Judging a Book by its Cover

We’ve heard the cliche, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” True. But you do “Buy a Book by its Cover.” We all do. That colorful billboard attracts the eye, disseminates information, and sells the content. Even when the billboard is the size of a postage stamp on Amazon.com, BN.com or iTunes…you make a judgement on the quality of the book based on its cover.

It is hard to find just the right image, texture, font and copy to make a book cover work. Mix in the fact that everyone has different tastes and you have a recipe for controversy. Back in my days at Bethany House there was one person on the cover design committee that didn’t like the color orange…so the head designer tried to work around that to avoid getting work voted down in those meetings!

Today I’d like you to take a quiz of the following books and vote A, B, or C as to which cover design you like best. Try not to peek at the one in print before you vote. Think like a marketer and not just your personal taste. Think about the book itself and which image reflects the content in a way that you might buy it. These are actual cover designs I have seen for the same book in the past. I’m sorry, the thumbnails are small and cannot be clicked to enlarge. That is part of the point of this exercise…teaches you to view a cover just like they are viewed online. And when you finish voting, watch the embedded video below to see that extraordinary cover variations for a recent general market novel published by Penguin Random House. (FYI, a couple of the images are a little more racy than I would like.) I cannot imagine the time and cost it took to create the final design.




FifthMan_comp2 FifthMan_rev5 FifthMan_comp1d
 Wings5  Wings1  Wings4
 comp Half ticket flat  Comp yellow tag  Comp cute pig
 WhiteCvr_a  WhiteCvr_b  WhiteCvr_c
 a (1)  a stand_up_guy  A Stand-Up Guy option A
 Tenny_comp13_teale  Tenney_Clouds2_teale  Tenneycomp#10

Place your vote below!

64 Responses to Judging a Book by its Cover

  1. Avatar
    Martha Rogers March 16, 2015 at 5:32 am #

    Here’s what I would pick. B,B,C,B,A,B, C. Those would catch my eye. The final cover in the video is the one I liked best as they went by.

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube March 16, 2015 at 8:40 am #

      I will be providing the answers at some point after 8 p.m. EST today. (I am on PST so it will be near the end of my work day.)

      I’ll list each one with a little explanation for the final choice.


  2. Avatar
    Bobbie March 16, 2015 at 5:48 am #

    Are you going to tell us which ones are really the best?
    I choose
    I chose A for the Fifth Man because it seems more a person.
    I chose B for Wings of Mercy just because of two birds and the colors.
    I chose C for Kingdom of the Cults – partly because I did not like the green in A and the image seemed to drive away those totally opposed to the occult.
    I chose C for Half Price Living due to the piggy bank – what’s in it for me for living half price.
    I chose C for The God Who Justifies because I didn’t like the images on the other two and the colors in C seemed more professional
    I like C for the Stand Up Guy because of its opposite picture to the words – It really grabbed my attention.
    I chose A for God Chaser – the color was nice and the trail seemed to go somewhere. B was a second choice

  3. Avatar
    Deborah Raney March 16, 2015 at 6:06 am #

    C, A, C, C, C, B, C

    Those are the ones that grabbed my attention, were readable in thumbnail size, and were just overall most appealing to me, or made me curious enough to want to open the book. Fun exercise. I hope you’ll give us the answers later this week!

    And I must say, I’m REALLY surprised by the final cover they went with on Hausfrau!

  4. Avatar
    Ellen March 16, 2015 at 6:07 am #

    Wow, all C for me!

  5. Avatar
    Laura Kirk March 16, 2015 at 6:10 am #

    C, A, A, B, B, B, A

  6. Avatar
    Sylvia A. Nash March 16, 2015 at 6:16 am #

    Well, I almost agreed with one person (Laura)! A, A, A, B, B, B, A were my choices based on readability, clutter, and personal taste. I’m curious to see the finals.

