Do judge a book by its cover

Published: July 30, 2010

Do judge a book by its cover. After all, that's what we do.

A book’s cover design is more than just the artwork on the front and back, unimportant once we’ve plunged into the storyline.  In these days of limited readers and competitive markets, a good book cover screaming “I’m interesting! Buy me!” can make the difference between a sell-out and a washout.

Early hand-bound books, had simpler cloth or paper covers with little design. Decorative covers and printed book designs became common when mechanical methods of book-binding were introduced. The cheap production of books in abundance meant that more attention could and had to be spent on cover design.

In the early 20th century, especially with the advent of art noveau, book cover design became even more displayed, catchy and colourful, as enlisted artists experimented with new techniques to attract the reader’s eye.

Nowadays book covers play at both advertising the book and hinting at its content.  Covers designers vie with each other to produce innovative artwork that subtly conveys the style, mood, story and theme of the book.

While some break the mould by flashy covers and convoluted, hard to read titles, some still follow a pattern.  Books in a series often have similar formats for cover design to allow the reader to recognise other books in that series(think Bloomsbury, Harry Potter and the Twilight series).  Similarly a specific author can have repeating design formats (for example, the Harper Collin’s Tolkien sets).

Publishers also often restrict themselves to a certain characteristic design or style, so that a book is instantly recognisable as a Vintage, Penguin, Everyman or Harper Collins. Reissued classics have some of the most beautiful designs and are collectible items for the avid reader.

Hardcover books can have elegant designs, sometimes on the cover itself or sometimes in the form of a ‘dust jacket’, a plastic covering for the hard-bound book. Dust jackets of older books can be valuable and are often covered by covers themselves.

There are even books about book cover design! Penguin’s ‘Penguin by Design‘ and ‘Seven Hundred Penguins’, and Faber & Faber’s Eighty Years of Book Cover Design are just a few of the books chronicling the best covers for some of the most famous books ever written.  Talk about self-praise!

Finally, with ebooks coming on the scene book covers design have not, strangely enough, lost importance. In fact they are as important as ever, and their two-dimensional attractiveness still contributing to how well the book sells.

So with all that evidence – why not judge a book its cover? After all, that’s what we do.

Shumaila H

Shumaila H

A medical student with an undying love for books and literature.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Zahid ali

    You Can’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover:

    This saying is generally used regarding other people one may meet throughout their life. Here are reasons for one not to judge a book (person) by their cover:
    People who act odd and withdrawn may be shy and awkward.
    People who are angry may have been very hurt in the past and are mistrustful of others.
    If a person doesn’t wear modern clothes and is clean, but doesn’t quite fit in this may mean they have had financial problems and are having a rough go of it.
    If a person is quiet and says little this does not mean they are not computing what is going on around them. They may be highly intelligent and with some prodding a lot of fun.
    Loud people who have to be the center of attention are either very confident and relaxed people or, they are masking hurt or worries within themselves.
    A young person with tattoos all over their body is not a freak, but considers it art. Tattoos don’t change the personality of the person.
    A person that pierces their body may look frightening depending on how many piercings they have, but generally they are great people with a great sense of humor and a free spirit.
    Someone that dresses differently because of their race and cultural background.
    Those who boast of intelligence and have to remind everyone of it all the time generally feel they lack intelligence and need that pat on the back to feel reassured.Recommend

  • Ghausia

    And the point is? Tribune, please set up better filters for your articles, publish things that matter. To the writer, I will only say this; for someone with a love for reading and writing, you make far too many mistakes. There’s a magical little thing called spell-check; use it. And for the record, its Harry Potter and Tolkien, if you’re going to read, at least learn the proper spellings.Recommend

  • Shumaila

    Thank you for the corrections, Ghausia. While I do use spell-check, I must have slipped up on this occasion.

    My intention in writing this, or the ‘point’, as you call it, was to provide a little bit of extra knowledge about book covers and cover designs in general. Newspapers aren’t solely about harping on opinions.

    @ Zahid. Um, thanks? That was entirely unrelated to the post, but I’m sure you meant well. Recommend

  • Ghausia

    I’m well aware of the exact function of newspapers, I’m a student of media studies and journalism, so you shouldn’t have judged my by my cover. :) I get the aim of the article but again, it seems pointless. A better angle for this story would have been to discuss the impact of e-book readers like Kindle on normal books. A proper reader wouldn’t put pick up a book because it looks pretty, they’d check the back to see what its about, attractive book covers are meant mainly to cover up the fact that the book itself is crappy, like two bit romance novels for example. But again, that’s just my opinion.Recommend

  • Shumaila

    Haha. Second mistake of the day (facepalm). OK, point accepted. And that would be a good idea for an article, so I might steal it :P Book covers in my opinion play a more important role than that, but I agree that serious readers don’t go by the cover alone.Recommend

  • Ghausia

    Oh you’re welcome to steal the idea, it would make a good followup from this article. :D As someone who’s been reading before I could talk, I look at the title first, titles can reveal a lot more than the artwork in my experience, specially when the writer isn’t that well known, its how I discovered Mercedes Lackey and Jonathan Wylie. But lets face it, in Pakistan, the reading culture is in severe decline, especially in Karachi, so glitzy covers are all that matters for our American wannabe brat generation.Recommend


    Criticism is great I believe. It is always helpful. Why don’t you seek a job as a proofreader, Ghausia??? Or just come up with your own post someday. Let’s see how can you actually digest criticism on your ‘perfect’ piece, that it would be I am sure. I see your comments with negative connotation on every other post. Plus when you say, Tribune, please set up better filters for your articles, publish things that matter” things that matter means? Timely issues? Blogs are opinion based, not necessary follow-ups on news. Things which may appear trivial to you might actually be appealing to other readers, so you may continue to criticize, perhaps that would help the writers to improve, but as for disregarding others’ opinions, I would say that’s something unethical.

    P.S. I saw F word and other slang words on a famous newspaper’s blogs. I didnt see a single person pointing out typos or desregarding freedom of speech. That is because the bottomline is, here I quote Karl Marx in the context of my comment, “It’s matter that matters.”Recommend

  • Ghausia

    I think Shumaila understood what I meant by things that matter. I’m pleased to meet you, Critic, apparently you’re a huge fan of mine, to be following each and every comment I make here.Recommend


    I follow each and every post. But reserve my comments, because I dont comment for the ‘sake of leaving a comment’ with my name. :)Recommend

  • Rehman

    I totally agree with the blogger that the jacket of a book matters more today than ever before! Recommend

  • idrees

    @Zahid ali: Important thing is that book covers should exactly depict what the book is about. e.g. Romance novels should have picture of romantic photo of a couple, books about electronics should have picture like of any printed circuit board, wires, any electronic component(s) like transistor or IC chips etc. Depiction should be even more focused no matter if the subject is easily understandable from the picture.Recommend