Things That Make Me Put Books Back: The Cover


You know how, when you’re looking at a book for the first time to see if it’s something that you’d like to read, you go through a mental checklist of book elements, from the cover, to the synopsis on the back? And if these elements aren’t quite right, you might not even consider taking the book home with you? I do this all the time. And when it comes to my process, I have quite a defined checklist to help me sort through the mountains of possibilities. Of course, not every element has to be absolutely right for me to read the book, but there are quite a few elements that influence whether or not I’m going to take that book home with me. Today I thought I’d share some of the elements on the cover that can put me off a book.

The Spine

Is there actually a title on this spine? If I can’t see at a glance what a book is called then I’m not likely to make the extra effort to pick up a book I may not even like just to see what the title is. Instant rejection. Sorry book. I be a lazy little bookworm.

Author’s name or title? Seriously, does it bother anyone else when the author’s name is larger than the title so you think that the book is actually called Mary Smith? This is only made worse when the book title is also a person’s name, so you’re left guessing which is the title?

What is that word anyway? Fancy fonts that look great on the front cover don’t always work when you shrink them down. I get eyestrain just trying to work these titles out. If I can’t tell whether the word is ‘Conspiracy’ or ‘Corruption’ then Houston, we’ve got a problem.

The Front Cover

Solid colours aren’t a solid bet. Unless you’re doing something special with the book, having a monochrome colour for your cover is probably not the best decision. The sad truth is, I judge books by their covers. The prettier the cover, the more likely I’m going to pick it up and stroke it for a while. Books are artworks, so cover them properly!

Give that cover some spice, girl. Bland designs are an instant turn off. Single pattern covers aren’t always a safe way to go. Sure, a checked background like a gingham dress can be effective, but if there’s nothing else to make this cover pop then I’m going pop off and leave you to yourself, sorry book.

What is that picture?! If the cover has been reasonably well designed, then the picture is likely to give me a good idea of what’s on the inside. And if I don’t like what that picture is suggesting, like shirtless romantic men or blood dripping down a darkened building that screams vampire at me, then you’re going back where you came from. This isn’t a design issue so much as a warning that the book isn’t going to be something I like. 

The Title

What is that word (again)? I can sometimes forgive unreadable text on the spine. I mean, it is a teeny weeny space to write in. But if I can’t read your title when it’s blown up huge on the front cover, boy, we’ve got issues. Are you really going to make me flip to the title page on the inside to find out what you called this book? I be a lazy reader. I’m not doing that.

Fussy fonts aren’t fabulous. I love a good font, I really do. And there are some great fancy fonts out there that work really well on covers. But if you’ve got a beautifully simple cover and have slapped a curly wiggly font on top of that, then we have issues. Or those really tacky handwritten ones that look like they were written by a five year old with a crayon. Let’s keep this professional, shall we?

Can we talk colour? Colour is eye catching. Colour is awesome. Colour can make or break a cover. But if you’re going to put a pink title on an orange background like one of those colour-blindness tests then forgive me if I’m not going to take the time to squint sideways and work out what this thing says.

Back Cover Text

Colour me confused. As an honourable mention, one pet peeve about back cover text, without even getting into what the text actually says. Like front cover titles, what’s with the colour? Colour can work really well. But if you’re going to give me a handwritten font in illegible pink on patterned paper then excuse me if I can’t be bothered to work out what this book is about. Return to the shelf from whence you came!

These are some of the things on a cover that can make me want to put a book back. I have loads of ideas for one about back cover copy. Let me know if you’d like to see a second part to this post! And tell me, what kind of cover design issues make you put a book back on the shelf? Agree with any of these? What is your pet peeve?

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  1. I agree completely. I HATE giant author names, blah! I am very bad with judging by the cover :/

    1. It gets so confusing, doesn't it? Picking books from covers can be very difficult, especially when there's a good cover designer involved. Thanks for stopping by, Stefanie.

  2. I totally agree and I can say that covers, colours and fonts are largely responsible for whether I will buy the book or not. I need to fall in love with the cover at first sight. I'm afraid that at times I've been totally deceived by an amazing cover into buying an awful book, which led me to think that sometimes cover artists are much better storytellers than writers.

    I'd say that one of my pet peeves are the photos of modern men and women forced into historical clothes and looking totally fake and out of place with an old mansion or a large estate in the background. Their expressions, hairstyles, poses - everything is wrong.

    I know that authors don't usually have power over the covers and the publisher will approve the cover that is more likely to make people buy the book. Apparently, such covers for romantic novels are all the rage.

