The Danger of Judging a Book by its Cover

1 gray book, 1 orange book
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Posted By Rule29
in Strategy
Posted By Rule29 in Strategy

Midway through my creative career, I took a slight detour into the publishing world. I loved books, reading different genres, and what I imagined would be a delightful experience of reading a book and then envisioning a cover that would represent the uniqueness of the story, enticing both potential readers and buyers. 

Most of us have heard the English idiom "Don't judge a book by its cover," which is a metaphorical phrase meaning one should not judge the worth or value of something by its outward appearance alone.

When I first started designing covers, it was truly an enjoyable experience until I encountered one particular team I worked with. They had little desire to understand the details of the design or concept; only whether it had the “necessary” formula they thought would sell. 

I remember one particular meeting where, after a month of work, my team's efforts were quickly dismissed. I asked them what value they saw in the creative team's efforts. Getting slightly red in the face, this leader said they appreciated the work, but he didn’t think it would sell

This person went on to explain that it needed to fit into certain parameters or a designated formula, otherwise, there was a risk people wouldn’t buy the book. I followed up by saying, "I appreciate that, BUT how do you know it won’t work? We do all the books here the same way, and they sell okay, but what if they sold like crazy? What happens when someone buys a book and the cover feels different from the story?"

This moment for me has had a lasting impression. Often leaders can become so caught up in expected appearance and predictable outcomes that, like his response showed, they become uninterested in pushing the limits to explore real possibilities. 

As leaders, we get so wrapped up in how something looks or how process-oriented we are, that we lose the desire to take risks, listen to other views, and instead lock into something that feels easy. The end result of this is stagnation, discouragement, and the failure necessary to help us truly grow. 

Nowadays, when I purchase a book because the cover is interesting, and then the story and the design all align, this registers as a real win– for me (the reader), the publisher, and the author. It’s in those moments I remember to look for something that stands out from the crowd, something truly unique. 

While it’s helpful not to judge a book by its cover, you must also be willing to ask “What’s my cover communicating?” Instead of relying on standard protocol and tired formulas, challenge yourself and your teams to explore alternative possibilities. Taking risks and thinking differently enable growth and lead to success. Figuratively, craft the cover that sells the book and then create the story that makes the purchase worth it.