Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover

The Effect Of The Cover On Your Reading Experience

A photograph of Sara Taylor's The Lauras

We all know that ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ rarely works, but today I want to look further into the effects of this, what it means in actuality.

This post has been brewing in my mind for a while because the action behind it is something that’s often happening but not always noticeable, subconscious – the way a book’s cover informs and affects your reading of the book, particularly, I think, in the case of hardbacks where you can see the edges of the flaps.

It was Sunjeev Sahota’s The Year Of The Runaways that first alerted me to this concept. The book is rather depressing, it’s depressing in its content and I personally found it not too great a book, but I wondered how much the cover of it – the yellow and burnt orange, the autumnal leaves, the murky brown background – was affecting the overall atmosphere of it for me. Because I don’t expect Sahota had the cover, designed later by someone else, in mind whilst he wrote the book.

Certainly the colours and the slight wishy-washy nature of the brownness fit the content but did it not make the book seem even more dark and dirty than it was? A fitting visual but somehow depressing on a literary enjoyment level – it wasn’t the concept or theme of the book that made it a long read for me and there was something else going on other than the plotting issues (those did make it long).

I wonder if I’d have enjoyed the reading experience more if mine had been the lighter coloured paperback edition.

This leads me to colour choice. Colour choice can have a big affect though with modernity has come jazzy covers and with jazzy covers more expression (compared to standard old works, for example, where the books look mature but not very appealing). Colour is pretty subjective – one’s ‘reminds me of the ocean and I love sailing’ might be another’s ‘my old school uniform, yuck!’ I think the way people often like to shelve their books by colour shows a bit of this interest we have in them.

(I got to thinking about colour and the notion to write this post when reading Sara Taylor’s latest, The Lauras. It sports a fun, map-filled, cover that also evokes scrapbook paper sets and pin boards but the resounding colour of it, blue, well, it corresponds to a road trip to me, the shade of blue, the way I can see Florida and the ocean in it. If it had been brown, to use the Sahota example, would I have found it more sophisticated than fun?)

Another thing I’ve been thinking about is associated with this – the way colour is part and parcel of your reading experience can mean that if you read the book again using another edition, whilst the story is obviously the same you are having a new experience of it, physically. Your current age may be a factor, but I reckon if you read a book twice over, once then a second time immediately following the first, with two different editions, those two times would seem different. The second may even seem wrong. In this way font choice also holds sway.

I’ll have to look into those last two factors in greater detail sometime.

Have you found this connection between reading and book cover in your own experiences? What colours draw you in?



September 28, 2016, 1:08 pm

The cover certainly does have an impact on me. If I see something that has a ‘sloppy romantic’ colour palette and comes with a pic of a woman looking moodingly into the distance I put it down straight away regardless of the blurb


September 28, 2016, 1:53 pm

Maybe because a friend of mine who is a SF author told me years ago that the cover art on her books had nothing to do with her books (and that she didn’t even have veto power for some of the more repellent designs), I just don’t pay a lot of attention to the cover of a book.


September 28, 2016, 4:39 pm

Wonderful post, Charlie! I agree that the cover definitely has an impact on our reading experience. When I was younger, I used to like colourful covers, but these days, though I appreciate colourful covers, sometimes I like the simple ones. Recently I got a series of classics reissued by Penguin and the reason I got them was that the covers were simple, there were no introductions and footnotes, just a five line introduction to the writer and then the book itself. I liked the fact that I was here and the book was in my hand and there was no barrier between us, things which were not really necessary. I don’t know when I became this minimalistic reader.


September 28, 2016, 5:28 pm

Shallow though it is, I am always drawn to covers with my favourite colour purple on! I don’t think the cover has ever affected my experience of the story, but I have noticed that sometimes the cover gives me one impression and then the story isn’t quite what I was expecting.


September 29, 2016, 1:38 pm

I’m like BookerTalk, there are certain cover designs that completely repel me – those romance ones she describes for sure – and for a long time the “chic lit” covers with all the pink and the shoes, etc. Otherwise, for books I do pick up, the cover won’t ruin a book for me but it certainly can enhance it.

Jenny @ Reading the End

September 30, 2016, 3:03 am

I don’t thiiiiiink that the cover of a book ends up having much of an impact on how much I enjoy the book, but it definitely has an impact on whether I pick a book up in the first place. A book with a discouraging cover has to really win me over with the description on the book jacket, whereas a gorgeously-jacketed book just has to do less work.

Which is really unfair, isn’t it? Given how little ultimate control an author has over their jacket designs?

Tanya Patrice

October 2, 2016, 2:20 am

I don’t think the cover of the book reflects my reading experience. I actually barely remember it when I’m reading the book. But it may impact whether I’m initially drawn to a book.


October 4, 2016, 11:23 am

Bookertalk: Which is an important thing to note when a lot of those books aren’t romance; I expect many feel the same.

Jeanne: It’s never nice hearing about those situations. Doesn’t make sense to not have the person who knows every detail involved in the planning.

Vishy: Thank you, Vishy! Good point there about how our perceptions change with age. I emphasise with your classics decision – I picked the line of editions I did because there are few if any footnotes and no introduction included. Great to have editions that do have them, particularly for study or re-reading purposes, but often you just want the story itself, to see how it stands by itself.

Jessica: Not shallow at all! There must be decisions made sometimes on purple covers by people who like it and see it working in a way another colour wouldn’t. Very good point about impressions; it goes along with the thought of relevance.

Stefanie: I think the recent chick-lit move away from those covers, as well as the general – it seems – attempt to be more literary about it is very interesting and telling. Enhancing the book – I like that. Enhancing rather than any drawing back.

Jenny: Interesting – you don’t think it does, which begs the question may it in fact impact you without you realising it at all? Good point about lesser work of good covers. Blurbs are where the words are but the art can have a bigger influence. Definitely – and authors should have more say.

Tanya: Interesting that you barely remember it – that sounds like a boon to me. In an era where we know a lot about the author (don’t get me started on the Ferrante news…) not remembering the cover is may be an added bonus, for sure.



Comments closed