Judge a book by its cover, not its prologue.

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:

Nineteen Eighty-Four Scoop Evelyn Waugh Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

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.

13 thoughts on “Judge a book by its cover, not its prologue.

  1. I love this! It is so true…. I’ve always wondered why people say that- in relation to people, I agree. But the cover is basically a concentration of what the book is about! What we do if every book cover was just plain white, and they all looked the same?

  2. Social psychological research has shown time and time again that we make snap judgments of people based on the way they look. Shallow but true – and understandable. Of course it’s the same with books. And why not? Discovering a beautiful-looking book is one of those priceless little things that just make your day.

  3. It really is amazing sometimes how much difference a good cover can make, and how the prologue doesn’t always show how good a certain book is. One of my friends has never read all of the Artemis Fowl series, because he has only read the prologue. Good post.

    • Really? Prologues can be deceptive. My brother started reading a Daniel Silva book the other day and said he wasn’t sure if he wanted to keep reading because the prologue was weird. That’s what inspired this post!

  4. What a wonderful post. Something I never put too much thought into, but it had crossed my mind at points. Truly enjoy how you put things into a very nice perceptive. I think that covers, and back -of-the-book blurbs can be misleading much like film previews. They are presented in such a way that attract a certain audience but what’s inside is not what you expected (and that could be great or terrible). There are many sci-fi books that the covers are so drab but the story is so deep and thought provoking that I’m glad I read them. Furthermore there is the issue of re-issues of books over and over again with a variety of covers: every re-issue of a King novel, or Richard Stark, Robert Ludlum; any author or book that has been around for any amount of time gets a steady flow of new book covers (some are better than the original, some not so much), not to mention new forwards etc. What are your feelings on multiple cover arts??

    • Thank you for your thoughts! I find multiple cover arts interesting. ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ is an example. One of the cover designs really makes me want to read the book for no other reason than it denotes interest and intrigue. Another version of the cover though really puts me off because it’s dull and boring and somewhat depressing. I think authors and their teams need to be very careful with cover art. It’s the first point of identity for a book so you don’t want to confuse that with a thousand various editions.

  5. Of course I judge books by the cover. A good font can make all the difference between making something seem like a bound high school essay and the sweetest of novels.

  6. Hello! Can I just say that your post is fantastic! 🙂 Covers indeed matter and now that I think about it, many of the books I’ve bought and grew to love, I originally picked because of their attractive covers. One book in particular, Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, had a peculiar looking cover. It had no summary at the back and it was sealed so I took the chance and bought it. I never regretted the buy. There are times, however, where the covers and the summaries mislead the people into thinking that the books are great when after a few pages they just, to put simply, suck. But I honestly believe that despite the tacky covers and seemingly bad summaries and ugly fonts, a true book lover would take the risk and just buy for the fun of it. We can’t ignore the possibility that between the tacky covers lay beautiful stories.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! And you are exactly right on both counts: covers matter but the real literary connoisseur will venture beyond the beautifully bound in search of some hidden treasures (albeit ones with poor cover designs). Thank you for reading and commenting!

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