No Second First Impressions: Book Covers

You’ve heard that line:

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

I read a great book years ago, still on my bookshelf, titled You’ve Only Got Three Seconds, about making that first impression in your business and social life. It was written by Camille Lavington, a woman whom executives hired to “enhance” their image. As Camille presented it:

“Get used to it. The real world has your number. It only takes people three seconds to know where you’re coming from. Within a few seconds they can size you up. It’s not a comforting prospect to be judged so hastily, but that’s the way it is.”

She goes on to describe how quickly and automatically we really do size each other up, trying to glean information about others from clothing and hairstyle, posture and carriage, grooming and accessories, manners and mannerisms, etc. Of course, we hope to adjust our impressions as we learn more or discover discrepancies with our assumptions, but if we think we aren’t making those snap judgments, we’re fooling ourselves. Some scientists suggest this tendency is a survival instinct, which allowed us to quickly determine friend or foe and act accordingly.

Like it or not, we draw conclusions based on first impressions. And we give first impressions too — intentionally expressing our personalities and priorities by how we wear our hair, what clothing we put on, the jewelry we choose. The expensive-suited man with custom cuff links and well-trimmed hair driving a Jaguar is saying something about himself to the world, while the black-clothed, multi-tattooed and pierced man riding a motorcycle is saying something else altogether. And while it’s only a glimpse into who they are, it still suggests something about the person inside.

Which is why book covers matter.

Book cover examples
Stories I’ve Read Recently

Of course, the book cover is just a glimpse, but it makes a first impression — another promise about what the novel itself will be. You can even look at many covers and know their genre. Otherwise, why bother with the shirtless, muscular man and his swooning, bodice-ripping lady? Or the warrior holding a gleaming sword? Or the rusty ax and the blood-dripping font?

I’ve been following a marvelous series of blog posts from the marvelous Melinda VanLone of Book Cover Corner about book covers and what they should include. I encourage writers to check it out: The Amateur’s Guide to a Professional Book Package: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four to Come. As a book cover designer, Melinda understands the importance of making that first impression and gives authors specific tips on what to look for when designing or requesting a cover.

Book covers have also been on my mind because my local RWA chapter, Houston Bay Area RWA, hosts the annual JABBIC (Judge A Book By Its Cover) contest. Official judging of submitted covers has ended, but now it’s time for Reader’s Choice voting. I encourage you to vote your own first impression on the book covers there. Here’s the official announcement:

Judging for the Readers’ Choice Award in Houston Bay Area RWA’s 2013 Judge A Book By Its Cover contest is now open. The Readers’ Choice winners will be featured on HBA RWA’s website at

Anyone can judge, so spread the word. Voting will be open until midnight CST on February 9, 2014. We will announce the Grand Prize Winners, judged by booksellers, as well as the Readers’ Choice Winners on February 10, 2014.

The following link will take you to the Readers’ Choice page. Follow the instructions there to vote on all the covers.

Vote quickly. Judging ends tonight at 12:00 midnight Texas time (CST).

ROW80 Update

Speaking of judging, I’ll let you be the judge of how I did with my writing goals this week. Following is my regular update for A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Here are my goals for the round:

1. Read 12 books. I finished book #6, Mila 2.0 by Debra Driza (fiction), and also read half of #7, Making Love in the Microwave (nonfiction), by Aja Dorsey Jackson. On track.

2. Complete two drafts of short stories. I wrote a little more on one short story, but not as much as I’d hoped. A little off track.

3. Take care of ROW80 sponsor responsibilities. Visited blogs on Sundays and Wednesdays. What’s amazing about this particular challenge is to see writers at all stages of the journey: from first draft of first book to multipublished authors! And everyone supporting each other each step. On track.

4. Edit at least once through Good & Guilty, young adult mystery. Deep edited two chapters. I also won a first chapter critique from a fellow author, so I sent those pages to her for feedback and received some great tips. On track, but I wish the train moved faster.

What’s your opinion of book covers? Are you swayed to read a book or even the book blurb based on a fabulous cover? And how was your week?

13 thoughts on “No Second First Impressions: Book Covers

      1. Oh no, Nancy! I’m so sorry about the eaten comment. I’ll check my settings to make sure nothing weird’s going on.

        Yes, I’ve heard that changing up the cover can give a boost to an already-pubbed books. Good with it!

  1. The colors on covers will draw me in but rarely does the rest of the cover do much to influence me. Well, the BACK cover blurb does influence me, LOL. I’ll definitely check out that series. Thanks for pointing it out.

    Doing good with those goals Julie! Have a fabulous week.

    1. Thanks, Raelyn! A good cover will entice me to read the blurb, and that can cinch it for me. To me, a wonderful cover makes me say to myself, “I wonder that this is about” and then the blurb answers the question.

      Have a lovely week!

  2. I think you’re doing great with your ROW80 goals, Julie.

    As far as book covers go . . . I’ll grab a book off the shelf because of an appealing cover. I’ll then read from the back cover and make my decision. Oprah encourages readers to make their decision based on the first paragraph or two from Chapter 1, but I don’t often do that.

    On the flipside, I’m sure I’ve left many wonderful books on the shelf because I didn’t like the cover.

    1. I rarely read the first paragraph or two either. But a wonderful cover and a great book blurb can really catch my attention. (I had a friend who used to decide by reading the last line of a novel. Eek! I could never do that!)

      Have a lovely week, Steph!

  3. I only read the first paragraphs if it’s a brand new book to me…as in, nobody has recommended it and I haven’t seen any friends reading it. THEN I’ll check out the writing before I buy. But always, always, I judge the cover first. Because I’m drawn in by art and colors…I can’t help it 🙂 Thanks so much for the shout out Julie!

  4. I think book covers are a form of art. It’s great to see a well-designed book cover that can capture my attention as much as a well-written first line can. I will have to look at Melinda’s posts. Having worked in publications in the past, I know how much time and energy graphic designers pour into their work. They might often be overlooked in the publishing process, but they really shouldn’t be. They are giving a face to our stories, and that is so important for readers!

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