Thoughts #14: Judging A Book By Its Cover


Today I want to talk about how I often commit the biggest of bookish sins: I judge a book by its cover. I can’t help it, some parts of book covers just make me cringe. Funnily enough, when I was writing this post, this popped up in my Twitter feed:

It seemed very appropriate! Now to share what really puts me off a book cover – and I’d love to hear your opinions too! I won’t be using actual book covers to illustrate this point, as it seems unfair. Disclaimer: proceed carefully, some images may ruin your eyesight. You have been warned!

1. Half naked figures


No no, of course I didn’t just want an excuse to post a half naked photo of Mr. Fassbender… no way… But in all honesty, if I see a book with a semi-nude figure, or several (normally entwined) together, then I’m probably not going to touch that book. Chances are it’s a romance or erotica which are two genres I never read. Bonus (minus?) points if the heads/faces are cut out of the picture…

2. Certain fonts


If you use Comic Sans then yes, I will judge you. Hard. Every time I see that font, I cringe – I don’t even like having it on my blog to demonstrate how rubbish it is. Above is just a small selection of fonts that always scream ‘unprofessional’ to me. There are PLENTY of free fonts available for commercial use that look so much nicer than the ones that come with office packages, or you could spend a little to purchase the commercial license for a font. Also, if you’re going for a ‘typewriter’ style font, there are many more choices than Courier New. Typography is important, people. It can really change an image.

3. Some colour palettes


I found a book with ALL of these colours on the cover the other day. This, combined with a very amateur Photoshop job just made it look hideous. I know people can perceive how different colours go together in different ways, but sometimes there are certain shades that just don’t work together. Which leads me onto my next point…

4. Clashing font & background colours


I just… no. I don’t know why some people think this is a good idea?! Combine with a horrible font for bonus points!

Yep, I’m pretty judgmental when it comes to book covers. I don’t like really ‘girly’ covers either, like a woman with lots of shopping bags or makeup etc. In general, I tend to prefer more abstract or ‘dark’ covers, or ones with artwork rather than photographs.

How about you – what book cover elements can really turn you off? What sorts of covers are you normally drawn to?


38 thoughts on “Thoughts #14: Judging A Book By Its Cover”

  1. It happens to me plenty of times! What can I say 😛 I’m a sucker for gorgeous cover. I think a good cover is really important since it’s the first thing that readers see.

    I will never EVER buy a book with half naked people on the covers. I don’t like reading romance and I’m underage to read erotica lol. But even if I’m old enough, I won’t read it anyway! This also applies to some covers with kissing couples on them… It’s inappropriate to kiss in public in my culture, so it’s a bit embarrassing for me to read a book with that kind of cover (in public) ><

    I like covers with elegant typography and beautiful color palette better, but honestly, as long as its gorgeous, I don't mind at all — even though there's a girl in a fancy dress 😛

    1. This is true, first impressions are important. That’s why some bad covers really make me cringe, because I wonder who is going to pick the book up in the first place =/

      Oh, I never even thought of that! Do you often see covers like that in bookshops in your country, or is it a rarity? Surely that’s something they’d take into consideration when printing different covers for different countries? I guess that’s the good thing about e-readers…

      I’m a bit mixed on ‘pretty’ covers. I’m not really a girly girl, but pretty typography is very appealing. What are some of your favourite covers, Kezia?

  2. Oh yes, the color combinations and nude male are a turn-off for me (not that I object looking at the male body :p). The same with covers where the boy and girl ALMOST kiss, because I’m not a romance reader. I’m less picky when it comes to fonts, but the examples you gave did make me shake my head. I’m not a fan of courier new at all.

    So, If you combine the first and the last picture, you kinda have the most horrible cover that could exist!

    1. I actually only just realised HOW MUCH of Michael Fassbender you see in that photo… though I’ve seen more ;D (when watching Shame, haha).

