Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover?

This article is featured in our January issue of Curiositales Magazine. Read the entire magazine at

In one way or another, we’ve heard the idiom “don’t judge a book by its cover”. The phrase is often used in different ways and the most common definitions are “don’t judge something or someone from their outward appearance”, and “it’s what’s on the inside that matters”. The other, literal, meaning would be, “do not judge a book by its cover”.

Now I’m not sure about everyone else but I have always been very guilty of the latter, I don’t think I could help it even if I wanted to because pretty books are just that- pretty books. As humans, we are drawn to shiny and beautiful things. It’s in our nature to do so as millions of years ago that ability meant life or death. In modern times, we feast first with our eyes. We can conjure emotions by looking at a picture, and now, as we live in an Instagrammable world, we look for beautiful things in every aspect of our lives to post pictures about.

The first thing I see as I walk into a bookstore, be it online or in the real world, is the front covers of books. The covers with the most interesting and beautiful designs will be the ones I will pick up 90% of the time. Covers draw me into picking up a book in the first place, and most of the time, it’s the covers that make me buy those books.

There is a hashtag in the bookstagram community, #coverporn. Though the name is crude, the pleasure we get from buying beautiful books is real. Cover design has never been more important in this day and age. We take pictures of everything and then we post them in our social media feeds. As they say; a picture IS worth a thousand words. A picture online that might be seen and shared by thousands and millions of people worldwide. So yes, a cover that is unique and eye-catching is very important.

First the cover, then the story. Why? Because it’s what you see first, it’s what will make you decide if the story is worth checking out or not. Plus, it also looks exquisite displayed on your shelf. For example, one book I’ve picked up solely based on the cover is Circe by Madeline Miller. I first saw this beautiful cover with CIRCE in a bold font circling around bookstagram and thought, “what a visually stunning book”. That cover got me to search and pick the book up for myself. Not only is the cover beautiful, the story is inspiring and empowering as well.

I think we all need to give a lot more credit, respect, and admiration to book cover illustrators and designers. Not only do they have to design a book that stays relevant to the story, but they also need to think of the aspect of the title and how the font ties into the design as well. They need to make sure that the design isn’t similar to any other book designs for fear of getting accused of plagiarizing or copying.

I’ve noticed too in the bookstagram community that authors and publishers have been hiring a lot of talented Instagram artists to design their book covers. An example is An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson. The cover art is designed by the talented Charlie Bowater. If you don’t already know her, pop over to her Instagram (@charliebowater) because… Well, let me name drop some of the works she’s done: Skyward by Brandon Sanderson, the Barnes and Noble edition sleeve of Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas, and, her latest, Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson, to be published next year.

As much as we don’t like to hear this, beautiful books sell. How many times have you scrolled through bookstagram (or walked past the library or a bookshop) and seen a beautiful book before you and were overcome by a curious sense of wonder? What is it about that book that makes it so special you need to pick it up to see what it’s about?

Publishers and authors know they need their books to stand out among all the others. One such book that made me pause everything I was doing and Google the name was The Extinction Trials by S. M. Wilson. It has a mysterious and dangerous quality to the design and when I finally got my hands on it I couldn’t stop grinning nonstop. The cover is even more beautiful in real life and it has the most marvelous texture.

As fun and dandy as all that is, judging a book by its cover is not without fault. There have been plenty of books I’ve picked up based on the covers which turned out to be disappointing reads. The synopsis on the back cover only gives you a hint of what the book is about, so you are basically going into the story blind.

I will not name the books, but I know covers aren’t everything. I know the cover is not what makes a book great. The story is. But it doesn’t deter from the fact that the cover is our first impression of this journey we will take into this new literary world we will step into.

So, in closing, let us not be ashamed that we judge books by their covers. Let us revel in the fact that we love beautiful books and are taking the first step into this unknown, fictional world we wouldn’t otherwise dive into.

Written by Jun O.

A Chinese-Indonesian born 21-year-old baker/cake decorator by day and avid reader by night. I love to paint, create bookish pictures for Instagram and write reviews for fun.