  7. Avatar
    Nicole Rivera March 16, 2015 at 6:29 am #

    C A C A A B A

  8. Avatar
    Bill Hendricks March 16, 2015 at 6:34 am #

    C, A, C, A, C, B, C

  9. Avatar
    Lisa V March 16, 2015 at 6:42 am #

    A A C A C B C – This is timely. My husband and I go round and round regarding serif vs. san serif typestyles for covers.

  10. Avatar
    Pamela Caldwell March 16, 2015 at 6:44 am #


  11. Avatar
    Robert Treskillard March 16, 2015 at 6:51 am #

    I chose:


    WINGS OF MERCY: (A) — a clean, simple, elegant image
    THE KINGDOM OF THE CULTS (C) — easier to read the title
    HALF-PRICE LIVING: (A) — stronger image
    THE GOD WHO JUSTIFIES: (C) — (b) isn’t bad, either
    A STAND-UP GUY: (B) — nice, ironic image portrays the comedy of the book.
    THE PRAYER OF A GOD CHASER: (none!) — I can hardly read the title on any of these covers!

  12. Avatar
    Mindy March 16, 2015 at 6:53 am #

    It never occurred to me that covers had to look good postage stamp size. Thanks for the fun exercise!

    B A A A C B B

  13. Avatar
    Robin Bayne March 16, 2015 at 6:54 am #

    B, for every cover except “Kingdome of the Cults”– that’s an A

  14. Avatar
    Dee Kincade March 16, 2015 at 6:59 am #

    I chose these based on ease of reading the titles and to see the pictures. Then I chose by personal preference.

    * Fifth Man – B
    * Wings of Mercy – B
    * The Kingdom of the Cults – C
    * 1/2 Price Living – A
    * The God Who Justifies – C
    * A Stand-Up Guy – A
    * The Prayer of God Chaser – B

  15. Avatar
    Jennifer Hallmark March 16, 2015 at 7:07 am #


  16. Avatar
    Ken March 16, 2015 at 7:18 am #

    I’d need to know more about the book, Housfrau. Many of this cover roughs gave a MUCH different impression than the final cover.

  17. Avatar
    Sarah Chafins March 16, 2015 at 7:25 am #

    A, B, C, C, C, B, C

  18. Avatar
    Ann Shorey March 16, 2015 at 7:50 am #

    A for almost all of them. B for Stand Up Guy (made me smile) and B for The God Who Justifies. No votes for Prayer of a God Chaser–too hard to read.

  19. Avatar
    Heather March 16, 2015 at 7:52 am #

    A B A B B B B

  20. Avatar
    JeanneTakenaka March 16, 2015 at 7:54 am #

    I’ll say first off, I love seeing all the different answers previous bloggers have given to your titles test. I took your “test” before reading any comments. 🙂

    Mine are: C, A, C, C, B, B, C

    It was also fascinating to see all the different covers that were considered for Hausfrau. I did not expect it to be the one they chose. 🙂

    Great post today, Steve!

  21. Avatar
    Cheri March 16, 2015 at 8:01 am #

    Fifth Man: B
    Wings: A
    Kingdom: C
    Half: A
    God: C
    Stand: B
    Prayer: C

  22. Avatar
    Heather FitzGerald March 16, 2015 at 8:02 am #

    To keep it simple, I generally like all the covers in the A column. Thank you for posting the video, too! There were so many options that looked like they would be effective. I’m awaiting a peek at my first cover and this just makes me (more) nervous, LOL.

    I’m enough of an artist myself to be quite opinionated about how it will look. Fortunately, I love the covers that my publisher has put out through this artist. It’s a small press but they have chosen to invest in an excellent artist that does work for bigger publishers.

  23. Avatar
    Cynthia Ruchti March 16, 2015 at 8:08 am #

    The Fifth Man–Loved the subtle references to 5 on A, but opted for B, because it let me know the subject matter of the book. Don’t know, but if it’s Mars, which is called the red planet, B makes more sense.

