Being Cliche and Judging Books by their Covers

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I, like many other Potter fans, was very excited to hear that J. K. Rowling was releasing her new adult book.   When the cover image was unveiled a few weeks ago, I was underwhelmed.  Look below:

Fairly blah colors (almost grating), plain visual image and a dated font for the title.  When you compare the cover to what her books used to look like (see below), it’s really hard to get excited.

Sure, different genre, different type of book, and adult to boot.  Perhaps the designers were trying to distance us from the book series we all grew up loving.  But what it made me think of was simply a cheap 70’s paperback.

The weird thing is that this bland style is becoming common in adult books.  If you look at the top 200 2012 publications on Goodreads, you come up with 2 adult books that look roughly the same to Rowling’s blah cover:










While not visually appealing, both of these book covers at least have a better color scheme.  I am not sure what started this trend, but I don’t like it.  When most readers pick out a new book to read, if they do not have a recommendation from friends, many of us will not get past the title and cover without something to grab our attention.

If you want to have a simple but intriguing cover, take a page out of Alif the Unseen.

Plain color scheme, but the texture of the green background draws your eye and gives you a bit of hint towards the story.  It was actually this interesting cover that got me to put it in my audiobook cue.

Another of my most recent audiobook listens is Some Kind of Fairy Tale.  An adult book, but it proves that you can still use a beautiful cover to bring your audience in.  With its fantasy elements, the cover matches its book’s themes and lends clues to the plot inside:

Let’s be honest – publishers know that we all look at book covers.  Just take a look at this (disgusting) Twilight-style cover for Pride and Prejudice I found at a Books a Million a couple weeks ago:

While this disgusts me in so many ways, it is a way to get Twihards to read a much better book and transition them into a higher class of literature.  But the fact that we have to pander to young women readers to read Jane Austen through a Bella and Edward, black/white/red cover makes me cry inside.

What about you?  Do you find yourself picking up a certain book because of what is on the cover, or are you able to transcend the images? (If you say yes, you’re probably lying!)


2 thoughts on “Being Cliche and Judging Books by their Covers

    Becky said:
    July 26, 2012 at 11:52 PM


    I’ve been working at a library this summer, and I’ve found that it isn’t so much that readers can transcend the cover of their book, as different book covers appeal to different people. While I’m with you on the JK Rowling cover, I would read both of your other two modern covers before I would read the other three you mention (And we just saw a copy of Emma in our library from the same publisher- black with pink flowers. Hmph). Different readers are just looking for different artwork on their covers.

    I can tell you from book displays I’ve created at the library this summer that the cover does matter- boring covers simply don’t get chosen, but then neither did more than 3 of the beautifully covered renaissance historical fiction novels I put on display (everyone was wearing great dresses in front of castles). We’ll have to do more research about what appeals to readers.

    I know! We should have a focus group on what kinds of covers appeal to different people! Does preferred genre matter in what you like in a cover? Do contemporary fiction readers have different preferences than western readers? Do older people prefer plainer covers? Which colors are appealing to men, and which to women?

    And, because I haven’t written enough (sorry, you caught me right as I was wondering about these things from my failed book display!), I love this cover of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; it is one of my favorites I’ve seen all summer, but it is an older cover style…

    Thanks for your thoughts, and listening to mine!

      Marisa responded:
      July 27, 2012 at 12:05 AM

      Hey, you can’t disagree with me here! No, but seriously, I agree with you. I wish the Alif colors were slightly different, less bold, but they fit when you start reading the Middle Eastern-set book.

      When it comes to beautiful dresses in front of castles, I think you are telling people that it is a certain type of novel. We as readers expect certain stereotypes with our covers – castles and dresses mean historical romance to many (some of the bodice-ripping kind), and something simpler generally means more literary. But if you take a look at the Ian Rankin cover I posted a couple of weeks ago ( I think it’s adult and serious enough while still providing some visual interest.

      I just want to clarify that I was not saying the P&P book cover was in anyway good. I always found the Twilight covers boring and I much prefer the Austen covers that match the Alice in Wonderland series you posted. While they’re vintage, I still find them whimsical and fun.

      Publishers claim they run focus groups on these types of things, and they’ll use covers to factor in for sales and such. They have obviously decided that YA sells well when there is an actual photograph on the cover, not an illustration. It doesn’t even matter if the hero/heroine pictured looks anything like the character in the book. Teenagers like that image, supposedly.

      But it is a broader question that I wish we could put more research into. I am sure publishers who use multiple covers for hardcover, paperback, audiobook, and now eBooks track their sales with covers as a factor, but unless they ask the consumer if they bought the book because of a cover it would be hard to judge.

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