I’m not sure who came up with that saying about not being able to judge a book by its cover, but as both a writer and voracious reader, I have to say I’ve never heard anything less true. We do it all the time.
Just as the job applicant and blind date get only one shot at a first impression, a book may get a smattering of seconds to stand out on the shelf or computer screen. It may have only the blink of an eye to get our attention, crook its figurative finger at us, and reel us in.
Frankly, it seems hugely unfair that something that can take so long to conceive, write, and get published, will be judged so quickly. But it will. In a sea of books—I was in a chain store recently with a sign that announced it had more than a million books inside—a cover will grab us. Or it won’t.
Our reaction to a cover is virtually instantaneous and all encompassing. In one quick glance we decide what we think the book is about and whether we’re interested. We also make judgments about how quick or arduous a read it is and even how well we think it’s written.
If the cover’s compelling enough, we might come closer, pick it up and skim the back cover copy, maybe even open it up and read the first paragraph. But even the best copy in the world (and that’s a whole other issue) can’t compensate for a cover that doesn’t do its job. Bottom line—it doesn’t matter how great a book is if no one picks it up.
It’s hard to have so much riding on something that most writers have so little control over. (The biggest names may have total control, but cover ‘consult’ is more common.) Which is why the words ‘cover conference’ can strike both hope and fear in an author’s heart. And why we joke about the ‘cover gods,’ while secretly praying that they exist and are on our side.
We all have our cover horror stories; the three handed hero, the recycled cover that someone higher up the food chain rejected and ended up on our book even though it isn’t a good ‘fit’; cover characters who bear no resemblance to the ones inside; deep brooding covers that end up on a comedy meant to make you lol.
Even after all these years and eight published novels, I’m not sure how covers go awry when so many people are genuinely trying to design something that will make sure our snap decision is a positive one.
Given all of this, you can imagine my elation when I first saw the cover for The Accidental Bestseller, which was recently re-released in mass market paperback. I KNEW the cover gods (and the art department) were smiling on me.
The Accidental Bestseller is about four writer friends who help each other survive the publishing industry. It’s a real insider’s look at what it is to be a writer today, and as I wrote it I kept envisioning writing images; you know all those really scintillating cover visuals like fingers on a keyboard and a blank screen with an impatient cursor pulsing in the upper left hand corner. Fortunately, the art department was far savvier; instead of the process, they focused on the end result—a great beach read.
To celebrate that cover, and because I almost always wish I were on a beach, I’m running a contest for those of you lucky enough to actually get to one. Submit a picture of you reading The Accidental Bestseller on the beach—any beach—at www.authorwendywax.com and I’ll post it on facebook and enter you in a drawing for a beach bag full of some of my favorite books.
I can’t wait to see your shot. In the meantime, I’m thinking that whoever came up with that original quote was actually trying to say, you SHOULDN’T judge a book by its cover. Because there are times when things go awry and the cover gods don’t smile. When we should really take a chance that the inside of a book may far exceed its exterior.
Since I brought up this subject, I’m curious. Have you ever NOT bought a book because of its cover and then found out later that you missed out on something you might have enjoyed?
For more information about Wendy and her books please visit www.authorwendywax.com.