    Wings of Mercy–Definitely A. Clean, simple, pure, not too busy, easy to read and recognize. Nice, readable but tender (like mercy) title and author font.

    The Kingdom of the Cults–C. The title, which is powerful, jumps off the page, like it’s glowing in the dark–darkness, get it?–and the author’s name is more distinct.

    Half-Price Living–B. Even though A looks like a tag, if you take time to analyze, B gives that impression at a glance. It’s font also says it’s a book for primarily a female audience. If Ellie wants an equally male and female audience demographic, then A would work better.

    The God Who Justifies–A. Artistic. Gripping. C looks like a treatise on the subject. A looks like an engaging essay on the subject.

    Stand Up Guy–B. It suggests in a clearer way that it is witty and yet poignant.

    The Prayer of a God Chaser–Torn between A and B. I prefer the clarity of the text on B, but the glowing clouds has a “this is holy stuff” look whereas the wandering through the forest of A is more how the modern chaser might feel.

    Fun to see all the variety of answers.

  24. Avatar
    Janet Ann Collins March 16, 2015 at 8:09 am #

    ABCACBA even though I know some of those weren’t actually chosen. Will you let us know what all the actual choices were?

  25. Avatar
    Natalie Nyquist March 16, 2015 at 8:20 am #

    When it’s not my clients (and inducing stress!), I love critiquing cover designs. Fun post.

    Didn’t go with what I liked so much as what I’m guessing was settled on (from experience, rarely what I like :)): B, A, C, C, C, B, C.

    • Avatar
      Natalie Nyquist March 16, 2015 at 8:25 am #

      Also can’t believe how many variations they created for the book in the video. I’m used to seeing maybe a dozen at most.

      Favorite cover from above is definitely B for A Stand-Up Guy. If the book has any humor bent at all, that’s so perfect.

  26. Avatar
    Sandy Faye Mauck March 16, 2015 at 8:20 am #


  27. Avatar
    Jo Huddleston March 16, 2015 at 8:21 am #

    I chose B,A,A,A,C,B,C because the colors and images seemed appropriate for the content. On the cover for Prayer of a God Chaser I picked the one with the person running because it tied in with the word chaser.

    Neat exercise. Hope you’ll give us the final covers later.

  28. Avatar
    Sandy Faye Mauck March 16, 2015 at 8:27 am #

    Oh, I forgot to mention the video. I was wowed when as I zipped through the mass of covers and picked one that it ended up being the one they chose!

  29. Avatar
    B Bush March 16, 2015 at 8:42 am #

    I choose the following:

    C – liked the colors and infer the Fifth Man may be a particular role

    A – because other’s imagery remind me of Audubon educational texts

    C- first and second are too hard on eyes to read.

    A- as a shopper, brain quickly identifies favorably to 1/2 price symbol.

    B- first takes too long to move eyes down to read three words, then be interrupted by a red blob,process that, then finally get the fourth word. The last one gives the impression of a serious boring book to read. Some will be interested but only those with intentions to read it regardless.

    B- like the irony of between imagery and title. First one’s imagery is outdated, security cameras are more modern and less conspicuous, thus giving an impression of outdated material. The last is forthright in title and imagery and encourages reader to expect a simply funny novel. Also colors again seem 1970 kitchen colors, whereas the irony of the second cover encourages one to expect some conflict and struggles within the novel and peeks curiosity.

    B- first one, when I think of woods, I think of being lost or indecision; and although we tend to chase Him during those trials, the foggy woods seem eerie and suggest fear- not things I want to associate with seeking and finding God in prayer. Last one, I understand why one would suggest a runner, but it is a man’s legs thus this may limit possible readers, but perhaps the intended audience is men. I like the second one because it makes me think of the reward at the end of the chase and where we will one day call home.

    Well, I don’t know how I did, but this would be a fun job.

