Should You Judge a Book by its Cover?

We’ve all grown up hearing the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover.”

Working in the publishing industry (and more specifically, in marketing), this saying can be a bit troublesome. While it would certainly be wonderful for books to be read completely on the merits of their writing, very few (if any) people have the time to read every single book that they come across before they develop their opinion about it.

While it would be wonderful for people to purchase books based on the recommendations of others (like librarians, friends, and teachers), rather than just by the most eye-catching covers and titles, that is unlikely to ever happen. As humans, we tend to make snap judgements about people, art, music, and even books as soon as we see them.

If you’ve ever read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, he writes about the important role our initial impressions play in our decision making process. There is always a split second of our first impressions that gives us an irrational “gut feeling” about something. Whether we choose to mind those first impressions or not, they still play a huge role in developing our overall and final opinions of people, movies, and books.

Because of this, we in publishing put a lot of time and effort into developing new covers, titles, and marketing pieces for books. An intriguing or catchy cover can easily mean the difference between someone picking up a book or walking past it. A cover can’t just be catchy, however, it also needs to be representative of the story inside, a process that Chip Kidd talks about more in the Ted Talks episode below. For those of you who don’t know, Chip is the designer who came up with the Jurassic Park logo back in the day.

[ted id=1410]

If you don’t actually have time to watch it right now (I realize it is a 17 minute video), I’ll try to give a quick summary. Chip talks about the thought and effort that goes into designing a book cover that represents those without being overwhelming in the process. One example he gives from his time in college is a lesson from a teacher about how it is okay to either show a picture of an apple or the word apple, but if you try to focus on both the image and the words, you are giving the consumer too much (The cover of Blink offers a demonstration of this ideal in action).

The goal of a designer is to create that first impression you get from the cover and transition that interest into reading and purchasing that book. We happen to have two amazing designers that are incredibly good at doing this and I would like to take this opportunity to recognize them for the work they do (and show off some of their covers). They do a lot to make my job in Marketing much easier!

Merrill Miller:


Reuben Graham:

Next time you are in a library or bookstore and find yourself picking up a new book to look at, take the time and consider the role the cover played in that process (or just buy it if it was one of ours ;-)).

Evan McCarthy (Marketing)