Although we’ve all heard the adage that you shouldn’t judge a book on its cover, I beg to disagree. I think that the cover is indeed an important attribute to a book and that you will judge it before reading it. Obviously, some covers will tell you more and some will tell you less (or nothing, as is the case with hard cover books missing their jackets). And not only do you judge the book, other people who may see you reading judge the book, too.
This isn’t something I thought about too much before taking my young adult materials course. We were reading Judy Blume’s Forever . . . which is one of those “classic” titles of teendom. Within my class of about 11 people, the currently available copy of book had three covers, and each of these covers portrayed something entirely different about the book.
What does this cover suggest? To me, it’s reminiscent of many titles currently on the market. It reminds me a lot of the Sarah Dessen or the Jennifer Weiner covers in particular. Sweet with a definite bent for teens or young adults. When I shuffled through the used books at the bookstore, this was the copy I chose because it was most appealing to me (and as I found out, probably most relevant to the story itself).
This one’s pretty basic as well. It’s very similar to the recent cover from Sarah Dessen’s Lock and Key (seen here). The cover doesn’t tell you much about the story, but it’s also discrete enough to carry around anywhere and no one will really know what sort of book you are reading. The first cover, on the other hand, definitely looks like it’s a teen book or a book for the younger 20-something crowd. This one could scream romance, I suppose, but since there are no pictures of people or places, it isn’t too obvious. Moreover, the benefit of a cover like this is that it allows the reader to imagine everything for themselves; the publisher hasn’t given us an idea of what the main character looks like. The downfall, however, is that the book’s physical appearance isn’t memorable.
What says steamy romance more than the trade paperback size, red cover, and envelope with a lipstick kiss? Talk about a totally different message than the first book cover; in fact, this cover screams everything that the first cover doesn’t — this isn’t a sweet romance but rather a hot and heavy lust-driven book. Obviously, that sort of cover appeals to an entirely different audience than the first, even though the book is the same. It seems to me that inevitably, one group of readers will be disappointed to discover that it’s not what they were lead to believe it is based on the cover.
The cover images, the font (notice the first doesn’t capitalize Blume’s name and the second uses a teen-ish style), and even the size of the book really do impact the reader’s sense of the story. Notice, too, how a cover often changes when the book goes from its first release in hard back to its second life as a paperback. I would love to ask people who read books that have different covers what impact that had on their reading.
I’m willing to bet that readers of Forever . . . see and appreciate the value all three covers have. For some readers, the story really can be a steamy romance like the third cover suggests while for others, it’s a sweet story like the first portrays. But which do you think that people would feel most comfortable checking out from the library? Bringing to a busy lunch room on break? Reading on the train? What do YOU prefer when it comes to a cover?
Janssen has convinced me that it would also be worth including these two covers still readily available at the library:
This one just looks very, very dated. I’m a big believer in the notion if the book’s circulating and still on the shelves decades after it was published, it might be worth spending a few dollars to replace it with a more current look. It might seen an entirely new life, too. This particular cover just reminds me of those Lifetime movies that came out back in the early 90s.
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).