A Book by its Cover

Imagine you are a typical book lover browsing the aisles (or website) of your favourite bookseller. If you aren’t seeking a specific title or author, what is it that draws you to pick up and flip through a book that you’ve never heard of? Yes it’s true that you probably won’t buy the book until you read the blurb or the first page, but before any of that happens, most readers are drawn to a book by two things: its title and its cover art.

For instance, in the West the current appetite for supernatural themes in young adult literature means that titles with the words “witch” or “spirit” may draw in readers. However, here in Nigeria such words simply would not fly. Because of the power of conservative religious belief systems, there is a heightened awareness of supernatural themes and it is usually negative.

In one particular example, sales one of our books – which had a title that referred to a traditional belief – have suffered partly because parents avoided buying it and discouraged their children from reading it.

Whether we will admit it or not, we judge books by their covers all the time. Authors concerned that their stories are being misrepresented and some publishers eager to march into the “global rights” future may argue this, but the fact remains.

Thus, publishers spend a great deal of time crafting the perfect covers for their books. The problem is that what works in one market or culture will not necessarily work in another. As agent Ginger Clark points out: “Sometimes, it’s one cover fits all. A lot of the time, though, it’s not.”

For great examples of books whose covers have sold their content, check out this site. And this.

And for some hilarious examples of where they have not, check this out.


  • I usually would not pick a book with a photographic cover, say a picture taken from a movie adaptation with the characters in the movie at the back. These characters prevent me from forming my own characters during reading.

    Covers do count.

    Posted by Nana Fredua-Agyeman on June 30, 2011

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