You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – or at least that’s what they say. Looking past the outside is supposed to help avoid superficial feelings and wronged expectations, and even develop a deeper understanding of the story. The truth, however, is that the work that is put into the design of a book cover is just as important, detailed, and crucial to the content as the text. So, you definitely should judge a book by its cover.
Book covers are not just slapped onto the pages arbitrarily. Every novel, short story collection, poetry book, memoir, every book you find displayed in windows and on Waterstones’ tables is the result of countless meetings between marketing teams and designers and has had previous covers rejected and replaced; the one you see now was chosen for a reason.
Whether the designers opt for conceptual art, for something abstract or something very obviously related to the story, the cover of a book does not just evoke its content—it enhances it. Covers give readers a sense of what to expect from the book, and whilst this can be misleading, it is never just limited to one interpretation. Visual play with association can help point curious bookshop browsers in the right direction, following the lead of other famous books in the same genre. Even books that have completely strange and unique covers, and whose designers seemingly think outside the box, are being marketed to a certain kind of audience: those readers who are tired of books that all look the same, and probably of stories that all sound the same as well.
When it comes to classics, book covers take on a whole new dimension. Suddenly it’s not just about representing the text for the right kind of audience, but about pleasing readers of all ages, who are coming to the book for various different reasons, while remaining truthful to the original. Some publishers go for basic covers, with mere typography on a coloured background; some choose to include paintings that supposedly represent the atmosphere or the era the story is set in; some come up with completely new and different ideas. Throughout the history of printed literature, all sorts of classics have had various different covers, and not a single one has ever not been controversial. But each one of them was chosen with careful consideration, and they all help the story shine in their own way.