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Looks Matter (With Books, Anyway)

I totally judge books by their covers.

Don’t get me wrong; I usually don’t stop there. The beauty beyond a book’s skin is what I really look for. But the cover of a book can be enough to make me check it out immediately — or to stop me from opening its pages for months. The cover is the first thing about a book I see, so of course it’s important in deciding whether or not to read it.

For me, the cover that stands out from the others is the cover I’m drawn to. I’m sure in some way they’re all designed to be the cover that stands out, but lately, it’s been easy to see the trends in the look of YA literature. Teen books can largely be grouped by their covers.

clockwork princessFirst, there are books with real people modeling on the front. With those covers, it feels like I’ve seen so many recently featuring a girl in a fancy, sumptuous dress, even when it doesn’t have much to do with the book. Most recently, Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare joined the crowd with this kind of cover (though its dress can be forgiven due to being set in the 19th Century). Other popular titles following this trend include The Selection by Kiera Cass, Matched by Ally Condie, and the Fallen series by Lauren Kate.

Those are all fantasy or dystopia books, however. Most of the other covers with models that I see are realistic fiction, so they feature teenagers in normal clothes. Usually they’re doing something semi-related to the novel, like holding hands or walking along train tracks, but often they’re ambiguous enough that the cover could be switched with that of another novel on the shelf and each would still have a similar effect.

ifistayOf course, other covers with models feature just a close-up of the face of a character. That can be quite striking, actually, but it often doesn’t convey the idea of what the book is about any more than a ball gown does. Some books do manage to pull this one off, though: the cover of If I Stay by Gayle Foreman perfectly encapsulates the struggle in the book.

gone michael grant coverHonestly, though, I always find books with cover models rather off-putting. The Gone series by Michael Grant is exhibit A of this problem: I’m sure the books are good, but I can’t get past the silly, pouty looks on the models’ faces just yet.

demon king cinda williams chima coverSo I’m sure this is why lots of books don’t have any person on the cover at all. Books without models often have one representative object right in the middle of the cover, sometimes forgoing even a background and placing it on black. Cinda Williams Chima’s books — both her Heir series and the Seven Realms series — fall into this category. (I find these covers intriguing, since they invite you to find out what that mysterious symbol is and what it means to the story.)

Not every cover fits into one of these categories. But what I’m saying is that I see these covers a lot, and it’s easy to get tired of them. A tired cover can make the reader think the plot of the book might have been done before too.

Books are always more than what meets the eye, but the cover still has an important job: to make a good impression in that meeting. The cover needs to make me want to get to know the book — the same as any introduction to a person should make me want to spend more time with them based on my first impression.

ready player one ernest cline coverCovers matter much more in attracting the reader when they stand out from the crowd and when they represent their books well. When a book doesn’t have a froofy dress on it or a single symbol in the middle, it catches the eye because it’s different. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is one such book; the startlingly bright red-and-yellow color scheme and strong blocky letters are magnets for the eyes. (Not only that, but the emphasis on the title also reflects the importance of the phrase in the book itself.) The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is also eye-catching — the design is simple, but it doesn’t look like anything else on the shelf. So I pick it up. And I turn to the first page.

— Annie N., 11th grade, currently reading Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

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  1. Katie Katie

    I completely agree that the right cover can draw you into a book. I love, love, love Ready Player One’s cover because it’s so different and also because it has that smallest nod to the story with the video game player and the tiny key. The cover is as clever as the book, and it is pretty rare that you get that. One of my other favorite book covers is Carolyn Mackler’s The Earth, My Butt and other Big Round Things. It always makes me smile.

  2. Allison Tran Allison Tran

    Great post! I completely agree- book covers are a big factor in grabbing a readers’ interest. I liked the ballgown trend when it started, but it did get a little tired after a while. (The Clockwork Princess cover is gorgeous, though- and I agree, the dress fits the story.)

  3. Jennifer Northrup Jennifer Northrup

    I feel the exact same way about the Gone series. I hear rave reviews, but I cannot get past that cover. Surprises me when students actually read the series, because they certainly judge more by the cover than I do.

  4. Excellent post, Annie. The other trend I see is the back of a person on the left. I hate when the publisher cuts the head off. :-) I want to add that authors do not get input into what their covers look like. I also find it fascinating when a book is published in a foreign country how the cover changes.

  5. I am so disappointed with the Gone covers. The series is so amazing and so many readers are turned off by those ridiculous covers. Ignore the covers, read those books!

  6. I love it when people admit their secrets about literature in these posts! Everyone judges a book by it’s cover (even though they all tell us not to) and I think that the industry is FINALLY getting it because lately I’ve seen a lot of stunner covers. Yes, most of them fall into your categories, but doesn’t everything? I actually made a shelf on Goodreads titled ‘cover-love’ just to revel in the glory of my favorites. I find that I mostly like simple designs with a symbol or something dramatic like a closeup headshot with crazy colors. Here’s a couple:

    Across the Universe by Beth Revis
    Eggs by Jerry Spinelli
    Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
    The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
    and finally,
    Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

    Thanks for your wonderful post, Annie! Have a great day.

  7. Alissa Alissa

    Actually, my all-time most favoriteist favorite can’t get enough of it because it’s so freaking awesome book has by far one of the worst covers I have ever seen. And, for about a year after it was published, I avoided reading it simply because the cover was so awful it bordered on creepy. It was only after it won a Printz and I read an article about the curious nature of the plot did my curiosity get the better of me and I caved in and read it. And I am ever so glad I did! What I found inside that horrible cover was what’s come to be The Best Book Ever. One I’ve read again and again and loved more each time. I have since turned several others on to its charms, each time urging them, “Don’t judge it by the cover.” And everyone who took that advice has come back post-read and told me how much they loved it too. So is a pretty cover a good thing? Yeah, to a point. But it isn’t everything.

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