Choosing A Book by Its Cover


Book Cover - Rain FallBook Cover - A Clean Kill In Tokyo









I buy over 100 books a year from brick and mortar stores, and am given loads of free books at the conferences I attend, so I have piles of novels and a few weighty works of non-fiction sitting around the house. (This was the reason for the free drawings we held for subscribers at NBR)

Soooo…what draws me to pick up a particular title at the bookstore if I’m not already familiar with the author? On any given day, I preselect the genre by wandering into category areas of the brick and mortar store, whether indie or big box store. Then, I am drawn to:


1) The color of the spine and cover

2) The artwork and text on the cover

3) The blurb on the back cover



Notice that #1 is not about the author or the concept of the book. The initial interaction is not about the cover text. If you don’t pick the book up, you’ll never read that part anyway. Marketing people discovered years ago that the eye is drawn to bright splashes of color when choosing a product – any product – and that reds and yellows are seen first, then blues and greens. The rest of the artwork on the covers is set off by that color. Think of it as the backdrop for showcasing the information being delivered by the artwork and the text.


The art on the covers

Authors and publishers alike stay up nights, hoping and praying that the colors, the design, the font, the size of every tiny piece of graphic on the cover – all go together in a way that will entice you to pick up the book. Is there a person in the artwork? How about guns? Or beaches? Or cats? Is the setting implied somehow? Is the artwork dynamic, garish, or calming? Is the artwork representative of the actual content inside the book?


The Blurb

The publisher’s blurb on the back cover of today’s novels reveals something about the lead character and contains just enough about the plot to make us want to know more. If the book seems a little different, inspirational or more exciting than the norm, we feel compelled to plunk down money and take that book home. If the book is even better than the blurb promised? We tell our friends.


The following books exceeded the promise of the back cover. My thoughts are in bold type.


“John Rain kills people. For a living. His specialty: making it seem like death by natural causes. But he won’t take out just anyone. The job must be an exclusive. The target must be a principal player. And he’ll never murder a woman.” – Rain Fall by Barry Eisler.

This was the debut novel for the bestselling author. Excellent hit-man thriller that was made into a movie in 2011. Eisler drew from his own time as a lawyer in Tokyo for the exotic backdrop. The Rain series continues to be successful.


“Former army homicide investigator Paul Brenner has just gotten used to the early retirement forced on him after the disastrous end of his last case when his old commanding officer asks him to return for one final mission: investigate a murder that took place in wartime Vietnam thirty years before. Brenner reluctantly accepts out of curiosity and loyalty…and maybe a touch of boredom. He won’t be bored for long.”

Up Country by Nelson DeMille. The book delivers far more than a chilling murder investigation. It is based on DeMille’s own experiences in Vietnam and takes a look at war and its aftermath. Haunting. Reviewed here on NBR.


“First a dead stranger. Now a missing police chief. Did Cade run off to elope…or has he met with foul play?” – Southern Storm by Terri Blackstock Nobody in her right mind would think that Cade had eloped. The blurb seems purposely misleading. Thank goodness for Blackstock fans that the book was better than the blurb.


“Times are a-changin’ in Pickax, giving Jim Qwilleran some newsworthy notes for the Qwill Pen. A new senior center is in the works as well as a frisky production of ‘Cats.’ And a local mansion…” The Cat Who Had Sixty Whiskers” by Lilian Jackson Braun.

This was the 29th book in the gentle ‘Cat Who…’ series. Fans buy the books no matter what’s on the cover. Mom bought every one.  The series is reviewed here on NBR.


Now for the two covers for Rain Fall. The original cover is the red one. It popped into my view at a conference, piled next to stacks of books by other authors. The more recent cover is the blue one on the right (same book, different title) designed after Eisler regained the rights to his books and changed titles and covers. If you don’t already know who Barry Eisler is, which one would cause you to buy the book?


Do you choose a book based on the blurb? Is it the art on the cover itself that helps you decide? Think about that the next time you visit the bookstore.


*note: I buy lots of ebooks as well, but that’s for another post.



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8 thoughts on “Choosing A Book by Its Cover”

  1. Awesome post! I never considered spine art—will in the future:)

    Red…hmmm…Never been a favorite of mine, but dang! My eye was drawn to the red cover instead of the blue. Will consider it for my third book.

    Thanks for the great advice!

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post, Anne.  🙂
      Next time you go to a brick and mortar store, check out just one row of books and see where your eye takes you. Then, look at one bestselling author (like Lee Child) and see how many of his books have red and/or yellow on the cover.

  2. Hi Patti! Great post! I've read about Red and yellow attracting customers for food packaging, but not books.. Makes complete sense! Thanks for sharing 😉


    1. Hi Rebecca,
      Thanks so much for stopping by.  🙂
      I took a look at the many titles I have purchased and even among the authors that I knew before the ‘buy,’ there is still an overwhelming number of covers with red or yellow somewhere – either the background color, the text or the artwork.

  3. I choose by blurb, author, series or just reach into one of many boxes of unread brand new books (from 2013 to date) and take one or two from each box. Then I stack them next to my reading lounger in the living room.  As I finish them I put them on a chair near my wife's reading lounger.  Whatever she doesn't decide to read gets shelved in our home library.

    1. Sounds quite systematic, Nora-Adrienne.  🙂 Do you find that the two of you have similar tastes in reading material?

  4. Fascinating post, Patti, as usual. I'm first drawn by title, I think, because I like to play with words. Rain Fall worked because the series was about the guy Rain, and the titles played on that. My 'Avenging Cat' titles do something similar – Catalyst, Catacomb, Cataclysm – and each has/will have a black and white cover! Same publisher used red on the spines of my crime books Sudden Vengeance and Spanish Eye! – and the latter is definitely 'eye-catching' (!)

    1. In bookstores, especially, the eye is drawn to the red on the spine. Smart publisher!  🙂

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