I probably don’t know you personally, so I can’t say for certain, but I’m willing to bet that you’ve been told at least once to not judge a book by its cover. But let’s be honest with ourselves – we all do it anyway.
I’m not talking in terms of judging people based on their appearance (that’s an entirely different discussion for another day), but actual, literal books. Whether you’re searching the stacks at the library or browsing the local bookstore, the very first thing you see when you pick up a book is its cover. It’s the first impression that the book makes on a potential reader, similar to how your attire will be the first thing a potential employer notices. It’s true, the cover doesn’t tell the whole story, but it can make the difference between putting the book back on the shelf or cracking it open and learning more.
As a reader, there are a number of ways that covers can immediately turn me off to reading a book. (In the off chance that a cover does intrigue me, I then hold it up to my Book Blurb Blacklist standards, which are even tougher.) So how do I judge books by their covers? I’m glad you asked.
It’s been a while since I’ve been able to unleash my sass so uh, fair warning. It’s gonna be there.
Sometimes, there’s too much going on. I get it, you’re writing a complex plot with about 80 different subplots, but for the love of mac & cheese, calm down a little. There’s a difference between being artistic and being too busy.
And I’m just so tired of seeing people on book covers, because they all look the exact same. They come in a number of generic varieties, but most often you’ll see:
Feet. I’m not kidding around here, if I had a dollar for every book cover I saw with just feet on it, I’d be able to pay my college tuition easily. Occasionally there’s a cover with just one pair of feet, but much more common are two pairs of feet. They’re clearly identified as either belong to a guy or a gal, so you know there’s romance on the horizon. And the girl never has her feet on the ground for some reason. Probably because she’s stereotypically petite and has to stand on her toes to look into her boyfriend’s eyes or something like that.
Shirtless dudes. Neverminding the other unsettling implications that these types of covers have, they’re just overused to the point that whatever shock value they were supposed to have is completely faded. AND THEY ALL LOOK THE SAME. (In fact, Paige Turner once showed me two unrelated books that had the exact same cover model. It was a hilarious day.)
Sorta staring at you but not really. Nothing says “mysterious heroine” like a generic 17-year-old girl staring right at you. I guess it’s supposed to make you think she’s got some secret to tell, or it’s just a way to show off her weird-colored eyes, but I’m sick of it. At this point, it just looks lazy because it feels like “I can’t think of anything else to do with this cover, let’s slap the main character on it!”
Weird camera angles. You know, the type you see Instagram model wannabes using. James Patterson’s Maximum Ride novels are the worst offenders. I guess it’s supposed to look edgy and action-y, but it just ends up looking ridiculous and amateur.
On a side note, please don’t make your covers look like you made them in photoshop at three in the morning. Quite frankly, it makes it look like you don’t care. It may seem like a waste of time or money, but believe me, put in the effort to get a good cover made, and you won’t regret it.
Okay, deep breath now. I realize that ranting doesn’t do a whole lot of good if I just focus on the bad, so allow me to share a few of the things that I love about book covers.
As you could’ve guessed, I love simple covers. Minimalism is so underrated, my friends. If you can just put one main image on a cover, I’m okay with that. And bonus points if it’s symbolic for something in the book. I love the way the Lunar Chronicles books have a symbol related to the main character of each book, and the cover for A French Girl in New York also ties in with the main idea of the book.
There are times when this symbolism can become laughably generic – take the Matched trilogy, for example. Granted, I only read the first book, but I’m pretty sure I could tell you a decent summary of the plot based on the three covers: MC is trapped in her Oppressive Dystopian Society (ODS), MC begins to fight back against the ODS, and finally, the MC breaks free of the ODS. And they all lived happily ever after.
I also love colorful, artistic book covers. It’s a shame that YA fiction doesn’t typically have illustrations, so it’s a real treat when I see a cover that looks like it could be framed and hung on the wall. Seriously, I could just stare at these covers all day.
To be fair, even when books aren’t any of these things, they can still intrigue me by being unique or different in some way. Now I’m not saying you should go out and design the wildest book cover you can, but give your readers something new and exciting to look at. Treat your books like the art they are, and I’m sure you’ll make a good first impression.
So, what are your favorite/least favorite book covers? Do you agree or disagree with me? (It’s okay if we disagree, this is mostly my own opinion, after all). No matter what you have to say, I’d love to hear it in the comments below!
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you on Wednesday with something a little different!