books · Publishing

The Audacity of Judging a Book by Its Cover: 4 Highlights from Recent Publications

People say that old maxim ‘never judge a book by its cover’ frequently, but of course everyone does judge book covers. Both in ebooks and in physical copies, the cover is one of the first things a reader sees. Readers use the cover to make instant assessments about a book: is this a genre I enjoy; does it look well-written; have I seen this cover on other ebooks; does this remind me of another book I love?

So today I am celebrating several covers that have accomplished their respective goals well. For the most part these are newer rather than iconic covers, so you won’t find The Great Gatsby with it luminous eyes here. These are also covers that I, personally, find compelling, which means not all art styles are equally represented. If you are interested in exploring covers outside of my collection, I suggest you check out The Book Cover Archive, which features an extensive aggregation of book covers including information about the authors and designers. It is a great resource for anyone thinking of getting a book cover professionally done, and if nothing else, it is wonderful for inspiration.

Now on to some captivating covers.


Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman

Vengeance Road is a young adult Western that follows the story of a young girl who disguises herself a a boy in order to chase down the Rose Riders, a mercenary group that murdered her father. With its skulls, guns, and flowers, the cover clearly enumerates that this is a Western, and it hints at the gender-bending aspect. Despite the very full nature of the cover, the text is clean, easy to read, and appealing to the book’s main audience.


X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon

X: A Novel explores Malcolm X’s childhood and young adulthood. Though Malcolm’s family teaches him that he can do anything he dreams, his father’s murder, his mother’s disappearance, and his school troubles have proven them wrong. To hide from his disappointment, he dives headfirst into jazz and the nightlife of Boston and New York, but pasts have a way of catching up to people. The cover masterfully captures this notion of movement and running from problems all superimposed over the backdrop of a bustling city. The choice to make the ‘X’ such a prominent part of the design also helps to identify the book’s subject matter.


The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith

The Fox and the Star is a beautifully composed fairy tale that tells the story of  a fox whose only friend, the star who lit the forest paths, has disappeared. Now fox must face the forest alone. The book tells an exquisite and heart-wrenching fable, and the cover reflects both the romantic, magical aspects of the story as well as the beautiful illustrations within it. Coralie Bickford-Smith, the author, currently works as a designer for Penguin Books, so it makes sense that she would create something truly special here.


There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby is a collection of haunting and supernatural stories out of Russia. The cover captures this concept perfectly by invoking matryoshka dolls, otherwise known as Russian nesting dolls, with a skull at the center. The combination is both both uncomfortable and emblematic of Eastern Europe.

The above titles are just a few of the many, lovely, fantastically designed books out there. If you have any favorite book covers, I’d love to take a look at them! In recent years, book design has undergone something of a revolution, and seeing what designers come up with is an adventure all of its own.

*This post was originally published August 24, 2016. With Bowman’s next book, Retribution Rails, coming out later this year, it seemed an apt time to revisit grand covers. (And the cover for Retribution Rails is just as wonderful as its predecessor’s.*






10 thoughts on “The Audacity of Judging a Book by Its Cover: 4 Highlights from Recent Publications

  1. One of my very favorite covers is Lisey’s Story by Stephen King. The jacket is a bright red with a cutout of a shovel showing flowers beneath. When you remove the jacket, the boards are a glorious garden created by designer Mark Stutzman. It was surprising in a number of ways, not least of which is the puzzling lack of imagery available even on King’s own website. I’d enclose a URL here but the site won’t let me so try googling Mark Stutzman Lisey’s Story.

    Liked by 1 person

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