Judging a book by its cover

You’re standing in the checkout line, and the books catch your eye.  One book in particular.  You pick it up, turn it over, and open to the first page.  You must have it.  Into your cart it goes.

What was it that caught your eye?  Something about that cover made you reach for the book.  Maybe something about the back cover lured you in.  Maybe you didn’t even look at the price

I’ll bet you can remember more than one time that you’ve picked up a book for the cover alone.  I know I have.  On the other hand, I’ve passed by some terrific stories because the covers turned me off.  I can think of one in particular.  I got the book in my stack of entries to judge for the RITA awards.  I even put it off until the last, only to discover it was an incredible story that hooked me from the get go and never let up.  I liked the author’s voice and style so much that I hunted her backlist and read as many as I could get my hands on.  So what was it I didn’t like about that cover you ask?  It was a cartoon cover.  I have never purchased a book with a cartoon cover—well except the others by that same author.

I think most of us here have auto buy authors – an author you buy simply because you know they’re going to deliver a story you will enjoy, no matter the subject or the cover.  For me there are several of those: Sharon Sala, Anne Frasier, Janet Evanovich, Robyn Carr just to name a few.

I’ve purchased books based on reviews – sort of like movie reviews that tempt me.  Not because the review was glowing, but because the synopsis told me the book was about a subject or character I knew I would like.  I’ve bought books because someone recommended them to me.  I have purchased a book because of an ad.  That could have been because of the cover or the blurb.  I’ve never bought one because of a quote on the front or because I saw a book trailer. 

If I had to say where most of my book buying was done over the past couple of years or more, I’d have to confess it wasn’t done in stores, but online.  Convenience is the reason – and because the chain stores carry less and less of the mid-list books.  At least one huge chain store near me no longer carries Harlequin or Silhouette lines.

Online book shopping is different.  You pretty much need to know what you’re looking for, or at least I do.  amazon has that clever suggestion feature that shows what they think you’d like based on your previous purchases.  And you can subscribe to any number of newsletters by your favorite authors and be prepared for new releases.

But something about looking at those covers…

Something about picking up that book, seeing it in person…up close and personal, covers are enticing.  For me — If it has a western or an Americana look, I’m a sucker.  There was a day when some readers would buy any book with Fabio on the cover.  I’m probably in the minority of romance readers who aren’t impressed by cover models.  In fact, if I recognize the guy on the front, it’s a complete turnoff for me.  He has become a model in my eyes, not the fantasy hero I’m going to meet for the first time.   I guess that’s it – a recognizable face spoils the fantasy.

So, do you read outside the romance genre?

What are your criteria for spending your cash on a new author’s book?

Have you ever bought a book because you’d met the author and liked him or her?

What are the top three elements that entice you to buy a book?

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30 thoughts on “Judging a book by its cover”

  1. I must admit a cover or 2 has caught my eye. Then again that is what they are for. But I believe in the saying “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover”. I have never bought a book for its cover alone. The story line or my regular author always gets me. I like you, read a new author and can’t stop till I have read all the backlist.

    I love Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Jonathan Kellerman, Patricia Cornwell books.

  2. Covers to catch my eye some..as well as book titles! Like you, once I find an author that I like..I hunt down the backlist too and it doesnt matter what the covers look like!

    I love to read books that have actual people on the covers though…so, atleast I have an image in my head about the character (of course sometimes the character description does not match the cover 🙁 )

    So, my top 3 elements for a new author’s book are:
    1. Synopsis
    2. Title
    3. Cover

  3. Oops, sorry Cheryl. Because it’s the second Thursday I assumed it was my day to blog. Forgot about the big event we had last week. I hope our readers enjoy the double blog.

  4. To answer you question, I usually pick up a book because the cover catches my eye. But I don’t buy it until I’ve read the back cover and the first page or so of text. Thanks for a great blog, Cheryl. And those covers are gorgeous. I wanted to rip THE DIPLOMAT’S WIFE off the screen and read it.

  5. Let’s see, book covers. I suppose I pay some attention–although so many of them look alike it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish them. I’m like you, Cheryl in that I don’t really care for cartoon covers though I have read some good books with them. For me cartoon covers tend to indicate ‘chick lit’ which is not my thing.

    I don’t think I’ve ever read the first page–or any other in the book in the store. I look for authors, types of books, back cover blurb.

    One thing that’s been both dangerous and wonderful in my book buying world are excerpts sent via email. Especially those that come over the course of a week. I’ve discovered some fine books and authors that I normally probably wouldn’t have looked twice at.

