Readers Will Always Judge a Book by It’s Cover

Long ago I received a rejection that incensed the author, but gave me new perspectives on evaluating a book. The editor had liked the book enough to bring it up to her editorial board, but in the end one of the reasons they gave for rejection was because they couldn’t picture the cover.

Whether we’ll admit to it or not, we do judge a book on the cover. Thriller readers will pass on a cozy mystery because it’s not the sort of cover (style, type of book) they tend to read. We would never put a romance clinch cover on a middle grade fantasy or a science fiction cover on a thriller.

When we’re browsing the bookshelves at Barnes & Noble we look at titles and covers first. They give us insight into the book. They hint at the genre, the hook and even the tone of the writing. It’s why your agent will fight so hard against a cover she doesn’t like, or doesn’t feel tells enough of a story.

When writing your story, and your query, it’s not a bad idea to picture the cover. In the case of the author above, I think (if I remember correctly) she was a wonderful writer, but there wasn’t enough of a hook there for them to figure out how the book was going to stand out. There wasn’t enough to build a cover off of.

The cover needs to tell a story, just as much as the book itself tells a story. This doesn’t mean the cover artist can’t take creative license (it often does), but it should be exciting enough to jump off the shelf and into the hands of the reader. It should be something the reader notices more than the other books next to it.

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5 comments

  1. I can’t truly believe their stated reason was the entire reason. I suspect they themselves couldn’t really define what their issues were.

    I totally agree that covers matter. I constantly buy books for their covers, and I’ve passed over books with bad covers. (I’m an artist, and I majored in commercial art/illustration.) I have to say, if an editorial board was having trouble picturing a cover for my book, I’d have at least half a dozen thumbnails ready within the hour. 😉

  2. Wow. I had no idea a rejection based on cover was even a possibility. I have a vague idea of the sort of cover I’d like for my book – but I think Cozy books lend themselves to covers because of the common style they use.

    I guess the cover is a hook for readers, and your book should have a hook so kind of a hand-in-hand thing. Something else to keep in mind!

  3. At my first publishing job, one of the things I was told to think about when considering submissions, was how I would write the back cover copy for that book. If I couldn’t imagine how I would write the copy, I probably shouldn’t be acquiring the book. The idea behind that is probably in line with why Jessica F’s submission was passed on–if you don’t know how to market and position a particular book, you shouldn’t be working on it.

  4. “It’s” means “it is”; “its” is the possessive of “it” and is the one that you want here.
    Ian M

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