Worth a 1000 Words?: Judging a Book by the Cover

Despite having a perfectly decent copy of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I ordered another one this Fall. This order was not driven by increased patron demand either, at least not at the time of the order, but reflected an intention to create demand for that older copy as well as the new one. At the time of purchase, I  was seeking a copy with an interesting cover for a book display.  I realized I do indeed judge a book by its cover. at least when “selling” books. And I think potential readers do too.

Seeking readers, I frequently promote books with covers out as new books and by themes, most recently Halloween–and soon, Christmas. I also highlight books on the shelves, but only those with compelling covers will do.  As well, I create digital slideshows of new items, and thematically.  With the rise of face-out shelving, bookstore type shelving, books with good covers are becoming ever more important to the collection.  In these cases, a picture is indeed worth 1,000 words.  In order to entice readers to embrace various texts, I first need to capture their interest visually.  I notice authors are placing more attention to covers, often acknowledging graphic designers and cover development in their acknowledgements. 

Covers are important to self-publishing as well.  A quick Google search indicates easy templates for creating one’s own cover, including from well-known sites such as Canva. One could now create appealing covers with Dall-E or other AI programs.  So, the question becomes, in this market, with these resources, why publish a book with a bland, boring cover? And there are many, especially in nonfiction.  I once nearly weeded a book while browsing the stacks, thinking the book looked old, possibly decades old; it was published two years ago. The truth is if I think a book looks dated and boring, how would patrons feel?  The truth is many  readers judge a book by the cover. Maybe they still choose a book despite a boring one, especially if reading an eBook, but covers can certainly help “sell” a book.

So, what makes a good, interesting cover? Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. But some recent covers I have liked include those for Remarkably Bright Creatures and Yellowface, both very different yet compelling.   In terms of nonfiction, Traffic by Ben Smith attracts the reader to take a look as does Shakespeare Was a Woman and Other Heresies. There are many factors involved. But in order to appeal to readers to engage with 1,000 words, we first need good artwork.

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