    The types of books I read and fave authors is a list too long to write AND definitely rivals my to be read pile. 😉

  6. Cheryl, I’ve only bought a few books when I was in the checkout line and I bought them because I liked the cover and the titles grabbed me. But I rarely do buy at the checkout. I normally follow my tried-and-true authors and buy everything they write. I have bought from authors who’ve come to P&P to blog and I loved their books. I also buy from authors I’ve met and became friends with. I like to support my friends. But even then, the book has to appeal to me. I have to like the cover and the blurb before I plunk out the money.

    Like you, I don’t buy from watching book trailers or who the cover model is. I really could care less. To me, that’s just hype.

    Outside the historical genre, I like to read mainstream and contemporary romance. And a few mysteries if they catch my eye.

    Great blog! You really got me examining my buying habits. 🙂

  7. Good morning, ladies! It’s garage sale heaven in my area these days, and it’s tough to get home after dropping off the boy at school! I just keep stopping at another…and another…today I found two books on Photoshop, which I desperately needed. They’ve been on my wish list.

    So – the covers had NOTHING to do with buying those books – LOL

    Sherry, I am reading a Dean Koontz book right now: The Husband. I wish I had a day to devote to it, hidden away on my patio in the sun – with a gallon of tea…well, I can dream. I also love Stephen King. My all time favorite is The Stand.

    We readers are all so different in our tastes – for example Melissa loving those real people on the cover — and that’s what makes the genre terrific – there is something for everyone.

    No problem, Elizabeth! I just thought you were doing something special for Mother’s Day!

    Hi *lizzie and Linda! Thanks for coming by.

  8. Hi Cheryl: I typically buy books of authors that I truly like to read. I have also discovered some “new authors” either via P&P or via email where there is an excerpt from the book. Since I like western romance I have found many “new” authors from the LWR site as well.

  9. I’m attracted to any Western-themed book covers but I find the ones for me…don’t have the guy’s face LOL. That way I can imagine him myself. I also like medievals…but not really those knights/dragons warrior ones that take place in alternate worlds.

    And I actually love covers that don’t depict the characters at all..giving my brain full reign.

    My favorite thing of all is buying a sequel or spinoff to a book I’ve just loved. That way I don’t have to say good-bye.

  10. My top three reasons for buying a book
    1) Author
    2) Author
    3) Author

    That’s it. Not saying I never read outside my favorite authors, but those books come to me somehow. I’m in a couple of book clubs and I’ll hear of a book that sounds great and hunt it down but mostly I just have this long list of authors who I trust to give me what I’m looking for and I’m on the lookout for their backlist or new releases.

  11. Hi, Za! After hearing you and *lizzie comment about excerpts, I’m thinking that might something we should feature more.

    So many readers LOVE those sequels, don’t they Tanya?

    Great three reason, Mary. Smooches.

  12. Outside this genre, I read contemporaries, mystery,
    suspense, sometimes what catches my eye. Speaking
    of eye, it usually is author, back cover, less of
    cover in making a purchase. I’ve “met” a couple
    of authors online, who I consider friends and always
    look first for their books, then my tried and true
    favorites. One new purchase criteria for me is the
    excerpts sent out in author newsletters, I’ve bought
    several books through them.

    Pat Cochran

  13. Covers really don’t factor into my buying books. I usually end up imagining the h/h different than the author or cover anyway.

    Outside of romance, I like a varied assortment-the Dean Koontz and Stephen King books (I’ve read everything by these two), spy books, Dragonlance series, and I like happening upon mainstream fiction that has a nostaglic feel to it.

  14. Interesting, I can tell you right away I pick up a book due to the cover but secondly i turn it over to read what it’s about I’m 9 out of 10 gonna buy a book that’s a western setting or coastal setting It has to have Romance involved or colorful characters I don’t read murder mysteries or evil psyco killers I’m either looking for the char. i meet or wonderful places. and Yes i’m guilty of buying just because of a Author i like especailly if i’m on a book binge and haven’t bought in a while if i’ve read 1 book by that author and liked it i’ll just pick up what ever eles i see to go on my shelf to go back and read later, also it never hurts to have a hot guy on the cover to reel you in to read the back cover and i know i’m not by myself on that.

  15. I have a bad habit of picking a book based on its cover. Things that entice me most to buy a book are the reviews in the RT magazine, the covers of course, and if the back cover sounds good. I usually choose my favorite authors first if it comes down to buying a popular author or one I’ve never heard of before. Lately, I’ve been giving a lot of new authors a chance because I’ve read some incredible debuts and can’t wait for their next one. I just love books and my husband knows that if there was a 12 step program for habitual book buyers, I would be the first one to sign up for it.

  16. I usually have a list of books when I buy. The titles , by in large, come from author newsletters or blogs.
    My criteria is author, author, author.

  17. I bought Pam Crook’s book “Hannah’s Vow” for the cover. I hadn’t read many Westerns at the time – but the cover caught my eye.

