Judging Books by their Covers

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’re not supposed to do it.

But we do.

Or at least, I do. I judge books by their covers ALL. THE. TIME. Pretty much, that’s the first thing on my list of things I look at (also the jacket copy … Those two things are tied). I’m guessing I’m not alone. Studies show you have 12 seconds (in a bookstore) to turn a browser into a buyer. 12 seconds seem like an awfully short time if people aren’t judging books by the covers.

With that in mind, I find the various covers on the market extremely interesting. ESPECIALLY when one book has multiple covers for different countries. I’m not sure what this says about the American market (do you like the American ones better?), but take the following books for example*. The books on the far left are the USA versions (and don’t be fooled, sometimes they change the names on foreign book covers, but it’s the same innards. I promise.)**

Graceling by Kristin Cashore:

The American version doesn’t really do much for me in all honesty. It doesn’t really tell me much about the book, but it does a good job of letting you know it deals heavily in fighting but also has an element of femininity. Personally, I like the one that is second from the left.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins:

It took me a long time to read The Hunger Games because I didn’t like the cover. It seemed too masculine and I didn’t get any idea of what the book was about. With the American version, I think they were trying to heavily market the male audience as well.

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White:

Paranormalcy – I love the USA cover, but I think I love the one on the far right more. I like how these covers seemed to show the emotion of the book, while the Flames ‘n’ Roses cover seemed much too … happy for the book. The other one? Yeah, that one just scares me.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver:

I like the American version best of this one. What’s interesting to me is that the covers on this book are drastically different. It’s like they couldn’t make up their mind in how to market this book.

Unearthly by Cynthia Hand:

In contrast to the previous one, Unearthly has very similar book covers. That’s why it surprises me that they changed the cover at all. It’s basically a different color scheme.

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Brey:

The American version is very feminine, while the version on the right seems almost masculine in comparison. These covers also seem like they’d be placed in different genres.

Overall, I find that the American versions are slightly more … generic than some of their counterparts. Usually us Americans are cool with it if you just throw a girl on the cover. We also tend to go for the slightly more feminine I’ve found. Why do you think they change the cover for various countries? Are we really that different in our tastes?

* I haven’t read all these books, so don’t take my placement of them here as an endorsement… Just sayin.
** All cover images taken from Goodreads.

Click here to read Part 2 of the discussion – When Bad Covers Happen to Good Books



  1. Ooo… isn't this an interesting topic!

    I've noticed this. And from *my* observation, American books tend to be more… well, American. Where we have to have things bigger, brighter, more commercial… because we are targeted to sell and advertise. British covers tend to bring on a more subtle approach… where less is more. (Which is funny, because don't you think that parallel's the difference between our lifestyles too?)

    Also, to me, British covers bring out the atmosphere of a book more so than the characters… where we tend to focus on all character. Just my opinion. Annnd my fav cover up there was the second Graceling cover! Phew… gorgeous! Makes me want to read it so bad!

    Great post.

  2. I hate to say it but I think I don't prefer the American covers at all. Some of those others have such emotion. Perhaps I'd be more interested in reading them if more covers were like that.

  3. Yes…I do believe our taste are dramatically different here in the US. Our book covers are more conservative and less likely to take chances. This is a fascinating topic!

  4. Interesting comments! Yes I do think that the "commercial" aspect plays a bit into it, which is also probably why they play it safe emotion-wise. They want to appeal to as large of an audience as possible without alienating readers …

  5. I LOVE it when people compare covers from different countries.
    SO fun.

  6. I'm not American, but I think I like the US covers in most of these examples! Except for UNEARTHLY. I've never been keen on that monotone cover. I'd be more likely to pick up the second one, with the red dress. Oh, and The Hunger Games too. I'm used to US covers now, but if I saw all the versions now for the first time I'd probably pick the one on the far right.
    I do find it fascinating that they design different covers for different countries!

  7. This is so fascinating to me! I've never seen a lot of these other covers from different countries. The American cover for A Great and Terrible Beauty is the best, for me. But I'm with you on the fourth one for Paranormalcy. I like that one better. So interesting!

  8. Rachel – It's interesting to get someone's opinion who isn't from the US. You say you're used to them, which means there's enough of a difference in taste that it takes some getting used to. Hmmmm!

  9. My husband and I were having a discussion on covers earlier today. He didn't believe me that a lot of people pick up books based on the covers. He said he'll buy a book based on review. He doesn't read fiction. I explained that in order for readers of fiction to check out a blurb or a review, the cover often has to appeal to us first.

    I'm the same as you when it came to The Hunger Games. The cover didn't appeal to me, but neither did the blurb. It was only when so many of my friends said I had to read it that I finally gave it a chance. And loved it!

  10. Wow, such an interesting topic! You know, I prefer a lot of foreign covers to American covers. Our covers are often so bland and generic… I guess once they figure out what sells, they keep churning out similar images. Agree with you on the Hunger Games covers – they were definitely trying to make it gender-neutral, which is what #2 and #4 from the left def weren't.

