Why You Should Judge a Book by its Cover

By Neha N., Grade 9

The expression “don't judge a book by its cover” is an idiom commonly used to discourage people from using something’s outward appearance to make assumptions about what it’s really like on the inside. For example, the covers of the books you see. We’re told that we shouldn’t make assumptions about the inner content of a book just by looking at the art on the cover, no matter how eye-catching or beautiful it is. Although I agree with this expression when it’s applied to people, or concepts, books seem to be an exception. Book covers are, after all, a form of marketing. They’re designed to be eye-catching, right? Should the consumer be discouraged from being drawn to good marketing? 

There are a couple reasons why it’s totally fine for you to be judging the cover of a book. One of which is that through a book cover, you can almost always tell the genre of a book or at least see some of its components, whether it’s through characters, landscape, or themes. Also, certain styles of book covers are typically associated with some genres- for example, romance novels. If I asked you to picture the cover of a romance novel in your head, you might imagine a picture of the main couple in the center of the cover, illustrated or photographed against a pretty background. So if you were in a bookstore or a library, seeking out new reads, you may get some information about a romance book by looking at its cover. You wouldn’t necessarily have to go into the book blind without any idea of whether you’d enjoy it or not. In this example, the cover of a book would make it easier for a romance lover to find their preferred picks, and make it easier for someone into other genres to see that they might not enjoy in this book. 

Another factor to consider when checking out covers is that the author themself chose the cover you’re looking at. Although they may not have been the one to draw, paint, or photograph the art on the cover itself, they still were a vital part of the process of approving and providing creative direction for the art being put on their own books. Since the author is very involved in the process of deciding on a cover, their own personality or values may be expressed subtly through the cover they choose. Even the smallest details like whether the cover is in black and white or color, or whether it’s an illustration or a photograph can give you slight hints as to whom the author is advertising for. If you come across a book cover, and you think it’s not very your style, that might be intentional and could be a clue to you that this book was designed for a different audience. Of course, it also works the opposite way- if you see a cover that really sticks out to you, and you end up choosing and enjoying the book, that likely was not a coincidence. You were most likely the target audience for that particular book, and the author and creative team successfully reached you through the cover art that gave you your first impression of the book.

Cover redesigns are also a way for cover designers and marketing teams to draw in new readers. Over the years, you may have noticed some of your favorite books being redesigned with new cover art and fonts. This kind of change is most common in classic literature and children’s books, series that are relatively old and well established. From just a glance, it may seem pointless to change cover art, especially on established series, since it may make their books harder to recognize to their well established audience. There is actually a good reason that art on covers may be changed- to draw in new, younger readers. When we think about the covers of classics, we might think of a very old, vintage seeming, maybe even borderline boring or plain cover. Redesigns are utilized to modernize covers and help them appeal to younger audiences who may be discouraged from picking up classics or older books.

We can see this through the example of the very famous and classic novel Animal Farm by George Orwell. The first cover (the orange cover) is one from 1951, the first cover published by Penguin Books. 

These three covers are all redesigns of the original cover.


If you think about which cover would most likely draw in your interest, which would you pick? I know I’d probably pick one of the bottom covers, personally. From the three new covers, I can get a sense of what the plot is about- I can clearly see that there are animals involved, pigs especially. With the original, older cover, I couldn’t make out any details about the plot whatsoever, and so I probably wouldn’t end up wanting to reach for the book. Since the new covers are more modern, they probably worked well to draw in young readers like me. 

Overall, we can see that the cover of a book actually has a huge effect on whether it ends up taking off or staying on the shelf. There are hundreds of conscious choices that go into book covers, since they’re the first impression of the book that you’re going to get. Although we shouldn’t judge people by their outside appearance, we should not feel guilty for considering the covers of books.