    1. I totally understand that. Cover are so important to the appeal of a book. I very rarely pick up a book with a badly designed cover, even though I know that practically, you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Good books have bland covers and bad ones have really good ones. But I'd still rather get a book that's nice to look at and risk the story being a bit meg for some reason.

      Oh, that's a good pet peeve. There are so many ways to get historical costumes and settings right, and as soon as you know anything about the era it's so annoying to see the mistakes, isn't it?

  3. I'm going to talk about back covers. I haaaaaate when there is no description about the book on the back cover. When its review after review, but I cant get a simple synopsis, I hate that. I wanna throw the book.The onlllllly book this ever made me giggle for was the one by Ellen Degeneres. And the way she did it was priceless.. Granted, I still didn't read thebook. >.< I dont really liiiiike autobiographies.. but that made me more likely to read it.

    I know you're talking about physical books, but I'm gonna mention ebooks as well. When the synopsis for an ebook contains "X amount of reviews!" "hundreds of sales!" I groan and walk away. Or when in that itty bitty description it goes on to tell me the author is "best selling" by x and y place.. I hate to say it, that's not gonna turn me onto the book. Why? Because obviously I'm attracted to th title/bookcover. I need to know what the book is about if I'm planning on buying it vs. the thousands of other ebooks out there (especially when we're talking about selfpublishing now, and all those free ebooks and 99cent ones...) To me, this is taking the 5 sentences that you can be using to sell the story to me, and cutting it down to mayyybe 1-2 sentences.

    1. I know! I mean, the endorsements are interesting, but I wanna know what the book is about. The story is the selling point, not what some other person said about the book. And it's definitely just as frustrating when it's an ebook. I think it's good to know that other people like it, but if that's the whole selling point and there's no synopsis selling the actual plot, then I for one don't feel like reading. Thanks for commenting, Jos!

  4. It is totally my pet peeve when I can't read the fonts! Handwritten fonts are only pretty when they're legible!

    Also, this might be bad of me, but I tend to put back the books that have that typical self-published cover. I'm sure some of them are really great, but if the cover looks like you made it in MS paint in 1995, then I probably won't grab it.

    Fun post! I really like hearing how other people feel about covers:)

    1. Me too! The outside of a book is so important to whether I decide to take it or not, even though I know that the inside and the outside are two different thing and often designed by two different people. I've also found that, in my admittedly limited experience with adult books, the covers are less eye-catching tha for YA, which made me wonder if that's really a thing with adult books and if cover design is less of a thing for adult novels. Hmm, maybe something to look into, what do you think?

  5. This is a neat discussion! I look forward to more of these and YES it does bother me when the author's name is bigger than the title! That annoys me so much. XD And weird shirtless or creepy pictures both me as well.

    1. It's so hard to figure out which is which when the author's name is so big, isn't it? I don't even think that it's selling the book better on the strength of an author's name. I mean, personally I pick up books based on the strength of the author's name, but I still like to see the title easily. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. These are my thoughts exactly! *nods* Covers can be so off-putting, and I judge books by their cover all the time. Part of reading, for me, is the visual aspect. So if I don't even like looking at the book I'm reading, that's a big problem, and it will most likely have a negative impact on my experience with the story, as sad as that is.

    The color thing is especially a big issue for me. If the cover screams tacky, I am going to be less likely to take the book seriously. But if the book cover is a work of art, my brain likes to think the cover artist was especially in love with the story and that maybe that is a good indication of the book's quality. *shrugs*

    Books with shirtless hunks are awful. *shakes head* I just, I can't even bear the thought of being seen reading one of those. I would judge myself for reading a book with a lousy cover. *nods* I am an awfully shallow bookworm. :P But honestly, there are so many books out there, and as sad as it is that I will likely miss some great ones, I do have to have a system of some sort to decide which books I want to read and which ones I just don't have time for. And since I enjoy nice book covers, then that is what I look for most often. :P

    Thanks so much for sharing! This post was fabulous, as always. :)

    1. Oh, I love the way you put that. "So if I don't even like looking at the book I'm reading, that's a big problem". That's EXACTLY how I feel. The look of a book is so, so important that way. I have to admit, I equate the outside of a book with the inside so often. Like, there's a subconscious belief in my mind when I'm browsing shelves that a book that doesn't look nice on the outside won't be a good read. Which isn't true, but still, the prettier covers are still the nicest to take home. And you're so right, with the amount of books out there, you really do have to have a system for deciding which ones to read. Thanks so much for stopping by, Liz. I always enjoy discussing things with you!


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