May 14th, 2009


A book by its cover.

I am essentially a magnet for books. It helps that I crawl through used bookstores like it was some sort of an Olympic sport, regularly raid the collections of my friends, get a lot of books mailed to me, haunt science fiction convention dealers rooms, and basically take every opportunity to get my hands on the written word. I try not to consider how many books I have, except on those occasions where I'm forced to try putting them back onto the shelves.

Some of my books are pre-cover ARCs. (There are two kinds of ARC. Some, like the ones for Rosemary and Rue, are essentially mock-ups for the finished book; they have front covers, they have back covers, and they look like books, except for the big "NOT FOR SALE" printed all over them. Others are basically bound manuscripts, with plain heavy-paper covers, and look more like the spec scripts that sometimes show up in specialty bookstores. I don't know if there's a technical term for these, so I just call them "pre-cover ARCs" and have done.) These are always interesting, because it means I'm reading them based on nothing but the back cover blurb.

How much does a cover matter? We're always told not to judge a book by its cover, but how much does the cover really matter?

It matters a lot.

The book I just read (which will not be named, because dude, you do not slag on other people's cover art; it's simply not okay) was in a genre I'm fairly fond of; I have an ARC not because I was asked to do a pre-review, but because the book is already out, and so the ARC got shoved off on me. No objections here, as I always buy books that I enjoyed in ARC—I consider it my part of the social contract. "I liked your book when I saw it in an advance form, so here is some money." Much like buying a book I enjoyed when I got it from the library. Anyway:

I had actually seen this book on store shelves, and totally failed to notice it in any meaningful way, because the cover was so non-appealing. I glanced at it, shook my head, and glanced over it. I didn't even realize I'd seen it—when I finished the ARC, I went to the bookstore, hunted down the book, and was gobsmacked to realize that it was "oh, that one." I would never have given the book the credit it deserved, judging solely from the cover. Which would have sucked.

(I realize that giving a positive, if vague, review, and then failing to name the book, is really annoying. I promise to review the book later, when it no longer auto-associates with my kvetching about its cover art.)

Covers matter. Covers matter a lot. More and more, I'm coming to realize that a good cover can make all the difference in the world between a book getting snatched off a store shelf that same book only getting read when somebody shoves it into your hands.

What covers do you especially love, or hate?