Judging a Book by Its Cover – How Authors Get it Wrong

An author friend recently had a book in a cover contest and reached out asking for honest votes. I eagerly clicked on the link (because I like her cover) and it turned into such an intriguing exercise.

The contest had several categories to vote for, though all the books were romance books. Which I think it the first wrong step authors/publishers make in covering a book. No book is simply romance. You can’t tell a story about love without something else surrounding it. Maybe it’s in a contemporary setting. Or futuristic. Or Historical. Now, read those choices again: contemporary, futuristic, historical. What did you picture? A naked man chest in every single one of them? Probably not.

Let’s say the cover does have a naked man chest, but the guy is wearing a pair of worn (and probably tight) jeans, a cowboy hat and tossing a bail of hay – what kind of story do you expect to read? Because of the elements portrayed, you will probably expect a western.

Back to the contest. As I’m perusing the selection of covers under the different categories it became more and more evident how often the theme of the story is not portrayed on the cover. And, darn it all, readers don’t like that. If they pick up a book and expect a western with shirtless guys, but the story is actually contemporary with a love interest who owns a ranch, but works in a hardware store everyday, they’re left with a sense of betrayal—even if they don’t recognize it as that—and less likely to try another book by that author. There was an erotic book whose cover gave no indication of the steaminess the reader would find inside. Though the cover was great, to me, it seemed it would draw a different readership. Who just might—or might not, but might—be affronted when things got steamy.

There was a romantic suspense book that felt very contemporary to me. And another suspense book that gave absolutely no feel for suspense whatsoever. (All of this is my personal opinion, but I’m a reader, so it’s valid.)

Time travel can be tricky. It seems most have a watch on the cover to indicate time. Interesting. I think my time travel romance (under my pen name L.A. Dragoni) has THEE best cover. And I’m sure my rosy author glasses are not skewing my opinion! It’s good!

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The religious/spiritual aspect covers were what really drove it home for me. There was only one that even began to give a feel for religious or spiritual aspects. Again – super misleading. And I have to pony up on this one. I have a cover that probably gives people the idea the book has a religious aspect (a friend of mine called a God thing) and it doesn’t. There’s a guardian angel, but a very non-secular angel. Lol. The cover’s beautiful, right? But it’s possibly misleading or scaring away readership because of the message someone might get from
it. Oh, to have an endless cover design budget!

Basically, what I’m rambling on about is that our books aren’t always presented to readers with a sub-category tab. Readers don’t always read the blurb. If our covers don’t portray the theme, the reader may have picked it up with the wrong expectation.

If you’re an author reading this, keep it in mind next time you have to cover a book. Don’t get so caught up in portraying a scene that you miss portraying the theme.

If you’re a reader – please know we are only human. And we fall in love with all the pretty covers and don’t mean to mislead you. Well, most of us don’t. I have considered putting a bare-chested man on a cover just because they sell. I haven’t given in yet though!

What are your thoughts on misleading covers?


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Juneta. I think we need to imagine them in a contest under the category we think they should go under to see if it actually conveys that message :)

  2. Honestly speaking, I never judge the book by its cover, since I open it and turn the pages to see if it fits me and my personal reading needs. It's convenient!

    1. Good for you! I find I'm very drawn in or put off by the cover.


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