How many times have we heard the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? And how many times have we completely disregarded that advice? I am willing to bet that everyone, myself included, has at least once in their lives judged a book by its cover, or at least its cover art. You only get to make a first impression once; I know it is a cliché but that does not dull the truth of its meaning. Think about the last time you were browsing a bookstore. Now think about how many books there are amongst those stacks. Now let us think about how long we spend at any given book. Even if we limit out search to a particular section we still have thousands of books to explore and choose from and maybe a couple of seconds to glance at all the different books.
The book’s cover art, or lack thereof is, is essentially the book’s ad. Coupled with the title, the picture should give the reader a very, very basic idea of what to expect. If the cover is well designed and well-drawn, it will capture peoples’ eyes, compelling them to take another closer look. This in fact helped me discover Brandon Sanderson’s work. The cover for The Hero of Ages was able to captivate me into picking up the book and reading the cover. And the cover held some favorable comparisons so I filed the name of the author and trilogy away for future reading. And within a few days I ended up purchasing the first book on my kindle and I found a brand new favorite author.
Even big name authors, like Brandon Sanderson have used cover art to find books to read. In an article he wrote for TOR’s website, Sanderson spoke of his journey into the world of literature and how a particular artist’s work impacted that journey. The artist that drove young Sanderson is Michael Whelan and according to the article the first example of the man’s work was gracing the pages of Dragonsbane. Sanderson went on to outline his journey into literature, specifically the fantasy genre, and credited everything, even his writing, to Whelan’s imaginative and realistic cover art. The article concludes, fittingly enough, mentioning the fact that Sanderson’s The Way of Kings is graced with a Whelan cover.
Now as strong as Whelan’s pull was for Sanderson, there are books with covers so bad that we hurry our gaze past them. We refuse to acknowledge their existence. To justify our refusal we think of excuses why we continued past the book. We tell ourselves that the cover looked as if it had been drawn by a child, and if the author let a child draw his cover then the writing must not be that far off.
Is it fair that we judge a book’s worth simply with a glance at a title and a picture?
Is this practice likely to stop just because we know that it is not fair?
Again the answer is no.
Should we try to look past the cover and read the first few lines, or pages of any given book?
I think we should give that practice a try, at least just a little more often.