Discussion: The Great Cover Debate (People vs. Scenery)

disussion on a bookish topic-01

If you know me at all (do you know me, readers? Do you?), you’ll know that I’m a huge cover whore. I don’t care WHAT the book is about, if I see a cover in a store that completely captures my eye every time I see it, I want it on my shelf. A few times, this has been beneficial, like when I picked up a copy of Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain:

racing in the rain

I mean, how can you NOT fall in love with that cover? Lucky for me, after I bought it (based solely on the cover), it turned out to be a super good read. This cover, though, features a dog. I’m sure that if I went into reading this book without seeing a dog on the cover, well, there’s a chance I wouldn’t have picked it up AND, if I had picked it up, I may have pictured a completely different dog as Enzo, our furry main character.

For most book covers, I go for that initial reaction, whether it’s the colours, or the layout, or the font — if it grabs my eye, I have a hard time NOT walking out of the store with a copy. But when it comes to books with characters on the cover, a lot of which grace my shelves, I wonder if I’m really *reading* the story how I should be. Does having a character on the cover give me a different reaction towards that character? Is it better to NOT have a character on the cover so that I can imagine my own character, building them from scratch based on the descriptions given to me from the author?

A lot of the cover I love have people on them. Take the cover for For Darkness Shows the Stars


This is a gorgeous cover with a beautiful girl on it. But, of course, when I read it, I pictured this girl as Elliot, our main character. This does work out when the character on the cover fits the description of the character in the book, but I’ve heard of instances where the description doesn’t match the person on the cover — like the character in the book having brown hair, yet the character on the cover has red hair. This can really ruin a story!

When it comes down to it, is scenery the best thing to have on a cover? Perhaps an illustrative-like caricature of a character, rather than a real visual photograph-like image? Or, would it be better if we had books with NO cover at all, leaving us with a completely blank slate when we start the book?

I have to admit that this idea TERRIFIES me, being someone who is drawn to gorgeous covers. Before I even read a synopsis for a story, I look at the cover over and over again, picking out the typography, or the colours, or the small details that are thrown in for effect. Without these, I feel like I would be on the fence with what to read all the time. There are times, when it comes to picking out a next read, I’ll choose a book whose cover I love, without reading the synopsis — at least then I’m giving a SORT of idea of what I’m going into. If I had to read a book based on absolutely nothing except for the synopsis, I’ll admit that I’d be more than a bit hesitant.

So I guess when I think about it, I’m torn between having characters on the cover or scenery. I think so long as you have a beautiful cover, something to really grab your readers, and something that fits the story, it’d be something that would grab me — and maybe there are times when I’ll be more than happy to buy a book with a character on the cover based on the dress they’re wearing. I’m still a girl. I like those sorts of things.

Are you picky about your covers? Would you read all of your books if they had NO cover? 



16 thoughts on “Discussion: The Great Cover Debate (People vs. Scenery)

  1. I don’t think I’d read a book as quickly if it didn’t have a cover. Most of the time I buy a book just based off it’s cover, so if it didn’t have one, I wouldn’t buy if. Maybe my bank account would like it better if books had no covers 😉

    As for scenery vs characters on the cover, it doesn’t matter to me as long as they are relevant to the book. Ex. The Selection books. I love those covers and even love that they are completely relevant to the story. And the character on the cover actually looks like she’s supposed to in the book.

    • Ha ha … my bank account would feel the same! And you’re right — sometimes the characters on the cover are exactly as they sound in the book. That’s when it really works!

  2. Funny, my copy of The Art of Racing in the Rain had a freakin’ yellow lab / golden retriever on it!! I was so annoyed because the dog described in the book looked NOTHING like that! The cover you got is SO much better — and so cute!

    I am also drawn to gorgeous covers, but when there are people on them, it’s a tricky thing for me. Honestly, I prefer covers with people on them when they are more stylized or painterly, and not photos or photomanipulations (personal preference, I suppose). I don’t like it to mess with how I see the characters in my mind when I read the books. Like, the Twilight books? I first heard about them when I came across a trailer for the movie online. So I read all four books picturing the actors from the movies. It’s not awful, I guess, but I still think it can detract.

    • Don’t you hate that? When the cover doesn’t seem to tie into the book at all? I’m sad you didn’t get the cover I have!

      I think I like it best when people are more artistic with their covers … it’s not just people with a title, but the colours are manipulated, the typography is neat looking, and there’s something that makes it seem less like a photo and more like art.

  3. I never buy books based solely on their covers, but I love pretty covers and get really excited when I get to own a book that I think looks really nice on my shelf. I’ve actually never seen that version of THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN…the ones I’ve seen always have the golden retriever on the front (BTW I just read it a couple months ago and I loved it so much!). I’m definitely a fan of characters on the cover vs. scenery (I really love the covers for The Selection series), but sometimes covers without people can look really cool, too.

    • Wasn’t it a good book? I loved little Enzo!

      The Selection covers really are beautiful … I think sometimes the people covers can look really good, but sometimes they’re just kind of meh to me.

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  5. I don’t read YA, so usually if I see a flowing dress or glitter I run away regardless of what the title is. Other than that, I’ve only recently begun paying attention to covers because I usually get my books based on recommendations and so by the time I see the cover I already know if I want to read it or now. Great discussion!

  6. Given the choice I’d have to say scenery, but a lot of my favorite covers are actually neither. I like ones that focus instead on inanimate objects (like The Thirteenth Tale) or just a more abstract design (like A Discover of Witches). Or something like the US cover of The Cuckoo’s Calling, where there’s a character, but we don’t see her face, the image is just used as part of an overall impression. Not to say there aren’t some gorgeous covers that feature a clear image of the main character, but overall those are my least preferred.

    • Oh yes … the inanimate object! I like that you pointed out The Thirteenth Tale … that’s one of my favourite covers, and really, Bellman and Black doesn’t disappoint in the cover, either. I also like it when we see a part of the main character. I’m very much anti-faces, but sometimes having pieces can work well, too.

  7. Wow I would never want to live in world without bookcovers!!! I love them too much. I don’t think I have a preference over people or scenery on covers. This what I like in my covers: Unique ideas (NO KISSING/ALMOST KISSING), eye-catching, pretty colors, simplicity. That’s usually what I go for. I really like the cover of For Darkness that you have up there…. very pretty!!!

  8. Ooooh, this is a great question! Covers really do draw me to books and I admit it. I’ve passed up a few good ones (which I found out later) that had covers I didn’t like because I was not drawn to them. Unfortunately people do judge books by their covers! It’s just part of marketing.
    The Shadowlands series by Kate Brian comes to mind about covers not matching characters! The girl on the cover of Shadowlands is a brunette when in the books, she’s clearly described as blonde and her sister is the brunette. It’s confusing!

    • Oh really? I have the first book in that series but never have read it. Actually, sometimes I’ll read the book and not even think about who’s on the cover … maybe I just don’t pay enough attention. Though, I do prefer covers without people on them. And you’re right, lots of people (myself included!) judge books by their covers. It’s hard to imagine how many great books I’m passing up!

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My home is where my books are. - Ellen Thompson

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