Books ARE judged by their covers! Or are they?

The old adage that says something about books with pretty covers selling faster than those with ordinary covers has at last been proven true. Two friends set up a game website called, with the express purpose of testing the “Never judge a book by its cover” theory.

The idea behind the social experiment was simple. It was to prove whether books are really judged by their covers, or whether that is indeed an urban myth.

It turned out that over 3 million books were actually judged by their covers. The outcome isn’t very promising for authors that don’t give too much attention to their book cover design! So what can aspiring authors and seasoned writers take away from this little experiment. Quite a lot actually! 


Writing a book, and then having it successfully published, is a huge undertaking indeed. But the real challenge comes when vying for the limited dollars that many avid book readers have as disposal income today. This endless game of nerves between book publishers and readers has reached epic war proportions, and authors – unfortunately – face the brunt of it!

If you, as a budding author, aren’t able to attract sufficient readers with your book, chances are that your next project will be an extremely tough sell to publishers,  distributors and retail outlets – whether in store or online.

Let’s face it: Distributors and publishers are in this business to make money. So if your book doesn’t help them in that effort, why should they bother publishing or promoting it? And so too it is with storefront owners. If your books don’t attract traffic to come into their store – or visit their websites – why would they give it shelf space?

And that’s where book covers play a huge part.


 Given this tough situation that authors are facing today, many savvy writers are turning to a very important arrow in their proverbial quivers, when it comes to fighting the war over scarce consumer dollars. They are looking to wrap their books in the best book covers they possibly can, in order to make the books as presentable and appealing to their audiences.  

And it’s not by any act of desperation that authors are focusing so much attention on the covers of their books. There is underlying psychology to it.

You see, savvy writers have figured out that the process of judging books by their covers is closely related to how the human brain works:

  • Authors and publishers know that our brains prefer imagery, colour and graphics, over text. That’s the way we are wired to process information
  • Books with amazing book covers are deliberately displayed prominently on book shelves and websites where readers constantly frequent. The judgement process is set into motion!
  • When we see a book, the first thing we do is to subconsciously take in the images and pictures we are seeing on the cover. That’s what creates a first impression. The judgement process has now begun!
  • Our brain then reads the title, and that reaffirms our initial judgement. We are now biased, favourably, in our judgement about the book – simply by looking at the cover
  • As readers, we are now curious about what we see, so we pick up the book (or browse more closely online). We are ready to pass judgement!
  • Lastly, we turn to the blurb or inside cover – which then seals the deal. If we like what we read, we’ll immediately pass judgement and, perhaps, buy the book!


A simple thing like an appealing book cover design has taken a casual passerby (or an innocent internet surfer), and turned him/her into a money-spending book buyer. And that’s exactly the type of result that authors, publishers and book distributors want to elicit.


Covers are the first thing that book buyers see. As such, they make a lasting impression, and play a huge part in forming judgement about the book. That’s how the human brain works, and knowledgeable authors use that to their advantage.



But book lovers and book readers aren’t the only ones on whom the psychology of bookcovers works. Publishers and distributors, for their part, are equally gullible when it comes to being influenced by a great looking bookcover.

As a writer, especially a self-publisher or indie author, one very important factor that often gets overlooked - Covers can give your books a huge lift with retail outlets and merchandising operations. The same set of psychological principals that attract readers to a book, also help gravitate wholesalers towards them. They too judge books by their covers, and if your book cover is professionally designed, you could easily win the patronage of these whole sellers of the written word!


And in this day and age of the internet and social media, there is another very influential segment of power brokers whose judgement writers can shape by putting out the best book covers possible for their publications.  We’re talking about bloggers and online opinion shapers.

One of the best ways to help publicise and market a book these days is through niche Blog sites. They are trendsetters and opinion influencers. Unfortunately, most reputable bloggers are inundated with requests to review books of all kinds. And so, when you pass them a copy of your book to review, it may be the 10th or 50th book they receive in a month. They just don’t have the time!


And so, they’ll make a judgement call on which books to read and which ones to give a pass. Often, that judgement is made the same way as the average reader does. The book with the best book cover will often be the ones they will review. However, their minds are wired slightly differently, so they judge the book critically: “Humm…if the cover is so poorly designed, what else inside may be of poor quality”. Based on that judgement, they may decide not to review you book.


In an age where writers need every competitive advantage they possibly can garner, losing out on an influential bloggers’ endorsement of their book – just because of a poorly designed cover – is an unforgivable error!


