Misleading Book Covers and Titles

I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but the cover is probably the most important marketing material for the book, along with its title. A nice-looking cover is going to make readers open the book, read a few of the pages, or read the jacket blurb. The cover should also reveal the main vibe of the book. A dark cover with gloomy cover art tells the reader that the book might be a Southern Gothic or horror novel. A lesser concern is when the character on the cover doesn’t look anything like the way the character is described in the book.

It’s even more distressing when it’s a major New York City publisher that does this. I can understand if a new self-published author chooses the wrong cover for his book, but somehow it’s less forgivable when a big-name does it.

The publishers shouldn’t choose the cover just to draw attention to the book. If the cover design looks really neat and it’s the main basis for someone to choose the book, then the content of the book has to be even more awesome. In other words, the cover design shouldn’t be a gimmick.

The same theory holds with the title. Titles ought to match what the book is about and hint at the vibe and themes of the book. A really cool title is nice, but the story has to be even more cool to meet the reader’s expectations. There have been some books I’ve read where I’ve wondered what the heck the title had to do with the book. But I don’t ever recall reading a book simply for the title or the cover art.

How about you? Ever been misled by a book cover or title?

14 thoughts on “Misleading Book Covers and Titles

  1. I once found an article with pictures of a number of misleading covers, but now I can’t seem to find it again … Oh well.
    Anyway, I agree with you. No, we shouldn’t judge the book by its cover, but covers help us form an idea of what kind of book it is – just like the title does and the blurb on the back.
    I included some examples of fantasy books published with two different covers (such as the British Harry Potter books or some of Terry Pratchett’s) in a thesis a few years back – one for a young audience and one for an adult audience. Interesting marketing strategy.

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  2. Totally agree. I just read a Jilly Cooper novel after a friend made me read it for my blog. From all the book covers I’d seen, featuring lingerie and horsewhips, I’d assumed there was nothing to Cooper but sex. Actually it was really funny and entertaining – not great literature but definitely something to curl up with now and again

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    1. Every time I see a cover with a lady clad in skimpy lingerie, I assume it’s a trashy romance… but some romances are actually tactful and pretty good. That’s why it’s useful to look past the cover art and into the pages.

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  3. I was sure that your post would include an example of a misleading book cover and/or title. It certainly seems from reading what you wrote that something published by a major New York City publisher led to this post.

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    1. Blood Wounds by Susan Beth Pfeffer. The cover gave the book a very creepy vibe that the book really didn’t have. It was more depressing than genuinely creepy.

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  4. I just found a book yesterday initially published under a different title before the author changed the title and cover to more accurately portray the contents. I think it was “The Singular Gift” or something close to that by a self-published author.

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    1. I think if you’re self-published you can have a much easier time changing titles and covers than you would if you were traditionally published. That’s one of the upsides of self-publishing. More control.

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      1. Indeed, and I’m a bit more forgiving about their covers, but a cheap looking cover puts me off for a different reason than the ones you mentioned. For self published authors, if I don’t think you put money into your cover design, I worry that you did not put money into getting your manuscript edited. We had ours looked over by an author in Australia and the change was dramatic, without even getting down to the more nit picky grammatical edit to come. I’ve knocked books down 2 stars when reviewing them if the grammar is poor because it disrupts the read to me, and often it’s something even a beta reader should have caught. That’s one thing I rarely see a problem with from large publishing houses.

        -Eliabeth

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        1. I feel the same way. If you care enough to self-publish, then you should care about the quality of the cover and editing too.

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  5. I think that the best book covers are the ones which just state the title, maybe in a decorative font. If the cover has too many images on it, I won’t really notice it. If it’s just bold and simple, I do notice it. I definitely agree with you when you say that we shouldn’t just judge a book by it’s cover. And as you say – there are some books out there which are really good but just don’t have the right cover.

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  6. I’ve been surprised several times on Amazon.com when a book I have on my shelf has one cover and the book now being sold looks completely different.

    I almost always like the cover I have on my shelf better. 😀

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