Reader Friday: Book Covers

Do you judge a book by its cover?

Do you like fancy covers with sprayed edges? Leather bound covers? Or do you like simple covers?

Does your answer change if it’s nonfiction? If so, how?

Name a favorite book cover and why it speaks to you. Remember, we’re talking only the cover, not the story inside.


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About Sue Coletta

Sue Coletta is an award-winning crime writer and an active member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. Feedspot and named her Murder Blog as “Best 100 Crime Blogs on the Net.” She also blogs at the Kill Zone (Writer's Digest "101 Best Websites for Writers") and Writers Helping Writers. Sue lives with her husband in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. Her backlist includes psychological thrillers, the Mayhem Series (books 1-3) and Grafton County Series, and true crime/narrative nonfiction. Now, she exclusively writes eco-thrillers, Mayhem Series (books 4-7 and continuing). Sue's appeared on the Emmy award-winning true crime series, Storm of Suspicion, and three episodes of A Time to Kill on Investigation Discovery. Learn more about Sue and her books at

40 thoughts on “Reader Friday: Book Covers

  1. I have two – The Wolf’s Hour – black background with the werewolf in a circle looking up – gave me chills before I even read the thing.

    Airs Above the Ground – blue background with white Lippizans galloping across the cover. Beautiful, elegant just like the story.

  2. Definitely judge a book by it’s cover. It’s a one-stop shopping tool that I use when looking for books. A quick glance at the cover helps me immediately rule out a book by who/what is on the cover or, if it grabs my attention, I’ll then take a look at the blurb to see if that grabs me.

    Don’t particularly care about the details of the cover design per se–i.e.sprayed edges etc. I just want the cover to give me a fast idea of the content of the book. Don’t have time to mess around. 😎

    Thankful to say that most of the time, the cover design the author chose is not misleading about the book, because if I do feel misled, chances are, I won’t be reading that author again.

    The only time I might go for a fancier cover is on non-fic. I periodically collect historical reference books on various topics of 19th century America. Occasionally, one of those might be leather-bound, which is cool. But frankly I’d just rather it be a simple cover design and printing so that I can afford to keep adding to my reference collection.

    Can’t think of a knock-my-socks-off example of a fiction book cover.

    • Makes perfect sense, Brenda. The cover should give a hint at the story inside.

      Yeah, the leather-bound books are cool, but super expensive.

  3. A retro-style cover with art deco or post-World War II noir always catches my attention. Don’t care for covers that are too busy and fussy. Prefer a clean, simple, spare style with a dramatic font.

    For nonfiction, the most important element is a straightforward title and subtitle that explains what the book is about and why I need to read it.

    • Too busy is a problem, I agree, Debbie. A striking font makes all the difference. Doesn’t it? We shouldn’t have to search for the author’s name.

  4. The most striking cover I ever saw was on the new release table at Crown Books. It was a hardcover that was hot orange background. In a black, mystery type font, off to side and not too big, was the title. No author name. No blurbs. Just the color and title. It popped in relation to all the other books on the table because of its simplicity. It was brilliant counter marketing, guaranteeing that a browser’s eye would be attracted to it.

    I immediately picked it up and read the opening pages. They pulled me in, just like we teach here with our first page critiques. I bought the book, and the rest of it was just as brilliant. That cover turned a browser into a reader; the book turned a reader into a fan.

    Yes, covers are crucially important.

    Oh yeah, the book was Tell No One by a guy named Coben.

  5. I do judge a book by its cover, mainly to learn the genre.

    I don’t care about fancy covers. I have to admit that I had to google “sprayed edges” where I found (“…for those not in the know…”) that I’m not in the know. Simple is fine with me. Fancy covers IMHO seem like a constant one-upmanship, with an ever escalating marketing race of “hey, look at me.” Next they’ll have flashing lights on the spine.

    For nonfiction, I want bold lettering on the spine that stands out, so I can find the book in my shelves.

    I don’t really have a favorite cover. But, as I looked through my books, one did tell me to pick it up – My Life and Hard Times, James Thurber, Bantam Books/Special Edition, paperback, illustrated by the author. The front cover has the title and author in simple font. The illustration by the author is a simple line drawing of an old man in a chair, falling asleep. Now, that’s a book cover.

    Thanks for the exercise, Sue, and teaching me about sprayed edges. I hope your weekend is simple or fancy, your choice.

    • Hahaha. Most of the time I’m not “in the know” either, Steve, so don’t feel bad. I only learned of sprayed edges a few weeks ago. 😉

      Excellent point about the spines of nonfiction. Agreed. I don’t want to scan endless bookshelves for the title. It needs to jump off the spine for easy access. Garry sent me an awesome autopsy reference book that I love. But dang it if I don’t spend endless time searching for it. They used white lettering against a light-colored spine and the title blends into the background. Now I keep it face-up next to my desk.

      Thanks, Steve! Hope you have a nice weekend!

  6. Sue!

    I pay absolutely no attention to book covers.

    That said, my favorite book cover is whatever graces the latest release from Hard Case Crime. They are very much of the post-WWII style that Debbie noted.

    Hope you have a great weekend, Sue!

    • Really, Joe? Wow. I never expected that answer. You’re a breath of fresh air, SJ. xo

      Thanks. Hope you have an amazing weekend, my friend!

