Book Covers: The Good, The Bad, and The Duplicative

"You can't judge a book by its cover" might apply to people, but it probably doesn't apply to books.

Book Covers: The Good, The Bad, and The Duplicative

by Josh Trapani

“You can’t judge a book by its cover,” goes the old cliché. The saying is often applied to people, too, and may actually be truer for them than for books. After all, if book covers don’t convey information about what’s inside, why bother with them at all, especially in this electronic age? Self-published books, as a generalization, are already infamous for having bad covers.

What makes book cover art good or bad? Check out this slideshow from the New York Times of some of the best covers of 2012. One theme seems to be elegant simplicity. Most of these are eye-catching and embody something subtle about the subject matter of the books. Many of them wouldn’t look bad up on the wall. Many focus either on text or on patterns and shapes.



You may use one of the above as the cover for your new romance novel. Choose carefully.


I agree that most of the covers chosen by the New York Times are amazing, but this can’t be the whole story. For example, the cover of The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien, below, is a straightforward picture of a person, yet manages to capture the gray atmosphere of the tale without descending into the gaudiness of many fantasy genre covers.

On the flip side, the cover of Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story is a simple
pattern that strikes me as very poorly done. Not only could I duplicate this
cover myself on Powerpoint in about 15 minutes, but it reminds me of the Milton-Bradley
(now Hasbro) game Twister.


You want bad book covers? Publishers Weekly has one.
This site has a whole lot of them,
as does this
. In fact, you don’t need me for this part: go ahead and google “worst
book covers” and while away a whole afternoon looking at astonishingly bad
covers (though there is a distinction to be made between a bad cover and just a
badly-conceived book or title: there ain’t no way anyone’s making a good cover
for a book titled The Best Dad Is A Good


Even worse than bad covers, in a way, are covers that don’t
even attempt to be original. This
compiles instances of different books with covers that seem … hmmm,
awfully similar. I would feel less bad for the authors if the publishers had
chosen well-known covers to essentially copy. It might lead to some additional,
even if accidental, book sales.

Readers, do you have any favorite covers?
Are there any horrible covers you’d like to share? What do you think makes a cover good
or bad? And, when you’re browsing a book story, do you ever judge a book by its


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