  11. Stina – I think the fact that he doesn't read fiction is probably why it's so different. For fiction, the cover is very important (in my opinion). I was the same with the Hunger Games. I kept saying that it didn't sound like my thing (kids trying to kill each other a la gladiator? No thanks!) But I enjoyed the book when I read it. I didn't like the end of the series as much since it seemed like such a downer, but I don't think the covers helped anyone pick up those books who hadn't heard of them beforehand.

  12. I love the different covers – it tells a lot about the target audience. My preference here changed between the US versions and the other ones. So hard to decide!

  13. I do the same thing! It's interesting how different the covers are. Some of them are way off.

    Thanks for this post!

  14. I love a nice book cover, so I loved this post. 🙂

    I'll admit, I haven't read the Hunger Games yet. I agree that the U.S. cover isn't that appealing to me, but I like the one on the far right much more.

  15. It's funny to me how many of us liked the Hunger Games cover on the far right, since even though it wasn't the American cover, I think it has our typical cover look.

  16. This was fun. I enjoy looking at cover differences across countries. It's still hard figuring out how to look through the lens of someone from another culture. I also kept changing my mind looking at these.

  17. I guess they figure different countries have different tastes.

    While driving a long distance to a wedding a few years back I noticed that the advertising differed in style even from state to state.

    Honestly, I don't care much about book covers. Maybe it's my age. I know design styles come and go.

    I think the only book covers that make me want to look at the book are the the two Graceling covers on the left at the top. And that's because they remind me of a character of my own.

    I finally got a blog set up. I ended up going back to Blogger Custom Domains by DNS. Which means they'll probably discontinue that service either later this year or next. I ended up putting the Follower gadget on it, though further down, because a couple of people said that was their main method of following. I'm still working on the background and adding things.

  18. I tend to judge books by their covers too. I think we all do it. We are more likely to pick up a random book off the shelf if it's pretty, right? I know I am. 🙂

  19. I liked the American version of Hunger Games. I like that the cover is more masculine. I get sick of the girls in fancy dresses on every cover. I also like that boys won't be afraid to carry it around.
    It took me a long time to read Graceling because it looked too high fantasy. I prefer the cover with the hair in the bun.
    I like the American version of Paranormalcy – the others don't fit the main character to me.
    I haven't read Before I fall, but I don't like covers with dead girls on the front. I think I prefer the last one.

    I haven't read the last two and the covers and none of the covers interest me at all. Well maybe the first Great and Terrible beauty. I tried to read that book, but didn't like it.

  20. Mary Anne – Really? Just from state to state? Yeesh. No wonder marketing is so hard! Glad you got your blog to work!

    Kimberly – That explains why there are so many YA covers with pretty girls on the covers … 😉

    T – Some covers are certainly starting to blend together because they are so similar. And I'm with you on A Great and Terrible Beauty – I couldn't finish that book. Anyway, I don't know who you are, and your profile is set to private, but thanks for stopping by!

  21. Hey Tiana – the "t" commenter was me. I was signed into the wrong account. Lol

  22. Cool post!! Nice blog too!! Keep up the good work!! You are invited to check out or follow my blog anytime!! Have a great day!!!

  23. Cool post!! Nice blog too!! Keep up the good work!! You are invited to check out or follow my blog anytime!! Have a great day!!!

  24. I used to think I was the least-judgmental person when it came to book buying. I never buy books based on the cover design – unless the only thing on the jacket is praise for some other book the author has written, in which case I don't care how acclaimed your book is, I probably won't buy it (is that wrong of me?) But maybe that's because I'm generally not interested in American jacket designs, as your post has just shown me. They really do seem to be appealing to the broadest cross-section. By comparing the US covers to Int'l ones, even knowing the content is the same, I would be hard-pressed to buy the American book because the cover is just not interesting. So maybe I do judge books by their cover, I just didn't know it until now…

  25. Oh, that second Graceling cover! I love that book, but I almost didn't pick it up because I found the American cover so bland and uninformative. The second cover is much more evocative of the story.

  26. What constitutes generic? Let me tell you MY generic: it's all the white women on every one of the covers, US or not. More emotion, less emotion, very feminine or slightly masculine: they're all relatively similar racially, physically, and stylistically. The HUNGER GAMES cover sidesteps that problem (important given the book's non-white and male characters). It has a wider appeal, not just to boys but to females who don't fit the mold. In my opinion, it's a more inclusive choice. Scholastic was wise…and the sales attest to that.

  27. Very interesting topic 🙂 I did not realize there was such a variance in the cover art.

  28. Karenatasha – I agree that there is often "whitewashing" in cover design. I think a lot of publishing houses are trying to rectify this, but there are sadly a large number of books that feature a white model on the cover even though the book mentions them as being a different race. You make a good point that the Hunger Games cover avoids this issue in its design.

  29. Books sold in foreign countries are actually published by different publishers than the original US one. When the rights are sold to them, they do not include the cover art, so those publishers must create a new cover for the book whether they want to or not. It's interesting to see that sometimes they go in the same direction as the US publisher, while other times they obviously feel a different approach will work better for their target audience. Thanks for an interesting post on this topic!

  30. Great post. I am also cover obsessed!

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