Ask The Agony Aunts: Judging Books By Their Covers

19th Nov 2012

Don't Judge a Book by its Cover

Last week the agony aunts tackled the age-old historical novels conundrum. This week they take a look at the universal problem of judging books by their covers…

Help! I can’t stop judging books by their covers! I fear I’m missing out on some literary gems, but because the cover depicts a hazy English rose garden or a silhouette in a dark alley, I just can’t bring myself to try them. Am I missing out?


Darling, you are not alone. I too have fallen victim to the cover lie – even more so because I quite like the hazy English rose gardens of 2011 and have therefore ploughed through some dreadful books. You must remember; authors often have zero control on their covers.

Marketing works exactly the same as any other industry – if something is popular, they will copy it. Look at any trope and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Black cover with heavily shadowed random still life? Mid noughties YA. Random item of clothing and ariel font? 50 Shades of Profit. Child’s crying face? You get the picture.

And don’t try and judge a book by its blurb either – quite a lot of them don’t even have them any more! A non-sentence and word word IRREVOCABLE, plus a quote from India Knight does not make a blurb.

No, your best bet is to read For Books’ Sake every day and just read exactly what we tell you. Or only buy from American publishers, whose covers are so uniformly dreadful you’ll have to stop judging books by them eventually!

The Notorious BMD:

According to Peter Stothard, you never have to judge a book by its cover because bloggers are constantly tearing books apart and regurgitating them for their greedy readers.

So  find some book bloggers you like and feed off the grisly carcasses they drag back to their comma-strewn lairs. (Disclaimer: Stothard is scared of the internet)

Then get a Goodreads account, add anyone you know has good taste and check out their to-read lists. Doing this, and ignoring the covers, helped me discover Colson Whitehead, Beryl Bainbridge, Deborah Levy and Nicola Barker.

When in doubt, remember that this Tomb Raider travesty was once an Angela Carter cover:  Remember this book? Not exactly the Jackie Collins’ Animated School of Romps implied by the cover.

Basically, trust For Books’ Sake, trust (some) bloggers, never read anything that Tim Burton is about to adapt for the big screen and be wary of things with “zone” in the title. They are either awesome or rapey.

How do you get around judging books by their covers? Are there any classics you’ve steered clear of because you couldn’t stand the cover? Or books you’ve been surprised by once you got engrossed?

(Image via metz79)