I do it. You do it. We all do it.
Everyone judges books by their covers. From children to English teachers, everyone makes their initial assessments on books based on what’s on the front. It’s hard to judge them by any other means, especially when you live in a country where the books in every bookstore are covered in plastic wrapping. So unless you have your trusty Goodreads account and some good Wi-fi, you’re usually in the dark on what to buy (and what to avoid).
Unless you decide to start judging books by their cover. But let’s be clear: like any other judging system, there are certain criteria that you need to consider. Here’s a few.
The Front Cover
The first (and obvious) part of book inspection includes looking at the front cover. About 99.99% of the time, the author’s name and the book’s title will be prominently displayed there.
The relationship between those two is vital.
If the title is bigger, the book (or series) is more famous. If the author’s name is bigger, then the author is more famous.
As you can see, on the left, the title The Silver Chair is larger than the name of its author, C. S. Lewis. On the right, Roald Dahl’s name is larger than the book’s title, The Witches.
This comes down to fame. Most are familar with The Chronicles of Narnia, and most people know Roald Dahl. However, when asked to name Narnia‘s author, or any particular book that Roald Dahl wrote, you might find that people take a little longer to find an answer.
This (generally) means that if you’re looking for an able and consistent author, look for their names in big print (unless it’s written by some celebrity). If you’re looking for an enduring classic or something fresh from a new author, you should grab a book that has its title displayed more prominently.
The Back Cover
We need to remember that a cover consists of three parts: the front, the spine and the back. Sometimes the back can speak more than the front.
You generally only ever find three things on the back:
- A blurb
- Praise for the work (or the author’s work in general)
- Pictures of the author
Paperbacks aside, blurbs generally appear on the back for two reasons: either its target audience doesn’t care about reviews or the author does not have enough high profile reviews to cover the back.
Who doesn’t care about stunning reviews? Children. If the back cover is dominated by a blurb, it’s probably targeted for children or youths. Otherwise, most blurbs are placed on the inside cover of the dust jacket.
If the back is covered in reviews, that suggests three things: first, the author is prolific and probably has many popular books. Second, the book itself is great. And third, it’s probably targeted at adults, who actually care about reviews.
If the back cover is simply a picture of the author, then the author is probably so incredibly famous or prolific that no words need to be said. (On a side note, the only children’s book I ever remember having the author on the back cover was Shel Silverstein).
No, I’m not talking about the book’s conclusion. And no, I’m not going to talk about the spine or the inner flaps of book covers. They’re pretty much the same one you get there.
What I am going to say is that my system, as you probably already know, is not completely accurate. It’s just a series of observations that I’ve noticed from reading books and inspecting their covers. And as much as I hope it was helpful, I hope that, whatever books you pick, you actually read them.
And when you’re finished, then you can actually judge the whole book.