure up. Maybe it was a personal perception issue, but I had a hard time deciphering what a critical item was supposed to be, which I felt created a vague and confusing presentation.

Thankfully, I’ve felt that the covers of my last two books have been quite sharp. For Betrayal on the Border, the design team took me up on one of my suggestions and placed a slithering rattle snake in a desert background-sinister and very evocative of the book’s contents.

For my current release, Frame Up, I let out a whoop when I saw the cover. Genius! (as my younger daughter would exclaim) I’ve attached the cover to this blog so you can see what I mean. Doesn’t the A-frame cabin clearly echo the title? And the snowbound, mountainous surroundings nail the setting and suggest danger?

Let me in on your book cover thoughts in the comments section, dear readers. Do you judge a book by its cover?

Jill Eliz Nelson Award-winning author and writing teacher, Jill Elizabeth Nelson, writes what she likes to read-tales of adventure seasoned with romance, humor, and faith. Visit Jill on the web at: or look her up on Facebook at: Her most recent release is Frame Up from Love Inspired Romantic Suspense.

Comments 0

  1. I agree, Jill. A cover is not to be taken lightly, as many a self-pubbed author has discovered the hard way. It’s like a movie poster. It should give the reader and idea of what type of journey he’s about to take. From your title and the cover I can see that I’m about to confront a killer while isolated in the winter mountains, which, by the way, can kill me just as quickly as the man persuing me. If the story is a bit different, that’s okay. It’s probably close enough that I don’t write you a nasty letter claiming false advertising.

    Genre readers expect certain elemetns on their book covers. Sci-fi fans want to see stars and maybe a lovely space station. Murder mystery fans like a few drops of blood, maybe a murder weapon. Romance…need I say it? They expect to see two impossibly beautiful people on the cover in a near-kiss situation (really, how many ways can they do that?).

    For marketing, it makes sense. We look at covers first, even on Amazon, and certain elements draw us in immediately, depending on our reading habits. Book covers are no place to get artsy. They should scream out immediately what type of book we’re looking at.

    Thanks for the post, Jill.

  2. Yes. I did it even today. I picked up a book with a nice cover, but it didn’t grab me. So I took out another book I got as a gift. (I hate the cover.) But I started reading and love the writing in it, so vivid.

    So we are often misled. I usually read more than the first page, but I really wanted something good and wanted now.

    I have too much stress in my life and want to release it in some way.

  3. Thanks, Jill, for this post. I agree. Something has to make us pick up the book initially. I’ll bet, more often than not, the look, the cover art figures most prominently in the decision. It certainly does for me.

    Your cover for “Frame Up” is a perfect example. It would have made me pick up your book and read the flap copy. However, everybody’s different, and I would have picked up the book because the picture is so lovely and for me, a skier, a sublime scene that I’d just love to gaze at and dream of sitting by a fire after a day of skiing. I don’t see any danger in the scene, but I LIKE it.

    Now, maybe precisely because the “Frame Up” cover is incongruent for me, “Love inspired suspense” and the title “Frame Up” coupled with the beautiful picture works to get the reader looking more closely. I agree with Ron that the genre makes a big difference.

    As a writer, we sure are invested in our book covers: it’s like dressing our kid for a special occasion. I sent a photo (that I took) for a proposed cover for my baby to one of my readers. Her reply was, “I don’t like it. I don’t see what it has to do with the story.” Ouch! That stung for a while until I took a step back. Shows how much stock she put in the cover too.

  4. Covers can be misleading, but it’s what first attracts me. However, if the back cover blurb doesn’t match up with the cover, I think twice about getting it. That’s what really gets my attention, especially if the blurb gives a really good hint at the contents and not generalities.

  5. Oh, one other thing I must mention, if the author is one I really like and read often, I don’t care what the cover looks like. 🙂

    Ron is right about what is expected on certain covers. I like the dark colors and monochromatic design of suspense novels and expect to see some whimsy if the book is a romantic comedy.

    All of mine have featured women from faces only to full body to body with no head and include something from the setting or story. A few times I’ve suggested changes such as hair color or background because it didn’t match the story.

  6. Cover plays a big part if I’m not familiar with an author. If it doesn’t grab me (along with the title), I’m not likely to read the back cover or scan the first couple of pages. If the cover it good, I usually read the first two pages, and if I don’t care about the main character, it stays on the shelf.

  7. Awesome feedback, everyone. I was out of the country on a mission trip until just days ago, so didn’t interact when the post went up. Sorry about that. Thanks to you all (and particularly to Martha for picking up my new book. Hope you truly enjoy it, and that the cover keeps its promise!) Blessings, Jill

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