  7. Happy Friday, Sue! Great topic for Reader Friday. I do judge a book by its cover. A bad cover can give a wrong first impression. Covers need to reflect the genre/tone/premise of a novel. A fancy cover in terms of foil etc may make the book stand out, but overall, aren’t a big deal to me personally, especially since I purchase most of my fiction in eBook format.

    For Non-fiction, simpler is better, with a font that evokes the topic. Many of the histories of Ancient Rome I’ve read have a ruin or a bust on the cover, for instance, an no other imagery.

    I really like the cover for the 2017 University of Chicago edition of “Letters on Ethics: To Lucilius (The Complete Works of Lucius Annaeus Seneca)”. The background is cerulean blue. In large, black hand drawn still letters are “SE”, followed by NE below, and CA below that. In a much smaller, modern white font between “SE” and “NE” is “Lucius Annaeus Seneca”, and then between “NE” and “CA” is “Letters on Ethics,” in the same small, modern white font, but italicized.

    For a non-fiction book on a philosophical topic, this one was a stand out.

    Have a wonderful weekend.

    • That sounds like a great cover, Dale. I can see why it stood out. Like you, I buy mostly ebooks for fiction, so the fancy schmancy stuff doesn’t work on me.

      Wishing you an amazing weekend, my friend!

    • Seneca is worth reading. Alas, it’s been so long, I can only remember one phrase: “Noli admirari, Rufe, quare tibi femina nulla…” and so on, (something Rufus’s B.O.)

  8. I can’t remember a book cover that stuck with me. It’s been so long since I’ve been in a brick and mortar bookstore, or in a physical store of any kind. Most of my books are on my iPad mini. Probably 90% of the time, I buy a book because of the author. If you asked me to describe any covers on books by favorite authors, I’d draw a blank.
    When I judged the Edgars, all the covers looked the same after a while. Same font, block letters, all caps.
    My least favorite covers are the cluttered ones so popular with SciFi/Fantasy. I read very little of that genre now, so just because they don’t work for me doesn’t mean they don’t work for their target audience.
    That being said, I labor over finding the right cover that will give readers a clue about what they’ll find inside. One that can stand up in thumbnail on the e-store websites.

    • I’m with you about so many cluttered SF/Fantasy covers these days. Indie-published is especially prone to this. This is one area where I think tradpub is doing better. For example, the print edition of Kim Stanley Robinson’s “The Ministry for the Future,” has a striking, simple image.

    • It’s funny you say you’d draw a blank on a favorite cover, Terry. When I wrote this question I thought about my answer, and I couldn’t recall a standout either. I do judge a book by its cover, but apparently, I forget them just as fast. LOL

  9. The most striking cover I can remember was for THE ALIENIST by Caleb Carr. It perfectly captured the feel of the NYC underworld c 1900. Plus, I loved the book.

  10. A good cover definitely catches my eye and occasionally my wallet. Although I can’t name a book I bought right now based solely on it’s cover. I am a sucker for a good font.

    Modern fancy covers, gilt edges, leather or leather look, tend to be rip offs. Historical leather covers were the thing 100 -125 years ago for “real books”.

    If you like covers, makes wallets that look like books. I have a Sherlock Holmes and love it. Has original and modern pulp covers. I will tell you now, some are R rated.

  11. Many years ago I spent a month in Israel. Our bus driver was reading a paperback with a solid bubble gum pink cover with a one word (in Hebrew) title. The text was bright yellow. We all figured he was reading porn. Then a few of us started trying to figure out the title. He was reading “The Betsy” by Harold Robbins.

  12. The cleverest one I’ve seen is “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.” The cover is a white background with what appear to be bookshelves containing lots of books — all yellow, spine out. The title is a casual large font. So far, not so interesting. But when you take the book into a dark room, the “books” turn green and glow in the dark. The writing disappears.

    I thought maybe it was some kind of code, but if it is, I couldn’t figure it out.

  13. For me, the cover artwork is about identifying the genre or subgenre of the book. When I was doing library runs for my mom, it was a very handy first clue whether I’d read the cover copy or not. The quality of the artwork itself has nothing to do with choosing the book. The cover copy does.

  14. Do you judge a book by its cover? To some extent. It’s complicated. I might admire a cover but not buy the book.
    Do you like fancy covers with sprayed edges? No, but my cat likes them a lot.
    Leather bound covers? For esthetic reasons, yes, but not to own.
    Or do you like simple covers? Sometimes.
    Does your answer change if it’s nonfiction? If so, how? Yeah, simpler is usually better for n-f, tho I’ve seen some really nifty n-f covers.
    Name a favorite book cover and why it speaks to you. Among a compilation of covers, I found this little gem:
    It’s just so clever, I loved it. I may do something similar, sometime. I haven’t been able to find a copy on Amazon, unf. I don’t read Portuguese, but I might buy one just for the cover.

    Derek Murphy is a cover guru that I follow from time to time. He has good thoughts on covers, including endorsing cliches–nothing tells you what a book is about faster than a cliche cover, and that’s the objective.

  15. The Bodley Head first edition of ‘Rough Cider’ by Peter Lovesey is worth Googling.

  16. Hey – way, way late to dinner tonight, Sue. Best cover compliment I ever had was a dear reader making a brown paper sack to hide the cover of my book – the image freaked her out that much… but she five-starred the story.

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