Yes, We DO Judge a Book By Its Cover

From Jeff: This is a guest post by Jeremy Gardiner. Jeremy is the founder of Gospel eBooks, a Christian e-Book deals website. You can follow them on Twitter @gospelebooks.

As the owner of a website that promotes eBook deals, I receive a lot of self-published submissions. When I sort through these books, more than three quarters are rejected in the first three seconds. Why? The book cover is poorly designed.

If you’re a self-published author (or even a traditionally-published one), I have some bad news for you: Your book is being judged by its cover.

Book Cover
Photo credit: Zitona (Creative Commons)

Information overload

With the rise of the digital revolution, we are bombarded with information. There are tweets and status updates, countless articles and blog posts — all awaiting your consumption. We have plenty to read.

Adding to the noise, there are more and more self-publishing efforts, which is now easier than ever. Check a few boxes, click “upload,” and in 12 hours you have an eBook in the Kindle store.

Because of the ease of self-publishing, there is a plethora of new authors, each looking to squeeze their way into your reading list. So what do you do?

The Wild West of publishing

A lot of the ease and speed of self-publishing comes from a lack of critical interaction. No one will read it, critique it, and send it back for editing. No one will examine your book for literary excellence and accuracy. There’s no one to judge your book cover — and that poses a problem.

What you submit is what they will publish, no questions asked.

As you can imagine, this makes the self-publishing section difficult to filter through. There are some great books being written, but they’re often hidden in the mess.

Bad teachers and bad writers hold this section hostage, bringing down the value of the whole publishing neighborhood. This is why I recommend authors publish through an agency that will not just publish anything.

Being aligned with a respected self-publishing agency (sometimes called “hybrid publishers”) moves your book from the “hood” to the “burbs” in the self-publishing world.

Snap judgments are inevitable

Even if I had the desire to read every book submitted to me, I couldn’t. There’s just not enough time.

I have to make decisions about each self-published book without actually reading it. Many of your prospective readers are making the same judgments.

So what do you, the author, do to ensure people pay attention to your work? When examining a book, I look at the following:

  • the book summary
  • the education and experience of the author
  • the self-publishing agency used
  • who endorsed the book
  • who wrote the foreword
  • what other titles the author has written

However, with more than three-quarters of the submissions I receive, I don’t look for any of these. I don’t have to.

If the book cover is bad, my research is done. The eBook will not be promoted on our website.

First impressions really matter

Why such emphasis on a book cover?

We know how important a first introduction is. It’s why we dress up before a first date, give a firm handshake at a job interview, and make a meal look good before we serve it. First impressions matter.

We all make instant judgments that either give us hope or lower expectations. With your book, the cover is the all-important first introduction. It’s a visual representation of your writing. And a bad one gives people the impression that you don’t care about quality.

Makes for a great indicator

Your book cover also functions as an indicator or quality. It shows us how much care has gone into the whole project.

An exceptional cover gives us hope that the book may be exceptional. And a poorly designed or low quality cover conveys a lack of care.

If you rushed your cover, maybe you rushed your writing, too. If you wouldn’t hire a graphic designer, you probably wouldn’t hire an editor, either.

Right or wrong, that’s the line of logic being used to judge your book. And you need to be aware of this.

Book cover recommendations

Before you proceed with publishing, take some time to make your first impression count.

Consider getting your book cover professionally designed. You can use a service like 99 Designs or Crowdspring, which both give you options from different designers.

Remember: the cover you choose is a reflection of your whole book, so choose wisely. You’ve spent a lot of time writing it; don’t give someone the opportunity to dismiss it in the first three seconds. You deserve better, and so do your readers.

Be honest: Do you judge books by their covers? Share in the comments.

43 thoughts on “Yes, We DO Judge a Book By Its Cover

  1. I want and expect the cover to tell me a story and connect with me in some way. The poorly done covers do tell me a story, but not one the author’s hoped: Don’t bother with me-I am amateurish and boring. I know there are exceptions to that rule, but by and large my experience has been bad covers=books not worth reading.

    For those exceptions, I think there is a parallel to showing up for an interview sloppily dressed and mentally unprepared. No matter how talented or suited you are for the position, you won’t be considered because of the first impression you give.

    1. Great question Katie, I think I’ll leave this one for the graphic designers out there to respond to. My design work is mediocre and I sub out most of my work for that very reason. I can describe some of the elements that make for a bad cover, but find it hard describing what makes a good cover. Who can respond to Katie better?

