Never judge a book by its cover but please buy mine!

Ruth Hartley Storytelling, Book Publishing, Books by Ruth Hartley, Festival, Illustration, Imagination, Promotion, Reading, The Shaping of Water, The Tin Heart Gold Mine, The White and Black Blues, Writing Process2 Comments

Book Cover design


The cover shows a tin heart nailed to a tree with the book title "The Tin Heart Gold Mine" in gold across it

“The Tin Heart Gold Mine” by Ruth Hartley. Cover design by Terry Compton Design

Cover of The White and Black Blues by Ruth Hartley

The Shaping of Water book cover









Dear Friends and dear Readers I have great need of your help.

This year I will be publishing my new book The Love and Wisdom Crimes. Its a book that has been 53 years in the making and 20 years in the writing. Next year I will publish my memoir When I Was Bad  which by comparison is a rush job done in 3 years. I think that good book cover design is essential in the marketing of books but I need to know what you think about book covers. Please, take time to generously fill up my comments page with your opinions about what you think of my covers so far – what book covers you like – and most important of all – what attracts you to a book. Does a cover matter to a kindle or eBook or an Audible reader? I am longing to hear from you all.

My salutary experience when I looked at the books I read!

I looked at the covers of my pile of books waiting  to be read and was surprised to see that on the whole, the book covers were not necessarily all that attractive, inspiring, or even of relevance to the story I chose. What makes you choose a book?  The thing is that when books are on a shelf in a bookshop, or library, or in your home, you only see the spine!

I realised that I choose books for the following reasons:-

A good review made me choose From Moscow to the Black Sea by Teffi and Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red.

If I know (and love) the writers. Atwood, Carter, Lessing, Le Guin, Rushdie, Atkinson, Brink, Gordimer, Coetzee, Roth, Gappah.

If I trust the publisher on the whole – to my surprise I found a majority of Penguin and Vintage books in my random pile. I wondered if this was about my taste in books or simply the way the book market is?

The books are news stories about topical subjects like Room by Emma Donoghue
If the books are prize winners. The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. This has become a more dubious way to find a good book. Longlisted or shortlisted books are sometimes better.


They are recommended by friends or book shops.

As was the case with Be Ready with Bells and Drums by Elisabeth Kata.

I’ve been to a literary festival and felt that I had to buy a book or books to support the author and then been delighted as I was by Claire Fuller‘s Our Endless Numbered Days.

Taglines on book covers help when there’s no other clue.

Hunting through second-hand shops may allow me to experiment with an unknown writer if the book is cheap or related to an area of interest.



Good covers attract me

but are way down on the reason why I choose a book. In fact I often choose books in spite of the cover. This discovery shocked me! I had thought visual considerations mattered more to me.

I choose a book if I read the first sentence and it hooks me.

If they are “forced” on me by a book club and turn out to be great reads like The Ginger Tree by Oswald Wynd and The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng.

Films sometimes send me back to books. Good films often come from good writers like Philip K Dick. I’ve reread Austen, Dickens and the Brontes and George Elliot because of films. A film is a helluva good book cover!

When I get onto Amazon I notice covers but choose by a couple of reviews – the best and the worst. Then I choose the edition that is affordable and has a cover I like. Sometimes the cover comes first.

An important decision making time for a writer

Yes, the pre-publication stuff is an important decision making time and writers are terrified about all kinds of things. Will the book cover sell the book?

How will their book be received and reveiwed? You, the reader are the key to it all for us. Please, tell me what you think.

Oh yes! Tanvir Bush is at the same critical pre-publication phase and here is the cover for her new and very exciting book Cull. Tanvir’s book will be out in January 2019. Watch out for it! It’s brilliant!

2 Comments on “Never judge a book by its cover but please buy mine!”

  1. June Gadsby

    Ruth, as you have probably already seen on my FB author’s page, I’m having a struggle coming up with a new title for my book “A Touch of Magic”, which has been translated into French. The translator doesn’t like my title and I don’t like her version, “Disparu pendant la Guerre”. She insists that the French people like books about the war and therefore there should be the word “Guerre” in the title. My book is set in mainly in the Basque region of France after the war and is a sentimental story about a young boy not believing that his father, who was reported lost in his plane in the Pyrenees, is dead. It’s Christmas and the only thing he wants is the chance to see the place where his father’s plane crashed. Publishers usually like my titles, but I have had one or two who have changed the title without even consulting me and I have hated their choice. So, obviously, publishers think that titles are important. I’ve had some terrible covers too, which have no real bearing on the actual story, but the cover is perhaps the first thing readers see and they have to attract. For me, the blurb is most important as a ‘carrot’, making the reader want to read on, but my French translator has re-written the blurb to “A Touch of Magic” and practically told the whole story, which I have objected to strongly. Nobody wants to know how a book ends before they’ve read it – well, some might, but I prefer to pick up books that give me a hint of what it’s about and excite me enough to want to read the whole novel. Another thing – if the book takes too long to get to the point of the story, I get bored and throw it to one side. I need an instant injection of suspense and clues that say it’s my kind of read. At the moment, I’m reading a book by an author I have known for years on Facebook, but I’m finding it lacking in suspense and pace and it’s nearly all dialogue with very little action. Now, I’m all for plenty of dialogue that carries the story along and enough text that isn’t just padding, but at the moment I feel as if I’m reading a film script rather than a novel. All the above is just my own personal opinion, but it might give you some useful ideas to ponder over. Best of luck. June, xx

    1. Ruth Hartley

      Hi June, It really interesting to read your long comment because it contains so much that is important for writers to know about as we have to make these choices all the time. Deciding on a cover is difficult enough. It’s not what you like – it’s what the reader likes and as you say the blurb matters so much too – and the title. I was told that titles ought not to be longer that 4 words but of course they do have to entice as well. I always try a new title out in a search engine to see what else it brings up. Often necessary to rethink them after that! Thanks for this useful comment and good luck with the French translation! Well done!

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