    I used to read 15-30 books a month, so I would do a lot of shopping at used book stores. It was a great way to find new, wonderful authors without wasting a lot of money. (Of course, once I found an author I liked, I would buy all their books ‘new’.)

    So I would have to say – yes – I have bought a lot of books because the cover caught my eye. And the back cover blurb was nice, and the excerpt sounded good..

  18. 3 elements that entice me to buy a book are:
    1) Heard of the Author and read previous books
    2) Found the Author on another website and read excerpts that make me want to buy the book
    3) Accidently won the book and fell in love with the book and had to have all the Author has written.
    Janette’s Oke’s books I have learned to love because my neice sent me the first one.
    But I just as you judged some books and put them order they appealed to me only to learn that the one I thought would be my first choice fell to third choice and the one I left to last turned out to be the best.
    Some nice authors I’ve met only via the internet sent me books to read while I recovered from an ankle fusion and I believe God sent them to me. Not only to get me through that time but to increase my faith as he saw what was coming up and I would be enduring.
    Enjoy your blog today but don’t remember if I’ve read any of your books but I have heard your name so probably have. I saw two authors you listed I am familiar with. I’ll check out the other two.

  19. Like Mary, my main criteria is author, author, author. But I do browse grocery store counters and a cover may capture my attention. Then I look at the back cover copy and read the first few paragraps. If it doesn’t capture me immediately, back on the shelve it goes.

  20. I’ll pick up a book because I like the cover, but it’s rare for the cover to be the deciding factor. It’s happened, though. I ended up buying two copies of a particular Love Inspired because the cover was gorgeous. I bought it once, put it in the TBR pile but didn’t get around to reading it. Two months later, I bought it again : ) Oops! The book was “A Love So Strong” by Arlene James. Not a western, but still a good story : )

  21. Janet, Anne Frasier used to write as Theresa Weir and I loved all of her books then and followed her to mainstream. Her writing has taken on a dark edge, and she keeps me on the edge of my seat. I discovered I had missed one – Play Dead – so I got it and read it all in one day.

  22. It’s an idea in the works right now! P & P will be celebrating a one year anniversary this summer, how cool is that? The Filles just keep the good times coming, don’t they?

  23. Hey Cheryl, whenever I had a book that I disliked b/c of the cover, I’ve usually found that it was a fantastic read.
    In fact, I wrote a book review on The Lawman’s Bride over on the eharl site which I stated that the only thing I didn’t like was the cover photo. I thought the man looked unkempt/sloppy for a lawman and the girl looked like a saloon girl but she was supposed to be a respectable Harvey girl. However, I knew I’d like anything you wrote, so I read it and loved it.

    I’ll buy a book by an author unknown to me if the title and blurb sounds good even if I don’t like the cover.

    My criteria for buying a book is:
    1. The line
    2. The author
    3. The back cover blurb

    As to buying a book b/c I’d met the author – well, I’ve only met one author – Donna Alward who writes Harlequin Romance. She came up to Saskatchewan to give a workshop on ‘The Business of Writing’. I enjoyed meeting her so much that I bought 2 of her books although I usually don’t read that line.

    No, I don’t read outside the romance genre. I used to but now that I’ve hit the half century mark, I know what life is all about. I want a carthartic experience. I want to go on an adventure and forget the normalcy of my life. I want to re-live the thrill of that first kiss. And I do remember when I read romance books. Why read anything else?

  24. I love your post, Anita! Especially the “cathartic experience.” Yes! I want some drama in a story, even if there’s a light tone or humor. I still need to believe these are real people.

    First, thank you for writing a review on The Lawman’s Bride! You rock!

    Now…as long as you’ve brought up that subject…I usually have one of three reactions when I see my new cover for the first time:

    Best Scenario: that’s almost exactly what I imagined – great job!

    Okay scenario: well, it doesn’t really fit the story or the characters, but it sure is pretty and will sell books.

    Worst scenario: what? I feel ill.

    Analyzing that cover:
    *My name is really big and stands out – GOOD
    *It’s brown – brown is my least favorite color
    *The people are tiny – GOOD
    *Everything is brown and dry-looking, but she’s holding pink flowers – WHAT?
    *My name is really big and stands out – GOOD
    *Her dress has been on several regency HH covers and a medieval – HMMM
    *His denim pants look like he’s been on a road construction crew – oi
    *What ARE those things behind them? Those brown and spotty and weird shaped things? My eye was drawn there first and couldn’t see anything else. The one on the right looks like a big stone strapless dress. The other is a large naked woman climbing the tree. Turn the cover upside down, and I think we have subliminal messaging.

    Seriously, I’d love to ask the artist what in the world those are.

    So, thank you for ignoring that very strange cover and enjoying the story.

    And since you write reviews, send me your address at SaintJohn@aol.com and I’ll send you an advance reading copy of my October anthology.

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