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Why We Judge Books by Their Covers

Words by Jovi Revil and Luna Zabala

Art by Liane Baylosis and Sienna Buntile

Picture this: you’re in a bookstore and you only have enough money to buy one, lucky book. You’re on a tight schedule — you don’t have enough time or energy to read through all the blurbs, so you head to the fiction aisle to narrow your options. One book immediately catches your eye. On the cover, there’s a green pair of lips holding a cigarette against a bold pink backdrop. The Woman Destroyed, it says, written by Simone de Beauvoir. You read the summary, and you’re hooked! You don’t give any of the other books a second glance and head to the register to snag a copy. It doesn’t matter that there are other books more suited to your tastes or budget — this is the one. Love or hate its story, this specific book has made its way to your shelf, winning against thousands of other books. But why did it win?

Easy: you liked the cover.

As much as we try not to, we can’t help but judge books by their covers. Whether it’s the witty typography, strong composition, or the charming portrayal of the main character, book covers play a role in our literary purchases, from why we like the books we read to why we choose to read them in the first place. Like it or not, we'll have to veto what mom always says –– we do judge books by their covers. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing! Keep reading to find out why.


1. First Impressions Last

Book covers are your first impression of a book. They’re a taste test of the real deal –– and whether or not the story will be to your liking. Seeing an off-putting cover is enough for a potential reader to put the book back on the shelf, not even picking it up to give the blurb a chance. Sometimes, it won’t even matter if the story is really, really good, even Pulitzer-level excellent — if it has a half-baked cover, it will be much more difficult to attract an audience. A good cover is a book’s way of saying “Pick me! Choose me! Love me!”. It wants us to see that it’s not like other books, it’s different.

Take Flipped, for instance, which shows us a chick, quite literally, flipped. Without even reading the blurb, we know that chickens will be involved, somehow –– perhaps the main character has the power to talk to poultry, or maybe it’s symbolic in that the main character is a chicken chicken... You don’t know! The cover gives you just enough intel to be interested, but not too much that it will spoil the plot. It’s basically a preview into what you can expect once you flip to the first page, hinting at just enough information to keep you on your toes, but it’s ultimately up to you to take the bait.