Cover Story: Judge not, lest ye be judged

by Rachel Baker on April 5, 2008

book jacketsI’ve been pondering book jackets for the last few months. I’ve seen more jackets in the last few months than a model for Burlington Coat Factory does in the length of a ten season contract. My reflections have more or less been about why its assumed consumers need elaborate, more complex visual aids to capture their interest. A new published author told me recently people are not buying her book because the book jacket looks plain, boring and low-budget.

This bothered me for three reasons:

One, her book is extremely powerful and well written. Two, I hate to think someone will talk her into changing the book jacket to increase her sales. And last, but not least, what does this say about how we’ve been conditioned as consumers and readers in what books we gravitate to?

People have forgotten the literal meaning of “Never judge a book by its cover”. Yes, of course, we all repeat this adage at least once a year to a friend of ours in reference to another person. People are not the only things we shouldn’t judge by the cover. Yet, I would venture to bet this particular author is not the only one that has heard this about her jacket.

Please, repeat after me: “Never judge a book by its cover” applies to books as well!

Its unfathomable to me that people actually do not read a book because the jacket looks too simple. I’m more apt to pick up a book with a simple book jacket than an elaborate one. I feel like a simple cover, nine out of ten times, wraps around a fantastic story. I don’t normally want to spend time pondering a book jacket and what the picture has to do with the story. I, personally, don’t care. If I wanted lots of color, and pretty pictures, I’d go to an art museum.

I want to read an author who is confident enough in his/her writing to not stand on visual aids to draw attention on the shelves. I want to read an author where everyone involved with the production of this book realizes the words inside have the potential to be more important and more powerful than some over-used Van Gogh painting (and I like Van Gogh). I want the title and the author’s name in easy-to-read font, in a nice primary color, with maybe some shadowed picture in the background that could be interpretted if so desired, but it probably won’t be. I don’t want intrusive pictures, font or colors. If I wanted all that, I’d read a children’s picture book.

But this isn’t about me.

Readers, please don’t decide to not buy a book because the jacket doesn’t get your attention. Remember when you were told as a child – don’t pick your friends because maybe they don’t dress the same as you, pick them because of their values, their heart, their personality. Same thing with books. Judging a book by its cover is as shallow as picking your friends because of their outer appearance, and you will miss some really spectacular reads (and friends) doing this. I seem to remember this from Sunday School and it certainly applies here (I think its John): “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”

We trust the household names of James Patterson, Anne Rice, Stephen King, Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich, Sandra Brown, Michael Crichton, and the list can go on and on. All these authors can use a good font, a little bit of color and no picture on their book jacket. People flock to the book shelves when they come out with a new book. Very few people question their book jacket choices. These authors are like the popular kids in school that everyone wanted to be friends with.

I think its important to remember, you probably didn’t know the person you call your best friend the first time you met that person, probably never even heard of that person before the day you met him/her. And, you probably went through a ton of “friends” before you found that special one. In regards to books and authors, same thing applies. You may not have even heard of the one author whose book has been sitting on the sidelines of your favorite bookstore waiting for you to pick it up and start exploring a new untapped world that only two dear friends could explore together.

In closing, I want to leave you with these thoughts: Though a picture may be worth a thousand words, a good story is worth more than any good book jacket picture. Dare to stray from your reading norm. Dare to pick up a book with a simple cover from an author you’ve never heard of. Seriously. Doing so, could just be the start of a beautifully, productive friendship. If you’re lucky it may just even spark the beginnings of a fantastic love affair with a genre you never considered venturing into.

To join in or start a discussion on this book, visit the Old Musty Books book club community.

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