  2. If I see a poorly designed cover, I assume that the writing inside is poor, too.  If you don’t care enough about the book to make what I see FIRST look good, why would I bother with the inside?  

    I really hate it when authors use computer generated people on the cover.  To me the cover should be art in and of itself, but also relate to the story in some way.  If the cover can’t be artistic, it should at least not be embarrassing to look at.  I agree with Kim (responder below), it’s like showing up for an interview wearing sweatpants.

  3. I appreciate you straight forward – this is what it is – approach. We need honesty before we need praise. A good balance of both encourages excellent creativity. Thanks again. Good job and well written.

  4. I agree entirely. The terrible quality of many kindle book covers astounds me. Some of them look like they were made in paint  by someone who was colorblind,  spent less than three minutes doing it, and used pictures taken on the first ever generation of camera phones. I understand many beginning authors can’t afford the same designers as the pros but surely they can find a design student who’d work at an affordable rate. 

    I think it is often reasonable to judge a book by its cover. When it looks like someone has tried  hard but maybe lacked the resources/skill to make the cover as polished as it could be I’ll be open to giving them a chance. But, where there is an evident lack of effort and care on the cover I’ll almost always skip it because as you said, it infers negative things about the care and effort likely put into the writing and editing. 

  5. Thanks Jeremy for a good morning read.

    Unless the cover and title capture my imagination, I won’t give it a second thought. The exception is if it’s highly recommended by somebody I trust. On line trust is sketchy. We recommend too much, too many shiny babbles.
    I have this well worn copy of the Hobbit. And it’s my third copy. On the other hand,  several worn out Bibles, and the cover is nondescript.Jeff’s book is a grabber. His eBooks however, I would pass by and never discover.

      1. We’re speaking book covers, not content.

        “You Are A Writer” looks grade school. Jeff, I would get a picture of you feverishly typing on your old typewriter, maybe with your son looking on.  Or maybe someone you’ve mentored writing, having an eureka moment. Waking up to the fact that they Are a writer.

         Your “Writer’s Studio”  however has the ‘eye lock’ effect. “The Writer’s Manifesto” is good. The faded look gives it the “You’re about to discover an ancient manuscript” look.

        So, maybe it’s just one:-)  Layers of meaning always grabs me.

        Peace Jeff~

  6. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.  I am nowhere near finishing my book, but this gives me something else to chew on.  Also liked the plug for the hybrid publishing option, which I had been leaning toward already.  I definitely judge books by their covers!

  7. Very well written….and yes, we do judge a book by its cover….and unfortunately we  still judge people by their cover….does the outside reflect what you want people to read on the inside? If the cover doesn’t have some appeal why would anyone go any further?

    Thinking of a young girl that came into my office for a job interview …. the first thing I saw was a very low cut t-shirt with ‘the girls’ right out there…really? you really would like a job in an office…I’m thinking … you may have something else in mind……Next!

  8. I don’t judge by the cover but I do judge by the title. If a title grabs me I’m more likely to pick it up.

    1. Thanks for sharing that Deidre. The title is definitely an important aspect as well. Others have said the same thing in the comments here and I’ve took notice.

  9. Great post Jeremy. Thanks for the heads up, though I am not a writer, I can certainly apply this in other areas of presentation in my life.

  10. I am very visually oriented.  And I must admit the cover of a book can attract me with an unknown author.  (It’s different with authors I already know.)  The color of the book, the artistry of it,  the title, the font, all create a  feeling,  a certain mood,  inside of me in an instant that can draw me in to opening the book.  I want the feeling that drew me in to be congruent with what I am reading.    

    1. Thanks for commenting Kathy. We give the same type of breaks to authors and/or traditional publishers we’re familiar with too. Most are at least good, but every once and a while I think “wow, how did this cover get approved?”

  11. I TOTALLY judge book by their covers! I fully agree that a lack of care on the cover equals a lack of care on the inside. And if the outside graphic is a reflection of the inside, then there are plenty that pull me in and plenty that I don’t even want to touch.

    There are so many good books to read, I’m not going to waste my time on one that might be just ok. I want to know it’ll be worth my time before I waste time on it. The only way to do that is to judge the cover.

