Yes, you read it correctly. Judge a book by its cover and be unashamed of doing so. A little counter-intuitive, isn’t it? To judge a book by its cover but not by its prologue? But it works. Why? Because covers matter and authors, publishers, publicists and editors all know this. That’s why hours upon days upon weeks are spent toiling away at the cover design of a new release and why many a dollar is spent on professional illustrators. Covers matter because books abound. There a thousands of books in each book store you visit, often hundreds per genre and unfortunately for the authors who’ve quit their day jobs and have yet to achieve J.K. Rowling’s level of success, all of these books are usually lined up side by side, each as equally on display as its neighbour.
So what makes you pick a particular book up from a shelf of many? Three factors: the title, the author and the cover. It needn’t necessarily display the brightest colours or the biggest font but it does need to stand out from the crowd in some way, shape or form. The book’s marketing team very carefully convey a message through the cover, targeting an audience and enticing a particular kind of nerd. “This is a book for all you science fiction lovers.” “This is a book for the soppy romantic.” “Read me if you love action novels.” “I will scare the pants off you.” If a book’s cover is neon green and features a computerised image of a girl in a cat suit holding a spear, screaming “I am the book version of a video game,” I can guarantee that it’s not my kind of book and will therefore judge it as such and avoid it like I would the plague.
Books whose covers I feel stand out from the crowd:
The prologue on the other hand, you shouldn’t use to judge the book as a whole. If a book’s prologue is a little boring or a little confusing or a little disturbing and I feel the urge to abandon it already, I don’t because I’ve learnt to do otherwise. Harry Potter is a fine example of this counter-intuitive piece of advice. While it technically didn’t have a prologue, the first two or three chapters of ‘And the Philosopher’s Stone’ were a touch on the unexciting side and had I have judged the Harry Potter phenomenon accordingly and abandoned it, I’d never have developed my fully fledged obsession with magic. Don’t judge a book by its prologue… persevere, give it a chance to absorb you, delve a little deeper into its chapters.
However, in spite of this entire post, I am certainly not giving authors license to bore us all to tears with craptastic prologues. It obviously helps if the opening taste of a story actually wets your appetite and has you hanging on for more. The point is, sometimes it takes a few chapters to realise that what you’re reading is your new favourite book.
Tell me: are there any books that you’ve read simply because you liked their cover? Are there any books you loved in spite of a boring prologue? Do you agree with me or do you think I’m a raving lunatic? Share your sweet, juicy, literary thoughts.
Looking for more examples of quality cover art? I found a post earlier that displays 50 Kick-Butt Book Cover Designs.