Judging Books By Their Covers

When I go into a bookstore, I usually don’t have any idea what I’m going to buy. I’m sure this is related to the general lack of planning that goes into pretty much everything I do, but honestly, one of my favorite things about shopping for books is not knowing what I’m going to find. I have a method for choosing books; it goes like this:

1. Find books that look interesting
2. Read back cover
3. Read first two pages

If the first two pages make me want to keep reading, I buy the book. It’s a pretty simple method, and is also probably why I end up spending way too much money in bookstores, but it definitely hinges (maybe even more than it should) on the first step. Yes, I judge books by their covers. Certainly, it’s what happens inside the covers that makes me decide whether I like the book or not, but the cover itself is usually why I pick the book up in the first place.

Of course, it’s no secret that design is an art form, and book cover design is one of its most specialized genres. I’m sure publishers know that people like me are more likely to pick up (and subsequently buy) books with attractive covers, and hire designers accordingly. It’s one thing to create a good design, but something much greater to create a good design that manages to incorporate a book’s subject matter and present it in a way that will make people want to read what’s underneath the cover. The rockstar of the book design world is Chip Kidd, whose website, Good is Dead, is promoting his book of cover designs, Chip Kidd: Book One. (Some of his work is viewable here.) I didn’t even know I was a fan of his until I looked through my bookshelves and found that a cover I like a lot (that of the David Sedaris book Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim) was designed by him.

So, I like pretty covers anyway. Maybe this is why I’m so fascinated by this blog, Book Covers from the NY Times Book Review, which is exactly what it says it is — a blog of cover images from the books reviewed in the Times each week. I’ve definitely enjoyed picking pages at random and looking at the covers, some of which are truly wonderful. I’ve seen all kinds of books that look good enough to read. I’m also quite taken with this Flickr set of book covers by Penguin. But really, this stuff is great.

How much attention do you pay to book covers when you’re looking for something to read? Do you have any favorite covers? Are you going to go through your shelves and see how many things you own that were designed by Chip Kidd? Do tell. The internet needs to know.

7 Responses

  1. PunkI wrote a book called

    I wrote a book called GENOCIDE: THE ANTHOLOGY.

    People hated the title.


    Personally, the title said it all.

    The cover was black. To PUNK the thing out the covers were run over by jeeps, kicked around, thrown down stairs, and put through machines that mashed them. I am not kidding. It was the only time I had fun with a book cover. Contrary to what most agents will tell you, if a writer is mean enough he can get book cover approval. However, publishers play games. Like the waiting game. “Just outwait everybody” usually works. They’ll postpone publication dates. Anything to get you to approve the cover so they don’t have to pay to design it again. Or they send you the cover by messenger at noon with the message: we need your approval by 12:30. Scum. They’ll outsource covers they want to push (outsourcing is more expensive) and they in-house covers in art departments they don’t really care about. You are thinking: but they must care. No. They. Don’t. Must. Anything.

  2. Got it coveredThough I
    Got it covered

    Though I usually have a book that I’m already planning to read there are those odd moments when I can find nothing, and that’s when I pay attention to book covers. And thankfully. Some of the best books I’ve found have been completely by accident having had no prior knowledge of the contents of the book and judging completely by the cover. Having said that, this method has failed me a few times, but that’s not to discount it. I completely agree, book cover design is an art form, a hard one at that. I’ve been put off by a cover just as many times as I’ve been attracted to one. Pay attention writers out there, the internet could teach you something.

  3. Independents vs chainI tend
    Independents vs chain

    I tend to frequent the independent stores not as any sort of political statement, but more because every time I walk into one of those mega book outlets, the dizzying array of book covers, all trying to stand out, make me forget what I have on my TBR list and end up spending hours wandering, glassy-eyed. I’ve made too many bad choices in this cover-addled mindframe.

  4. good cover, hook, and
    good cover, hook, and blurb

    The three-inks cover of the Penguin edition of Rabbit Run is an economy of imagery. Bare breasts on a book used to make it eyeball-irresistible and what you don’t see you can’t buy.

  5. Bill: Piss all over them.
    Bill: Piss all over them. Hhhmmm. It’s funny. I’ve been trying to decide how to portray voodoo and gris gris in my next novel: KILLING CASTRO. In gris gris, there’s a spell you can hex people with by tearing photos of them up and urinating on the pieces of photo and then burying them. I have certain photos of certain people I am going to try this with. A voodoo priestess I know (612 rue Dumaine) tells me it’s a very powerful spell for someone you want to experience a LOT of pain. I have this long list and a lot of pictures and a shovel.

  6. That’s uncanny because I’ve
    That’s uncanny because I’ve got unexplainable spontaneous chemical burns breaking out all over my body. Damn, I’m screwed. Is it too late to say ‘just kiddin’?

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Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!