Sunday Coffee – Judging Books By Their Covers

They say not to do it, right? But we all do. There are who marketing and design teams dedicated to getting book covers right for a target audience. Slap an old painting and a script font on Wuthering Heights, and you’ve got a perfectly acceptable and common version of a classic novel. Give it a cloth cover with curling metal vines, and you have a special edition. But put a Twilight-esque cover of a bloody rose and gothic script, complete with tagline “love never dies,” and suddenly you’re marketing this same classic novel to a YA audience that never would have picked up either of those previous versions. (No, I did not make that up. Google it.)

Now of course, covers only give us initial impressions. They’re meant to draw us in, to get us to read the contents inside. When a cover doesn’t do well – or when it’s aimed at a different target audience – we’re less likely to pick the book up. Target audiences change over time, as well as preferences in aesthetics. Consequently, book covers get updated all the time as well, if the market warrants it.

I bring this up because of a particular book that came to my notice recently: The Killings at Badger’s Drift by Caroline Graham. This mystery was original published in 1987, and has been made into a TV series since 1997. Tbh, I’d never heard of the show until recently, maybe the last year or two, when suddenly it seems to be everywhere. I couldn’t say if there’s been an increase in popularity, or if it’s just come to my attention so I’ve noticed it more. I’ve never seen the show, but it didn’t surprise me when I saw The Killings of Badger’s Drift show up on an Audible sale. Nor did it surprise me that this particular cover mentioned the TV show.

Because I wasn’t sold on the audio version, I checked if the book was available through the library, and it was – with an entirely different kind of cover. Whereas the one above is exactly the kind of cover that would draw me in, the old cover has an entirely different vibe. The old one reminds me of elderly ladies and British tea parties and dull dullness, whereas the new one evokes a bit of spooky whimsy and sharp death and good fun. If I’d only seen the old cover, I wouldn’t have picked up the book at all without further recommendation from readers I trust. As it is, I picked up the book based on the new cover alone.

[Notably, I didn’t end up reading this book. I read the prologue, which read far more like the second cover than the first. Then I was so irritated by the “hide the secret from the reader” trope (you never find out what the narrator of the prologue saw that freaked her out) that I returned the book to the library. Likely I would have read further if 1) the writing style was super 80s, which isn’t my favorite, and 2) I read a few spoilers that made me uninterested in continuing.]


About Amanda

Agender empty-nester filling my time with cats, books, fitness, and photography. She/they.
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