You’ve put so much emphasis in your plot, your story-line and your illustrations and graphics inside the book, that it’s now time to reap the full benefits of your hard work. You owe it to yourself, and to your audience, to wrap your work of art with the best book covers that you can find.


Writers already have lots on their plate, and their main focus should always be writing the best book they possibly can. But as you start taking on more tasks which you aren’t a specialist at – like building your book cover – you start compromising on quality. And that’s where all of your hard work of writing a blockbuster book can get unravelled.

Unfortunately, many Do-It-Yourself (DIY) cover designers often get fooled into thinking that expertise in Adobe Photoshop is all it takes to design great covers. It’s not! Those are just tools that help designers do the best work. And like any tool, such as a word processor, it is the genius behind the tool that matters, not the tools themselves.

And here’s why:

  • Seasoned professionals who design amazing book covers are not just experts at wielding the tool, they are also expert at visualizing and at creative thinking
  • Professional designing firms have processes, templates and methods in place to create irresistible covers. DIY artists can never match those qualities
  • Because of their experience in the business, they can empathize and relate to all of the stakeholders - Writer, Reader, Marketer,  Publisher, Blogger – to peep inside their minds and see how they will judge the cover design
  • They can then use that insight to actually influence the judgement of various parties at interest. They wage psychological warfare with great colors, fonts, graphics and designs, to make your books more attractive and appealing to all your key constituents 

If you want your books to be judged favourably, then you need a seasoned designer to quarterback a favourable judgement of the books’ cover. Great looking bookcovers only come from experience. There are no short cuts to becoming an exceptional cover designer.


Writers are professionals in what they do best – writing spell-binding content. But for that content to stand a chance at being well received by an audience, it needs a cover that will be judged favourably. Without that “judgement influencer”, your potential best seller will likely never stand a chance. A professional cover designer can help you with making your books appeal to your audience.


And here’s how professionals can help produce the best book cover for your books:

  • Good branding: If you want to be associated with a successful book, you need to create a unique “brand” – something that will immediately tell your readers (and business partners – publishers, distributors, retail outlets) that this is your book. Professional cover designers help create that brand image for you
  • Professional design: A great-looking cover isn’t just about colours and imagery. It’s about the little things – like harmonizing text with graphics, or using large fonts and small typeface to create pleasing visual effects. These are hallmarks of successful books that sell, and they are also characteristics that cause books to be judged favourably by the audience
  • Simplicity: Just as simple sentences can sometimes be the most effective tool in an author’s arsenal, so too can simplicity in the design of a bookcover be made into an effective influence shaper. Professional cover designers know exactly what “simple” means – NOT “ordinary” or “plain looking”!
  • Relevance (to the book): A cover that lacks relevance to the book is sure to cause irreparable damage to the books chances of success, as well as to the writer’s reputation. Professional book covers are those that are relevant to the subject matter being covered by the book.  Only a professional knows how to boil down a 300 or 400 page book, and bring relevance to it through its cover
  • Empathy: Successful book covers strike an emotional and psychological chord amongst interested parties – like bloggers, readers and publishers. A professionally developed book cover design can influence empathy towards the book from prospective buyers as well as opinion shapers
  • Appropriate for both online and off-line uses: Depending on how the book is planned to be sold, stakeholders from both online and hardcover niches must be kept in mind when designing covers that influence. Professional design firms know exactly what’s involved in producing covers for both constituents – online and hardcover readers


The social experiment discussed at the introduction of this article proves that books are indeed judged by their covers. In an ideal (and fair!) world, that should not be the case. But in the real world, that’s exactly what happens – because that’s how our brains are wired!


Savvy writers can use this bit of human physiology to their advantage, by pulling together the best book cover for their books.  And that means enlisting the help of a professional cover design firm. With so many judgements to influence – readers, retailers, wholesalers and opinion shapers – it’s hard for untrained DIY designers to produce covers that can sway opinions.


Covers can and do make or break authors’ careers. Because of how books are judged by their covers, sometimes the most well written books are ignored, in favour of mediocre publications with dazzling-looking covers.


So, if you are in the process of completing a book, and plan to publish and market it shortly, make sure you spend enough time looking for a professional cover designer. Don’t make the mistake of doing it yourself – you may be risking a lot! Why? Because at the end of the day, books with pretty covers do tend to sell much better than those with mediocre ones. And that’s a proven fact!