  30. Avatar
    Davalynn Spencer March 16, 2015 at 9:06 am #

    A, A, C, C, B, B, A. That video shows the ex-act reason I didn’t build a house – pick a floor plan, tile, paint, etc. Bought one already done that gave me a good sense of home. A designer I am not.

  31. Avatar
    Candy Arrington March 16, 2015 at 9:17 am #

    A, A, A, B, C, B, B

  32. Avatar
    Beverly Brooks March 16, 2015 at 9:27 am #

    What an interesting exercise.

  33. Avatar
    Penny Zeller March 16, 2015 at 9:52 am #

    Neat test! I would choose B (although I had a hard time between B & C for that first one), A,C,A,C,A,A.

    Looking forward to seeing the results!

  34. Avatar
    Tammy March 16, 2015 at 9:56 am #

    Excellent post. Interesting to see the varied results posted. To this point, not one responder voted the same. Demonstrates the difficulty of pleasing an audience.

    My selections:
    A-#5 gave it a Sci-fi appearance without turning me off.
    A- The simplistic, clean lines made me think about the title not the birds.
    C- This selection gave clarity to the authorship.
    B-Liked the sale tag, middle of the road: A-too boring, C- over the type-made me feel like a child
    C-Tempted by B, but the blood blotch turned me off,; instead, the bold black top invaded by the white “justice” resonated more than the whole white background signifying Christ’s overwhelming redemption.
    B-Made me smile and want to know more.
    A-I liked the image of God as the “hound of heaven” chasing me even through the woods of life.

  35. Avatar
    Janet Ann Collins March 16, 2015 at 10:02 am #

    It’s interesting that we all have different choices. Will you let us know which ones were actually chosen and why?

  36. Avatar
    Rebekah Millet March 16, 2015 at 10:21 am #

    My vote’s for B, A, A, A, B, B, A.
    Hausfrau has enough covers to wallpaper a room. LOL!

  37. Avatar
    Cheryl Laube March 16, 2015 at 10:34 am #

    The differences in the covers are subtle. It will be interesting to hear what the choices are and why. I have to admit that I am greatly affected by the cover…

  38. Avatar
    Becky Minor March 16, 2015 at 10:52 am #

    My votes:
    The Fifth Man: B
    This cover gives decent indication of genre but has better readability at thumbnail size than C
    Wings of Mercy: A
    Clean, uncluttered. peaceful
    Kingdom of the Cults: C
    Best readability for both contributors’ names
    Half Price Living: I am stuck between A and C, but if I had to pick, I’d go with A for the graphic wit of the design
    The God Who Justifies: C
    A nice play with the color of layout between the “red as scarlet/white as snow” concept that I would imagine figured into the book’s concept. The layout calls attention to “Justifies” without dividing up the text like cover A does. Cover B is uncomfortably crowded.
    A Stand Up Guy: B
    Good use of visual irony and the image indicates the humor of the book
    Prayer of a God Chaser: C
    This image seems to have the best, most specific connection to the title. Though honestly, all three of them have legibility issues at thumbnail size, so it was hard to call one out as the winner on this one.

    Thanks for the interesting exercise. It’ll be interesting to see how far off I am in my picks! 🙂

    • Avatar
      Judith Robl March 17, 2015 at 4:50 am #

      I did NOT look at any one else’s responses before I made mine, but was delighted to see that we agree completely – and basically for the same reasons.