  12. As a self-published author, I agree with everything you said. I see many bad examples, and I get tired of people abusing the freedom and possibly making others turn away from my books. Self-publishing doesn’t always mean it’s bad, just as a poor cover doesn’t mean the book is bad. Maybe the author didn’t have money to get a better cover.

    However, I liked Katie Axelson’s question. What makes a cover good? Covers, like art, appeal to different people. No matter how wonderful the cover is, I won’t buy a book with a peaceful scene and a pioneer woman on it. I love fantasy and sci-fi. Likewise, someone who loves romance won’t buy my book with a sword on the cover. One other thing about self-publishing and quality: I’ve seen a lot of covers that I wasn’t thrilled over, but I read the book and liked it…from traditional publishers.

  13. I think you make a valid point, and I certainly do look at covers when I’m browsing for a read in a bookstore or on Amazon.com. I haven’t ever read an epub only or self pubbed book (at least not where I didn’t already know the author), but if I ever do, a cheesy or unprofessional looking cover would be a warning sign that the author may not have taken care in other ways either.

    The thing about covers, though, is even when they’re professionally designed and on a book put out by a “big six” publisher, they can be horrible. And what I think is horrible (say a woman in a chain mail bikini on the cover of a fantasy novel where the protagonist wears no such thing) may draw another reader in. And sometimes, I’ll skim over a book because a professional but bland cover design does not make it look like the type of book I usually like, even though it is. It is my understanding that with traditional publishing, authors actually have little to no say about the cover the publishing house slaps on their book–and covers can  really effect who, if anyone, is most likely to pick the book up and skim the back cover to see if the book might be of interest to them.

  14. Yep. Just spent 3 minutes browsing books at Costco this evening, picking nothing, lingering on a few. Well, plus I was looking for a specific book.

    I’m discovering for me at least, I like simplicity and a minimalist approach to design. Probably because I’m in my 40s and I’m using more and more Apple products. When or if the day comes I publish any books, those principles will influence what becomes my books’ covers.

  15. I definitely judge books on their covers! Next thing I check is the blurb. If I’m engaged, I’m going after the book.

  16. Absolutely. I dress in an approachable costume for the culture I am about to enter if I want to show I am open to others and want others to approach me. I dress in other garb if I am focused on a mission and fear being distracted. My cover is not as much who I am as what I want to present to others. We cannot NOT communicate. We all leave a signature in today’s sand. Knowing what I want to attract or reject at that moment in time and being “aware” is critical to my own survival as well as success. In the unavoidable communications overload of noisy distraction and quidnuncs of today’s culture, I find myself treading gingerly rather than just plodding along.

  17. I honestly haven’t judged books by their covers as often as I should. I go more by the title. I have purchased Kindle ebooks with no regard for covers, for example, and have been aghast at the lack of grammar or editing evident in the books. 

  18. I think it’s a huge mistake for writers to essentially “skip” investing time and money into their e-book covers.  E-readers & e-libraries have amazing displays and provide an opportunity for covers to really shine. Shoddy covers communicate to me that the writer doesn’t really care about his or her book (so why should I?).  
    I love looking through my delicious library and scrolling through my iBooks shelves–I also love my physical library, too.  If an author puts out something I truly enjoy (and I’ve read the e-version), I will order the physical copy, too.  If I really love it, I’ll get the paperback AND the hardcover.

  19. Yes, thank you for just saying it straight. Of course we judge books by their covers! Just like we notice the looks of the guy or gal we are considering dating – but of course then we discover there is so much more to the person (or book) once we look inside. But, for those trying to sell the book, they need to make us WANT to look inside, to plunk down the duckets and pay to be charmed by their good work…

  20. Very helpful post, Jeff. I agree. I’m a cover judger and feel that it’s necessary to do so. This post reminds me how important sermon titles are (even though they’re a mental cage fight for me). I reading Save The Cat at the moment. When Snyder got to the log line bit, I thought, ‘Wow! Sermon titles really ought to do the same thing.” Same is true with a cover. 

    There’s a whole lot to be done in very little real estate!

  21. This is an excellent article on a subject all self-publishers need to address in one way or another. It’s also the chief reason I started a monthly award for ebook cover design that has drawn hundreds of entries. The posts act both as an educational resource, because many covers are critiqued to explain why they work or why they don’t, and as a kind of “shopping mall” for cover designers, since each designer is credited. If you want to check these posts out, you can find more information at http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2011/08/monthly-e-book-cover-design-awards/

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