Judging a Cover by its Book

Elephants Would Have Been an Improvement
Just as my perception of another person’s beauty can change once I get to know them, my appreciation for cover art often changes after I’ve read the book. The covers of books that are a mismatch for my personality look uglier, while those that are a better fit look prettier.

With Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus (2011), for example, it was “love at first sight.” I thought Helen Musselwhite’s whimsical paper-art illustration was stunning. As I’ve said before (in Cover Art: What Does it Say about the Book?), the cover design is one of several factors I weigh when making my purchasing decisions. In this case, The Night Circus’ cover art and its mostly positive reviews overcame its relatively steep ebook price (I prefer ebooks, even though in this case it is slightly more expensive than the paperback). I bought the book and read it eagerly … only to be disappointed. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Since posting my comments about the book (in Magic in Manhattan), I have come across a few more book blogger reviews (including this positive one, this positive one, and this mixed one). I’m always interested to hear differing opinions on books I have read, but it rarely sways me. Now, with my mind made up about The Night Circus, I just can’t look at the cover the way I did before. The dull story sapped the cover’s magic, rendering the art as stiff as the characters in the novel.

In terms of sales figures, it doesn’t matter what I think of the cover art now that I’ve purchased the book. The ebook is mine to keep, for better or for worse. I can’t quite bring myself to delete it.

For those interested in cover art, here are two links:


  1. It really bothers me when I love the cover of a book but I know I’ll likely not be interested in the story. Attractive covers are so enticing!! (I guess that’s the point, right?) 😉

    BTW, thanks for your comment on my blog. It’s nice to hear from other preemie moms. Your girls are all just beautiful!

  2. I was really attracted to the cover of The Night Circus, too, and have friends who love the novel. I read the first chapter of a friend’s copy and was not overly impressed, so I decided to pass for the time being. I definitely see what you’re getting at about some covers not matching their books, even the other way around. I actually passed by Where’d You Go, Bernadette? several times because of it’s cover, but now I’m hearing fantastic things about it and feel like I need to catch up.

  3. I love the cover art for the Night Circus, but when I read the first few pages at Barns & Nobles, I couldn’t get into the writing style. I don’t think I’ve ever stopped liking the cover art of a book when the story was disappointing, but I do appreciate the cover art a lot more when the story totally blows my mind.

    1. Many people loved this book, but I think you dodged a bullet. I can’t recall whether I read the sample before I purchased it. I wasn’t fond of the writing style either, but my bigger problems with it came later (the fact that nothing happens for the longest time).

  4. I absolutely loved The Night Circus – even though everything about it went against what I usually like in a book!

    The cover is extremely striking – very very strong. I can still get swayed by a pretty cover, but not quite so much these days. With the Kindle, you don’t see the cover as often…which is a shame, but also takes away that tendency to have your opinion swayed by it 😉

    1. It is sad that we don’t get to enjoy cover art and design as much with ebooks, but I am glad that The Night Circus ebook isn’t lying around my house! I noticed my feelings about the cover had changed because it keeps popping up on the blogs I read. Thanks for commenting!

  5. I love a good cover, too, and I can certainly think of times when I enjoyed the cover more than the book itself! I haven’t read The Night Circus, but I’ve also been in the vocal minority about books that everyone else has loved but me not so much. Hopefully you can still appreciate the cover for what it is without it just being a reminder of your disappointment with the book’s content.

    1. I’m definitely in the minority on The Night Circus, but I stand by my views! It just wasn’t for me. I’m glad it’s on my kindle, buried beneath other titles, and not lying around my house. Thanks for the comment!

  6. Hated to admit that cover art or book jackets sway my selection but you changed my way of thinking. They are important!

    1. Yes, the cover is important. Ideally, the it sets the tone for the book (but it doesn’t always work out that way). Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Too bad the book’s contents did not meet your expectations. I too like a good book cover, but I have to say my first reason to buy a book is because I really want to and second more than likely because someone highly recommended it to me. I am finishing a book now that is just so so, but I am getting some good out of it so it is not a complete waste of my time. Interesting your reaction about book covers for sure. Is this only for fiction you think? or would nonfiction apply too?

    1. Hi Alesia! I suspect I wouldn’t have the same reaction with bad nonfiction because the cover is less of a factor when I select nonfiction. I read nonfiction because I want to know more about a particular subject–it doesn’t really matter what the cover looks like. With fiction, I expect (rightly or wrongly) the cover to set the tone for the book, making the cover art and design more important.

  8. When in high school, I thought I would go into art and do record album covers and book covers. I was always interested in this kind of art and often admire the cover art on books. It was the combination of art and graphics that interested me. So I went into advertising to fill this need, but wanting more, went to 3-D with architecture. Book covers are advertising and without a beautiful cover to catch one’s eye, a store loses that point of purchase sale. The customer that reads a review or follows an author would buy the book anyway.

    1. Yeah, books covers are part of the advertising package. Unless the reviews are outstanding or there is another factor weighing in favor of buying the book, it’s sometimes hard to overlook a hideous cover. I bet you would design wonderful covers–you have such a good eye.

  9. I wonder if the cover art plays a different role with e-books than it does with regular books. In a bookstore, many covers catch my eye, but I can usually skim enough of the book to see (incompletely, of course, as you say above) whether the whole text will disappoint me or not. (In fact, there’s maybe another discussion point: whether reading a part of a book, say, a chapter, is an adequate measure of the whole book.) I know some e-books offer samples of the text, but as I haven’t bought an e-book yet (I don’t have an e-reader or tablet and haven’t yet been persuaded that I need one). How would you say the cover art plays a role in your e-book purchases?

    1. Almost all of my purchases are ebooks, and the cover art still plays a role in my decision-making. I mentioned ebooks in this post from the summer: https://misfortuneofknowing.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/cover-art-what-does-it-say-about-the-book/. Often, it’s the cover that first catches my eye when I’m browsing for books. I love being able to read the first chapter of an ebook, but I probably won’t bother with the first chapter if I dislike the cover art (unless the reviews are outstanding or there’s some other weighty reason to try out the book).

      Thankfully, I won’t see an ebook I disliked lying around my house, but the Morgenstern cover keeps showing up on my WordPress and Google readers (which is why I realized that my feelings for the cover had changed).

  10. It’s kind of a two-edged sword, isn’t it? If your cover sucks, people might not take a look. But if your cover is awesome, that doesn’t mean your story is. I look at book covers as more the guy on the street corner dancing with the sign. They draw your attention (or they can) but you should still see where the sign is directing you before committing to going in. Sometimes you can tell if a story will be junk, other times not. But it’s so true that good art works for you marketing wise. Not even good art necessarily, just an attractive design. Of course, I’m a graphic designer, so design is always important to me. 😉

    1. Very true. The cover is one factor–one that is hard to resist sometimes. Morgenstern’s book also had (and still receives) many positive reviews. I’m in a vocal minority, and so for me, it’s a matter of finding other reviewers who share my taste.

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