  39. Avatar
    karen March 16, 2015 at 11:00 am #

    I am at the age where I need reading glasses so I need to be able to read the title easily. I chose
    A-bird on a tightrope makes me think of the need for Mercy as an individual– I might have preferred a dove or Eagle to represent being on God’s wings
    none-didn’t care for any of the choices-might convey savings but it doesn’t convey living/thriving and I would not buy a book to economize and feel miserly or constricted
    C-did not like the red blob that I think is a mis-shaped heart, I’d rather have a white heart
    none-didn’t care for any of the choices-they were all too difficult to read

  40. Avatar
    Carol Alford March 16, 2015 at 11:06 am #


  41. Avatar
    Julie Surface Johnson March 16, 2015 at 11:44 am #


  42. Avatar
    Diane March 16, 2015 at 11:45 am #

    My choices are AAAACBB It’s interesting to read others’ thoughts. Now to the video…

  43. Avatar
    Lisa Taylor March 16, 2015 at 11:56 am #

    I’d say, I’d have to know a bit more about the content of each book in order to judge better (I mean is “Wings of Mercy” fiction or non-fiction…. one of the designs looks suitable for an ornithology book). I’d also want to know how much of a brand the author has developed (determines how the author name is positioned).

    Anyway here goes:
    1. C
    2. B
    3. A (or C — it’s close)
    4. C
    5. B
    6. C

  44. Avatar
    sally March 16, 2015 at 12:16 pm #

    I would have gone with CACABBB

  45. Avatar
    Kim Jackson March 16, 2015 at 1:38 pm #

    A, A, C, B, C, B, C I tend to go with ease of reading the title as well as a graphic element that is intriguing. This was fun!

  46. Avatar
    Carolyn Miller March 16, 2015 at 1:49 pm #

    Great exercise, thanks Steve!
    I chose B, A, A, C, C, B, B.
    Looking forward to hearing the explanations.

  47. Avatar
    Brad Leach March 16, 2015 at 2:05 pm #

    I vote:
    B – Color appealing, easy to read.
    A – Single Bird more impactful, blue bird pretty, cover simple as is mercy
    C – Wording clear; Martin and Ravi are biggest = draws to Xians.
    B – Price tag fits Price and Sales. Cover C, pig is too small to see detail
    C – Only clear title, Can’t tell what red splotch is in others.
    B – Funny, illustrates the title. A = Sci Fi and C is too much blank space at top.
    C – Image of runner fits title. A = too ominous, B = Cliche churchey.

  48. Avatar
    Laura Christianson March 16, 2015 at 2:12 pm #

    I’m guessing that the publishers made their final decision based on the book’s genre, and whether the primary reader is male or female. So my guesses will be based on those two factors.

    Fifth Man: A (sans serif title font is currently in vogue for suspense novels.

    Wings: A (uncluttered, soothing one dominant image to appeal to female readers)

    Kingdom: C (most readable, but I’m guessing this one’s audience skews male, in which case, they’d likely prefer “A” — the green cover)

    Half-Price: A (bold; will attract coupon-clippers)

    Justifies : C (is that a blob of blood in A & B? I get the reference, but it’s kind of creepy)

    Stand-Up: B (intriguing, funny, unique)

    God-Chaser: C (if I had to choose; they’re all indecipherable)

  49. Avatar
    Shadia Hrichi March 16, 2015 at 3:00 pm #

    Well, that was fun! (and what writer is not looking for a distraction 😉

    Here are my picks:

    C, A, C, C, C, B?, A? (I wasn’t excited about any in the last two groups)

    Now to watch the video…

  50. Avatar
    Hannah Currie March 16, 2015 at 3:02 pm #


    Amazing how much of a difference a simple change of colour or font can make to the appeal!

  51. Avatar
    Joanna March 16, 2015 at 3:20 pm #


    A, A, A, A, A, C, A.

  52. Avatar
    Sparksofember March 16, 2015 at 4:04 pm #

    A, A, A, B, B, A, A

  53. Avatar
    Steve Laube March 16, 2015 at 5:46 pm #

    The Answers to Today’s Quiz


    Not one person of the 50+ quiz takers got them all! That is amazing. A few got all but one right.
    Imagine all of you in a cover design meeting giving your opinions and trying to convince the others that you are right. !!!???

    FIFTH MAN – Cover B

    Chosen because it is a science fiction novel and reflected the genre. Cover A was far too literal and had nothing to do with the genre.

