Can you tell a book by its cover?

As a reader, I see the cover and the title of a book first. Those key features must provide me with critical information about the book. I want to know immediately if I absolutely have to read this book or if I should look at the next book over.  I look for familiar authors, clues about the plot, and fundamental category indicators. Of course, if I still have questions, I can read the blurbs on the back or the first few pages, (even internet sellers will usually preview the first chapter.) However, the cover must reach out and grab me first. However, can you really tell a book by its cover?

cozy1 cozy3 cozy4 cozy2Book lovers can tell that these covers are from “cozy” mysteries even without the titles or authors. Just one look at the basic colors, the pets, the food, or the detailed and alluring landscape and readers are pulled into the world of amateur sleuths.


ykoontz boxwantedOf course, for a  well known author, the name is the most prominent feature on the cover. I can pick put my favorite author’s new book without blinking an eye.


coat1 coat2coat3coat4Sometimes covers invite questions beyond the content of the books. Lately I have suspected that my wardrobe is missing an important item – that red coat.


innocentsOf course, sometimes covers are sneaky, even devious.  When I picked up “The Innocents” by David Putnam, a baby carriage with a police silhouette shadow suggested that it might be about black market baby selling or perhaps about children whose parents either were victims of crime or were somehow involved in criminal activities, leaving the innocent children as the ultimate victims. Well, the book was not about any of those conflicts. It was great, and the cover fooled me on all counts — good for Oceanview Publishing!

eskensThe cover for “The Deep Dark Descending” by Allen Eskins reflects the book exactly. The cover evokes the cold, foreboding, desolation of winter, shows the lonely path through the dead, frozen weeds, and there, in the center, is the ominous hole in the ice. Even the back cover has reflective snow if you hold in the light just right. This cover from Seventh Street Books is stark, mysterious, and compelling, and the book is as well. It is one of my favorites.

Now authors, what do you hope the covers of your own books tell readers? How much input do you have in the selection of the cover and the title? What are your favorite book covers, either from your own books of from the books of others?


Author: 3 no 7

"3 no 7" presents Katie and Barbara who write about the books they love and the books they don't.

15 thoughts on “Can you tell a book by its cover?”

  1. You’ve got such a good point about covers. I’d imagine a reader would be very disappointed to pick up something with a “cozy” cover to find out the book is about a serial killer!

    I believe I’ll get some input on cover art when the time comes. I hope it reflects the rural setting of Fayette County and it’s history, while letting people know it’s a procedural, so a bit more “gritty” than a cozy.

    I love Henery Press’s covers. They always seem to hit the spirit of the series just right.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I really do like to know the “tone” of a book before I start it. I like to vary the “kind” of book I read, and intersperse the thrillers with police procedures and cozies. That way I don’t burn out on any one kind.


  2. Great post! You have a good eye. I never noticed the red coat before. Handy, isn’t it. It says personal danger.

    My publisher has the say on the cover but they asked for my input. I wanted it to say “Alaska” and “mystery”. They nailed it with Deadly Solution’s cover.

    My favorite cover is Joe Ide’s IQ. The background is black. The lettering is cut out of photos of painted brick, with a splash of blood. The title is white brick. His name is a southwestern mural. The splash of red tells you its a mystery or thriller. The white is unknown. The mural says to me, culture in the inner city.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m very happy with my last cover, Dancing for the General (which even has a red suit!) It’s very close to what I relayed to the cover artist, via my publisher, which was American 1950’s woman in Turkey. My publisher gets final say, but he listens to my input.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. My publisher asks for my input on covers, but they get the final say. For FICTION CAN BE MURDER (which slides by in the sidebar to the right here), I sent in some covers I liked and some I hated, but I honestly had no idea what I wanted the cover to look like. I think they nailed it, though. I’m very happy with it and get lots of compliments. For book #2 in the series, FOUL PLAY ON WORDS, I just had the cover conversation with my editor and we were completely on the same page. I’ll be excited to see it and hope you will too!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Oh, great post! I’ve been thinking about covers more lately, trying to determine what draws me in. Cover art definitely has an impact on my choices, but I realized I didn’t know exactly what elements I found appealing. It’s a work in progress, but I do know that I’m not particularly fond of people – especially super-real, full-face people (think Fabio in your 80s romance novels; that’s a total deal-breaker on a mystery/suspense). Depending on the genre, I don’t love cartoony covers, either. Covers I love include the Hayden Kent series, books by Hank Phillipi Ryan, Roberta Isleib, Cynthia Kuhn, and J.D. Robb (as examples). Love the Bosch covers, too. Oh, and Craig Johnson – his covers are so spot-on! (Wow, just jumped from character to author and back a few times. Whoops!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree about the full face, but sometimes a partial face or just the eyes can be intriguing.
      I like the recent Craig Johnson cover with Longmier’s head rather down and the hat really covering his face– makes him look mysterious and dedicated, but yet troubled.
      It is interesting to look changes over time on Connelly’s covers as well as the changes when books were rereleased. Fame brings a huge increase in size and prominence of the author’s name.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes! You’re so right about the evolution of the covers – especially as the author becomes more popular. I’ve noticed another trend that I personally dislike, and that’s republishing a series with all new covers. To me, it’s tricking the reader into buying books they already have because they look new. (Yes, we should know what we’ve read.) I will often look for a new book in a fave series just by skimming the shelves for that look – and then it changes. Perhaps I’m just being cranky.


  6. I’m lucky that my publisher asks for input and my self published books are the work of my husband. I have more input with the publisher!

    Lately I’ve noticed not only the red coat, but heroines set in the center of the cover walking or running down a treelined road. It’s almost a disturbing trend! Have you noticed that as well?

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I have a friend whose publisher created a decidedly cozy looking cover for her decidedly not-a-cozy book. She was not happy. And neither were the readers who bought the book based on the cover. Which made my friend even more unhappy.

    My cover/interior designer has done all of my covers and I think she just keeps getting better.

    There’s a trend to brand a series with similar covers. For example, sepia toned background photos with a contrasting color for the title and author name in the same bold font. At first I thought it was pretty cool, now I’m not so sure.


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