Judging A Book By Its Cover

Usually, I write about what’s inside of a book…the words, plot, characters, sense of place, the story.  But recently, I’ve been thinking about how very much book covers impact my perception of a book before I even begin to read.

If I was reviewing movies on this blog, it might seem obvious to talk about the colors and art in the film.  Film is a visual medium, with  the pictures outside us, whereas with books, the images are ostensibly our own, personal visualizations. But I’ve noticed that the cover of a book gives me a starting place in which to ground my imagination.

In part, judging a book by its cover is useful, as when I scroll through Goodreads or NetGalley, and  use the book cover as one clue as to whether the book is something that will appeal to me.  But on the other hand, the cover gives me preconceptions about whether the novel is literature or a beach read, whether it’s self-published or not, etc..  And I think these first impressions affect how I react to the story itself, and  my final opinion of it, in a big way.

Where this becomes especially interesting to me is when publishers put contrasting covers on the same novel, because of their own ideas of what will appeal to the viewing public.

A great example of this is Starter House, by Sonja Condit.  I read the UK version of this book, which features a wistful, pastel-colored view of a curtain fluttering in a window.  To me, the writing in the novel held up to this delicate, lyrical, quality, which was part of what I loved about it. I saw Starter House as a shivery ghost story, rather than an in-your-face horror novel. However, the recent US publication of The Starter House has a cover with a completely different feel. This cover features bold red and blue writing, with a rocking horse planted in the center of in a white room. Right away, this cover reminded me of the twisted, disturbing, psychological thrillers by authors like Sophie Hannah.

Take a look at the two covers below.

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Having loved Starter House, I think the garish US cover may have done it a disservice. Several negative reviews I’ve read about this novel expressed disappointment that it was not the horror story they had expected. I think that if I had seen the US cover first, I would have been predisposed to think of the novel in that way, myself.  The cover of a novel can either enhance the mood of the writing, or do the story a disservice.  Readers derive some initial impressions of a novel by its cover, and as such, the cover is powerful stuff!

Here’s another example of book covers (Australian, and US) that portray the tone of the same novel differently:

17317855  17802724

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s one more good example: (note the change in title in the US version as well).

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What do you think? Are there any book covers that you feel have strongly affected your perception of the story, or that you think give a misleading first impression? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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