Even though I consider myself to be a minimalist, I do love to own books and whevener I buy a book, I must admit that its cover can have an impact on my choice. In French, we say that “on ne juge pas un livre à sa couverture“, which literally means “you do not judge a book for its cover”. It means that you can’t judge a person or a situation solely because of what they look like/based on the appearance they have. Nonetheless, it is quite funny that this idiom uses the metaphore of the book to convey its message as indeed, more often than not, I think we do judge books based on their cover. Let’s say a book is extremely great, if its cover is not representative of the content or is simply not well-thought, then chances are you will maybe not even open the book to see what’s inside (that is to say, a wonderful story). Thus today, I thought it might be fun for us to consider reasons why judging a book based on its cover might be okay, and reasons why it might be a bad idea altogether. Ready?
Judging a book based on its cover: a wrong idea?
The cover: rarely the author’s choice
We naturally tend to think that the cover of a book goes with its content. However, when we know a little bit how the publishing world works, we often change our minds. The author (probably the person on earth to know their book the best) is usually not the one to choose the cover design. The publisher is, more often than not, the one choosing the design and the author is not even always part of the decision-making process. Thus, judging a book based on its cover seems a bit pointless insofar as the one creating the written content is not even always the one choosing the design.
Several editions of the same book: what is the place of the cover in the work of art emebodied by the book?
Moreover, some books (usually the so-called “Classics”) are available in several editions. Those editions usually use several covers (which emphasizes the importance of the publishing house in the choice of the cover design) and thus, if a book looks good in one particular edition, might not it be more tempting than its other edition? We notice how strange it can be to judge a book on its cover when we realize that one book can hgave several covers, and that some of them might look more “tempting” than others depending on the version.
Indie authors, covers and money
Last but not least, indie authors usually do not have the budget needed to get exactly the book cover they want. Some of them know designers, some others know how to create a cover all by themsleves, but most indie authors do not have a clue when it comes to creating a book cover. Thus, judging a book based on its cover would mean that we do not offer the same chances to indie authors in the sense that they do not have the same budget to give their covers.
A rational way to choose a book
Living in a world of appearances
However, and even though there seems to be plenty of rational reasons not to judge a book based on its cover, we all tend to do it, right? Then, how do we explain it? I would say that it is mainly due to the fact that we are visual creatures living in a world mostly made of appearances. Thus, it seems rational that we look at books before reading them, judging their looks before their text/content. To me, there is nothing to be ashamed of insofar as it is all so human. Moreover, let’s be honest: who doe snot like to have a beautiful home library? And to those of you who will tell me they prefer older books, I do too. However, is not choosing a book for its sometimes damaged cover a way to choose it precisely because of the cover?
Choosing books for their covers also sounds like a great way to suppport both artists: the author and the cover designer. They indeed do a wonderful work in creating covers that match the vibe of the book and thus, it is all so normal to want to support them as well. Thus, choosing a cover is a bit like choosing a work of art to buy: is that not a great thing to do?
An implicit way to grasp the message
Last but not least and more often than not, the cover tries to match the story told in the book. Of course, sometimes authors can’t afford a designer and, of course, some other times the publisher is the one choosing but, in most cases, the design ends up matching the story. Thus, choosing a book based on its cover sounds like a way to grasp the meaning of the book just by looking at it. Of course, it will never come close to replacing the story, but it can be a transtextual way to retell it.