Confession: I Judge Books By Their Covers

Guilty, guilty, guilty! I’m absolutely and undeniably one of those people who judges a book by its cover.


Look, this is how I see it: if a cover doesn’t capture my attention, then what are the chances the story will? Boring cover must mean boring story line, right?

Yes, I fully admit this is a horrible attitude. But it’s the truth. I don’t have the patience to sit and read every synopsis. I need to know immediately whether a book is worth my time. I want bright colors that pop, gloomy colors that haunt, flashy fonts, intricate designs, breathless imagery…All of it plays a key role in my decision to purchase, check out, or even borrow a book.

And, whether you know it or not, those seemingly shallow things play a key role in your decision too.

One of my favorite college courses was Consumer Behavior Studies (Don’t roll your eyes or yawn. That class rocked!). It was fascinating to discover the intricacies of the human psyche and comprehend the various factors that people consider during their decision-making process. Well, guess what? Imagery is a HUGE factor! Colors. Artwork. Wording! Each tiny, but significant detail triggers emotions and memories and desires in our brains, driving us to reach out and pick up a product. In this case, a book.

Think of it this way: Books are like flowers. The prettier they are, the more likely they’ll be plucked.


I own more books than I can count (11 shelves, one mantle, and plenty of floor space worth). And out of all those hundreds of books, over 85% of them were purchased because of their cover. The other 15% were chosen because of the author’s name/reputation, social media hype, or a reliable recommendation. So, clearly–at least for this particularly consumer–the cover is what sells a book. It’s not the title. It’s not the synopsis (I hardly even read those anymore). It’s all, all, all about that vital design and whether or not it grabs my attention.

Here is my book “plucking” process:


  1. I scan a shelf/box/table, noting all colors and fonts. Nothing else matters at this point.
  2. A book JUMPS out at me. I eagerly pick it up and inspect it closer.
  3. The author. Yes, this is important to me. If I see an author that I’m not fan of, then I’ll forsake the eye-catching cover and move on. For example, after reading Gone Girl (don’t yell at me!) I know I’ll never buy another book by Gillian Flynn. It’s nothing personal whatsoever. I’m simply not a fan of her genre and style.
  4. Next on the inspection list: The title. To me, it’s better than a synopsis. A title gives me my first taste of the story. It teases, it taunts and, hopefully, it intrigues. If not, well…bye bye book.
  5. By this point, I’m usually sold. Yep, you heard me. Pretty cover? Check! Acceptable author name? Check! Good title? Check! However, if I still have doubts, I glance at the blurbs on the front/back.
  6. And if I’m still not sold after the blurbs–but the cover is just too cool to give up on it–then I swiftly skim the synopsis.
  7. At last, I make my final decision: get the book, or not? And, yes, as I debate, I stare at the cover! Gasp!

Believe it or not, this entire process takes me less than a minute. It’s quick, it’s dirty and it’s harsh. And, yeah, it’s unfair. But it’s reality.


Now, is this a wonderful, winning strategy? No. Just like anything that’s judged by its outer beauty, a dazzling book cover doesn’t always mean a dazzling story. Ahem…


And have I missed out on some great stories? Definitely. However, if I read every synopsis of every book on a shelf, I’d literally never leave the bookstore or library.

So that’s my confession today. I believe that if a book wants to be “plucked”, it better have a cover with a “come hither” look–of course, a wink and shimmy wouldn’t hurt either ;-). Otherwise, it’s bound to get lost amongst the papery masses.

3 thoughts on “Confession: I Judge Books By Their Covers

  1. Your process is much like mine…quick and be done with it. I don’t have time to browse—there’s reading to do! Nice post and I’ll swing by again to see what further tidbits you have to say about this writerly world.


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