      Oh, those covers! No, don’t like those either. A will they, won’t they moment… It kind of makes you think that it’s all the story is about, doesn’t it? I’ve noticed there’s a LOT of YA sci-fi with those sorts of covers – I want to read about spaceships and space travel and aliens, not romance in space! =o

      Haha! It can’t be horrible with that picture of Mr. Fassbender though. I’m kind of tempted to make some horrible covers using these elements, but Kat @ Cuddlebuggery recently did a similar post. She didn’t include any wonderful combinations of red and green though! ;D

    1. That does not surprise me in the slightest! My original goal at one point was to study graphic design at university so I did some work experience at this great company, and I’m pretty sure they also shared those views on Comic Sans =P

      I kind of feel like if they need to put naked/semi-naked people on the cover to draw attention, then it doesn’t say much about the story =/

  3. Oh my God! all of your reasons put me off a book too. Especially naked people or fonts I can hardly read. Also couples on the cover 🙂 I don’t know, two people kissing on the cover already tells me the book is about cheesy romance.

    1. Yes! I just can’t stand romance novels. I’m really pick about rom-coms too, I hate soppy romances and moping after people. Definitely makes me think all that with those sorts of covers!

  4. YES, EXACTLY. These points hit exactly what I dislike in book covers. Especially the clashing font/background. If the goal was to get my attention, they got it. It looks like crap and I would move on.

    As for what cover elements turn me off, photomanipulation that is so bad that it looks like amateur scrapbooking work. I mean, I love photomanipulated covers when done well. But there are some covers out there where like, the girl’s face is slapped on some cool background without regard for blending.

    As for Comic Sans, I give you this. 😉

    1. ‘If the goal was to get my attention, they got it. It looks like crap and I would move on.’ Pahaha! Ana: dashing hopeful cover artist’s dreams one at a time.

      Oh god, photomanips… They’re either amazing or rubbish. Then there’s those ones where they look like they couldn’t decide what to add so thought ‘let’s throw in ALL the things!’ and you’ve got animals and various body parts and sunsets and all that jazz.

      THERE’S A SONG?? *goes to watch*

      1. I could wear a beret and a monocle, paint a goatee on myself, and walk around with a glass of wine to critique cover art. 😛

        Oh yes, those with “OKAY HERE’S EVERYTHING THAT MAKES OUR BOOK COOL” can get so confusing. At one point, you kind of squint and go “… Is that guy’s arm coming out of a horse’s– Oh, nope. Nope. NOPE.”

        Time to make a IMPACT. 😀

      2. PAHAHA let’s start a club that does that! And call it after some Greek philospher 😉

        Haha! The really awful cover I spotted the other day involved a horse. But no arms coming out of strange places. They’d basically used this one Photoshop image effect that always makes images look horrific (I forget the name, but it’s the sort of thing that leaves a photo looking like a really distorted GIS image) and slapped some text on.

  5. Wait, you are a fan of Mr. Sexy AKA Michael Fassbender too? I knew there’s a reason we became blog/twitter/goodreads friends! (You might have to fight me for him though) 😉

    Anyway, I know everyone says you shouldn’t, but yeah I totally judge a book by its cover too! Can’t help it. Covers that really bug me are those that look like they’re done in Paint or like no time at all was spent on it. Pretty much EVERYTHING you mentioned!

    Covers that draw me in on the other hand … painted, EPIC looking fantasy covers. Something I would be proud to display on my walls! Yes, I’m very picky 😉

    1. Yessssss I am. Have you seen Shame? If not, you need to. You see… things. Many things. Like his brilliant… acting talent.

      I have seen some that I’m PRETTY sure were actually done in Paint. Horribly drawn anime style figures, with no regards for anatomy – or taste.

      How amazing would it be if they did posters for pretty book covers, like they do for films? I know you can get the vintage book cover ones, but we need ones for recent releases!

  6. I can’t really explain it but the covers that give the book a ‘clearly self-published’ feel. Those are the ones I don’t like. And all the ones you mentioned as well! Authors and publishers have to understand that your cover is a HUGE marketing point and people would be 90% more likely to stop if the cover is eye-catching. It’s sad, but true. :3

    1. Oh, I know what you mean! I’ve seen quite a few like that, there’s also been some on Netgalley along that line.

      I’m sure the majority know, but there are some people who make rather questionable decisions when it comes to book covers…

  7. Bad typography is a big turn off for me, and I hated that period where all YA book covers looked the same ie random close up of a random girl’s face. To be honest, though, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with judging a book by its cover. If the publishers have whalloped a terrible cover on a book, then they can’t really have thought much of it in the first place, can they? Besides, there are so many books out there, sometimes you need a qualifying factor!

