Judging a Book by More Than Its Cover

We all know the age-old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Whether you first heard this timeless adage from an elementary school librarian, a parent, teacher, or friend, it’s a pretty easy concept to understand, and a much harder one to adopt.

As a species, we seem to like shiny things. Walk into any bookstore (or visit any online bookseller), and your eyes are instinctively drawn to the most vibrant, neon-colored covers on display. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up choosing those titles to read. Sometimes upon further inspection their topics won’t interest you, and you’ll put the book back on the display stand (or press the back button on your browser).

With the understanding that we initially reach for the brightest and shiniest of books (but don’t always buy them), I wanted to dig a little deeper into how we ultimately decide which books to read. And what better way to do that than to survey an office full of publishing professionals, a group of people who (despite their love of books) only have so much free time to read for fun?

Here’s what some of the Cameron + Company team said in response to the question, “How do you choose which books to read?”:

Chris Gruener, Publisher: “I’m definitely a sucker for a good cover, but that would only go so far as to encourage me to pick the book up in the first place. From there I obviously read the description of the book as well as any blurbs/endorsements from favorite authors of mine. Though right now, the truly accurate and honest answer to the question “How do you choose which books to read?” is 100% based on whatever my 3-year-old pulls from the shelf before bedtime (so long as it can be read in under 3 1/2 minutes before I fall asleep).”

Iain Morris, Creative Director: “I tend to be swayed by critical recommendations but also if I see a cool production technique that says the designer/publisher was really thinking about the content then I might snap that book up too. You know that if the attention to design detail is taken then the book is probably worth a second look!”

Jan Hughes, Managing Editor: “I am in a book club, so end up reading books I would otherwise likely not read—but, for me, that is the point of the book club! When I pick for myself, I generally lean toward historical fiction or books by authors I know I like.”

Nina Gruener, Children’s Publisher: “Oh absolutely, one hundred percent by its cover! The feel of the jacket, trim size, and color all suck me right in. Also, I do tend to be very loyal to authors I love.”


Cover of The Great Chicken Escape by cut-paper artist Nikki McClure


Amy Novesky, Children’s Book Editor: “I’ll admit it: I often choose a book by its cover. Picture books are, at first, all about the art and the design. The story matters, of course, too. A great cover, face out, will jump off of the shelf and into your hands. Like any book, it doesn’t mean the book is good. Either way, the first thing I usually do is take its jacket off. It’s all about the casewrap. What a delight when it’s different—and better—than the cover. Don’t choose a book by its cover; choose it by its casewrap. ; )”

Suzi Hutsell, Art Director: “Sometimes it’s about authors I like, reco’s from friends, and if the flap copy is intriguing for a book I’m not familiar with. Mostly it’s about the look, the feel, the paper, the photos, the subject/content, and yes, a really cool cover doesn’t hurt!”

Rob Dolgaard, Junior Designer: “The cover, of course, will make me pick the book up but it’s the synopsis which really helps me decide whether to buy/read a book.”

Elizabeth Hayt, Editorial Intern: “I tend to have a short list of favorite authors whose newest books I will always read, regardless of premise. Failing that, I’ll often turn to social media for recommendations. Following favorite authors on twitter or tumblr has led me to some of my favorite stories. Most authors have excellent taste in reading and will post about books they’ve loved!”


Cover of Treasured Lands by QT Luong, featuring Luong’s large-format photography

Here at Cameron + Company we’re pretty proud of our eye-catching covers, but it’s always a good idea to take stock of how a book ends up on our home shelves, too. Overall, we’re loyal to authors we love, we stick to our favorite topics and genres, and we trust our friends to steer us in the right direction. For picture books and art books, creative design and attention to small details will go a long way towards capturing our attention!


Cover of Shepard Fairey Inc. by G. James Daichendt PubWest 2015 Gold Winner for Jacket/Cover Design, Large Format


In a world where hundreds of new books launch every day, how do you choose what to read?

Leave us a comment and let us know!