    WINGS OF MERCY – Cover A

    Meant to be a devotional for bird-lovers/watchers. Cover A is clean crisp and easy on the eyes. Unfortunately in retrospect I think the title was wrong. Some of you did not know it was about birds which is a problem! It is a lesson all authors should learn: if your title has to be explained, the consumer has moved on to the next book.


    It is bold and dynamic and easy to read. Note that this book is about the Cults, not the Occult. In fact there is another book by Walter Martin called THE KINGDOM OF THE OCCULT. There was also a concern in design A that the general editors name, Ravi Zacharias, was too prominent and might give the consumer the wrong impression as to the author, which is Walter Martin.


    As one of you mentioned, the bold price tag look is visually arresting. And the colors stand out dramatically by comparison with the others. One early design idea was to actually hole-punch the front cover, just like a real price tag. But then the publisher thought better of it due to the manual costs and the danger of a machine missing the target on hundreds of copies!


    Authoritative. Easy to grasp. The colors divide the title perfectly to emphasize the topic of the book, “Justification.” This was a hardcover in its first edition which lent even more gravitas to the presentation. The other idea is clever, but there is an “ick” factor with the blood stain that we wanted to avoid. This was a close decision between B & C. Note the font or text does not really change, only the coloring. There is more “weight” in the title font in B, but that is about it.

    STAND UP GUY – Cover B

    No competition here. The novel is about a stand up comedian. Thus cover B is perfect. The publisher originally showed us cover C as the final with no other choices. If you could see it enlarged you would know why the author and I objected vociferously. The cartoon man looks stoned. “Perfect” for our Christian readership? Cover A is weird because of the surveillance camera in the upper left. Not sure what that has to do with anything in the book or the concept.


    I actually have at least 12 different cover designs we went through on this one. It was tough to pick. Cover C is too literal with the running feet and at that time this was a common visual. In defense of its being hard to see, this book was published years before ebooks were on the market and the Amazon thumbnail cover had much influence. In hardcover this cover was gorgeous because they used a treated foil to create a shimmer effect on the jacket. It was rather beautiful as a piece of art.

    Today this would not have worked for the reasons many of you stated. It breaks the rules of current covers with a very busy background with a font placed on top of it. There should always be a good contrast with a drop-shadow behind the font if you do use this type of photography in your cover.

    It is fascinating to look at books published in the 90s, 2000s, and this decade to see how both non-fiction and fiction cover designs have changed. That could be an interesting blog for another day.

  54. Avatar
    Laura Christianson March 16, 2015 at 6:30 pm #

    Thanks for this quiz, Steve. It was fun and got me thinking. My company’s graphic designer took the quiz, too, and we independently agreed on all but one cover. This is good, since we’re now offering book cover design services!

    See you next week at Mount Hermon.

  55. Avatar
    Judith Robl March 17, 2015 at 4:45 am #


    All personal preference, I’m afraid.

  56. Avatar
    Reba Cross Seals March 17, 2015 at 7:03 am #

    It’s impossible to choose without including personal preferences and personal factors like which is the easiest for me to read.
    I chose A C C C C A A. I look forward to reading the results.

  57. Avatar
    Mary Albers Felkins March 17, 2015 at 4:32 pm #

    These are my choices: B, A, C, B, B, B, B.

  58. Avatar
    Ron Andrea March 22, 2015 at 5:21 am #


    In each case I chose impact, even if not most attractive, as you need to attract the reader’s attention.

    Agree that NONE of the covers for the God Chaser book are good.

  59. Avatar
    Martha Jane Curtis March 25, 2015 at 10:09 pm #

    My choices are BACCBBA.

  60. Avatar
    Bridgett February 2, 2016 at 3:25 pm #

    I choose: A A C A B B C


  1. What’s In A Book Cover — SpecFaith - March 16, 2015

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