    1. I prefer to not see a character’s features properly on the cover, at least if it’s a photo. I’d rather they were obscured if it’s a photograph, or a painted/hand drawn image of the character, because otherwise ALL I can think about when it comes to that character is the person on the cover. Which would make a lot of YA protagonists look exactly the same =P

      That’s a good point! Survival of the fittest! (Prettiest?)

  8. I was going to say that I dislike seeing book covers with half naked people on it too, but now that I’ve seen your post I should qualify that with – all half naked people except Michael Fassbender. LOL

    I totally agree with everything in this post! Though I guess you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, I do, and it does make me feel differently about a book even as I am reading it. I also dislike bad photoshop jobs – where it’s obvious the two elements manip-ed together doesn’t look right, the lighting is off or it’s obvious it’s one thing pasted on top of another. The book cover is just so important in selling a book!

    1. Yes. I would buy that book just to stare at.

      It looks like most of us do, to be honest! I think I’m actually more excited to read a book when it has a really nice cover. I have some of the Gollancz 50th anniversary editions, which are yellow with red/pink titles. When I was reading The Name of the Wind I kept turning to the cover to feast on the pretty pictures I remember seeing on other editions, only to be disappointed with my version, haha! Luckily I have a really nice edition of the sequel. Didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the book though 😉

  9. I too judge books by covers. I want a cover to draw me in and give me some idea of what to expect in the book. OMG you listed everything I also can’t stand in covers. Seriously half naked people – if I would be too embarrassed to show that I’m reading that book, I won’t even pick it up! As for bad fonts, color combinations, etc – get a graphic designer if you don’t have the skillz to do it yourself!!! ok 🙂

    1. I’d be embarrassed of reading books with those sorts of covers in public too! Sounds bad, but I would. I wouldn’t want people to think that’s all I read – which sounds SO snobby and horrible but… yeah. =/

  10. Every time I see a discussion on book covers, I spam it with this one:

    And I think it proves your point quite nicely. I love this cover. I picked up the book and read it all the way through just because of the cover. The writing can be difficult to get through – flashes of brilliance with crazy interruptions from the narrator and huge pedantic digressions – but I gave it three stars instead of one because of that cover.

    1. Ooh, that’s a really nice one! I’d definitely be intrigued, especially as I’m looking to read more steampunk at some point =)

      Is that published by a major house, independent or self-published?

  11. I absolutely judge a book by its cover! I always have. I hate models on covers. I much prefer symbols or emblems. And yeah, I hate those fonts. People ACTUALLY USE comic sans?

    This became more of an issue for me when working with my artist to design my own front cover. It IS tough! I love my cover…but I have definitely learned a few things in terms of catering to what might draw my target audience in, as opposed to what I personally want. It’s all a learning curve!

    You can’t please everyone I guess 😛

    1. I hope that very few people use it. I see it on posters and stuff sometimes, mostly local things – but I’ve seen it on a few books too. Oh how I physically recoil away from the book when I see it! It’s painful.

      Ohh, so we have a new viewpoint here – that of an author! How much input did you get? Do you think the final result is good for the target audience?

  12. Arghhh those fonts and colors! My eyes are in pain. I definitely prefer artwork to photographs on covers, but I also feel deceived when I pick up a book with a pretty cover and end up not liking it. So then I’d try to read a book with an icky cover, but that somehow doesn’t turn out well either. Reverse psychology doesn’t work with book covers! 😦

    1. Yes, that always feels disappointing! Especially if you’ve bought the book and it’s too pretty to get rid of, but you know it’ll never be re-read =(

    1. It always surprises me when I find really amateur covers on books published by big publishing houses. There haven’t been many of them, but still some! I think fantasy suffers the worst from that =(

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