Judging a Book by Its Cover Copy

Cover copy (or jacket blurb) is important to a book, no question. It is one of the main things, if not the main thing that makes a reader buy a book. It is carefully crafted, often refined from the author’s pitch and query letter, and calculated to make the reader want to find out more.

I know that when I browse for books, the title catches me first, then I read the jacket. I don’t much care what the cover art looks like, as far as making a buying decision goes. And I find I rarely glance at the first few pages, although I know many people do. So the jacket blurb is of utmost importance to my buying experience.

I was in the pharmacy earlier this week, and I browsed the paperbacks while waiting. I found a book that I’d heard tons of people talking about – it’s all the rage. Since I really didn’t know what the book was about, I read the jacket. It seemed interesting—until I got to the glaring typo in the very last line. An extra word! That mistake immediately turned me off from the book. I suppose the part of me that is a professional editor wondered about the quality of what I would find inside the book, if they made such a mistake on a small blurb on the back. And while I may still read the book sometime, my strong negative reaction surprised me.

I’ve been thinking that the adage “You can’t judge a book by its cover” can also be applied to the cover copy. There have been times I’ve bought a book with a great jacket blurb, only to find that the story didn’t live up to the promise—sometimes it hardly seemed like the same book! And there are times when the book far exceeds the expectations raised in the blurb.

Authors often protest that it isn’t fair for their entire manuscript to be judged by a single-page query letter. Is it any fairer that your book, once published, is judged by a single blurb on the back? Which is precisely why we authors have to be so good at summing our book up, even though we find it so difficult sometimes!

How important is jacket copy to you when you buy a book? Should there be a better way for readers to be able to judge a book, instead of relying so heavily on cover copy? If so, what?


  1. An interesting coincidence that the topic of jacket blurb should come up now. I just spent the weekend in Maryland at a SF convention called Shore Leave. This a fun show that I have been attending for 16 years.

    For the first time, I participated in a long standing event called Meet the Pros, wherein all of the writer guests gathered together in one place to sell and sign books. Though I was not a guest at this particular show, I was granted table space as a new writer.

    My first novel, a paranormal mystery called Testing the Prisoner, was published late 2009 and debuted on the market in March 2010.

    It has been doing very well, has received great reader feedback on Amazon and B&N.com, and an impressive number of copies had sold at two previous conventions. However, at the Meet the Pros event, there was one gentleman who read the jacket blurb on the back cover and said that it did not grab him.

    He then proceeded to make other negative comments about the list of reader reviews I had on display. Finally, ‘feeling guilty’ for his comments, he bought a copy. When I asked him if I should personalize the autograh, he told me to just sign it in case he wanted to ‘put it in a book swap’ later.

    He was the first person to criticize the jacket blurb. I wasn’t sure how to take it, especially since he followed up that comment with further negativity even after buying a copy. Was it just this one guy being rude?

    On the flip side, I have had other people read the jacket blurb and become intrigued.

    All I know is that this gentleman’s comments left me feeling rather low for the remainder of the weekend and beyond and made me wonder how many other people felt the same way but said nothing?

    Phil Giunta
    Author, “Testing the Prisoner”

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