Under the (Book) Covers: Turn Ons and Turn Offs

One of the joys of looking through books on the internet—in publishing catalogs, listicles or online bookstores—is the ability to see covers instead of tilted-head spines. With this new method of mass book browsing, I’ve started to notice patterns in the covers I stop on and those I scroll right through. I thought it would be interesting to flip through some upcoming titles with the sole purpose of finding themes in my cover lust—here are the results!

Retro Images

Turn On: Retro Images

Something about stylized retro imaging totally grabs me. It’s usually a hint at the author’s perspective, which may be a twist on typical historical fiction or just smart social commentary, both of which I love.


Thrillers Ladies

Turn Off: Mysterious Ladies

I tend to have trouble with mysteries in general, but I’ve started to steer myself away from what I’m calling the “mysterious lady” cover. I keep thinking they’ll work for me, but they very rarely do.


Graphic Text

Turn On: Graphic Text

It takes a ton of confidence to let bold, graphic text speak for your writing in place of images. Over time, though, I’ve had quite a bit of success with writers who are willing to throw caution to the wind this way. Plus, the covers are just irresistible.


Too Pretty

 Turn Off: All the Pretty Things

I tend to like some darkness in my reading, so anything that’s too pretty is an immediate turn off. I know I sound like a monster, but if there are cakes or teacups or bouquets of flowers on a cover, I’m probably skipping it.


Let's Get Weird

Turn On: Just…Weird

On the other hand, give me all the weird! A beard with a house? Sure! I’m a sucker for stories or novels that take some piecing together and oddball covers are usually a good indicator of that.


What cover trends make you stop in your tracks or run for the hills?


  • I love that you have a Weird category. I love even more that it is a turn-on. I definitely fall prey to the Retro Images.

  • Ooo….what a great topic for a post. I probably won’t actually get around to one, but it would be fun! I’m not so much for the retro or graphic text. I love the pretty covers.

  • Anita LeBeau

    What fun!! I love Retro, hate the graphics thing…too much work to read the titles. I agree on mysterious ladies, but I do love a mystery. I’m ok with pretty but not all the time. I like just weird and funky very much.

  • Love these! I could come up with lots to add to all of them. Silhouettes are very popular these days (I started a Pinterest board for them) and tend to make very striking, attractive covers.

  • Noora

    This was awesome! I agree with you with the graphic texts and the weird section – those designs definitely draw me in! I’ve also noticed that there are a lot of silhouettes and hand-drawn/illustrated covers coming out this year.

  • Ashley Farley

    This is a great post, fun to read. I love the retro. Don’t particularly care for the graphics. The pretties don’t usually grab my attention when I’m surfing. I love a great mystery, but agree these ladies don’t cut it. Thanks for sharing. Have a great day.

    • Yeah, I definitely think the pretty books have a tough hill to climb to stand out…many of them look very similar to me.

  • Great post idea – you’re doing well on your creativity goal :) I feel like I haven’t been paying any attention to book covers lately because I read solely electronically…and I’ve rarely picked up a book based on the cover. But, I do share your aversion to “all the pretty things” or anything that screams romance. Maybe I’ll start paying more attention…

    • You’re probably doing things the smart way, going for actual content instead of letting yourself be distracted by pretty covers!


    Right? I think it’s the Art. (Plus the teams of marketing gurus studying us like chimps + the bananas we reach for). Covers that have me running for the hills? Bare chested men with the inevitable woman pining away. Gah!

  • Very fun post that has me thinking! Like you, I think I’m drawn to retro covers. I also find myself picking up covers that contain striking colors in some form.

  • Karen White

    Fun post! I think it’s so sad that authors often have little input into their cover art. I personally don’t like it when a cover tries to mimic that of a successful book or series. For me, my “reading mood” definitely leads me to different cover art at different times. I tend to pick wine the same way :)

    • I hadn’t thought about the cover mimics, but that’s such a great point. And I always think it’s strange when there’s a big batch of covers with the same art (like the shattered flower from last year).

  • Kristen A.

    SO with you on the “all the pretty things ones.” Teacups? Flowers? Hard no.

  • suzinrva

    I am turned off by the headless female torsos of contemporary fantasy. Fun genre but the covers make me mad for the characters in the books. It is a disservice to the authors!

  • Oh my, am I ever with you on all of these trends! Especially the “pretty things.” SNORE. Great post!

  • Kathy

    I really enjoy this post! I admit that all of them are a turn on for me, actually. I’m also a fan of the weird, and I love those mysterious covers with shadows that I see online, now. The cover turn off for me are those of the half-naked in an embrace that look like their doing the deed right there on the book cover in contemporary fiction. In some of them, it’s as though the author chose to sell the cover (someone else’s work) instead of their story.

  • Elena

    All the pretty things is also a turn off for me, even though I’m crazy about pink, flowers and anything Cath Kidson. But I’m in for mysterious ladies, and mysteries in general!

  • Vasilly

    Pretty covers are a turn on for me as long as the book doesn’t look like a romance novel. Weird is okay but I want the cover to tie in with the book in some way. The cover for Act of God is interesting.

  • crimeworm

    I hate All The Pretty Things, too…love Retro, and I quite like Mysterious Women, although there are an awful lot of them at the moment (we all know why), so a lot of them are possibly rubbish…

    • I think that the number of them is what makes it hard for me…since I don’t read much crime or mystery, I just never know how to distinguish the good from the bad based on authors/covers.

  • Interesting! I never thought of this. Okay, let me think…I’m with you on the mysterious ladies! It is getting kind of old….

    • I’m surprised how much it’s kind of boomed into its own little genre recently. I didn’t really notice it until I went looking through all the covers this way.

  • I am a sucker for good book covers, and feel exactly the same as you about them. I especially stay away from ‘All the Pretty Things’ and real pictures of people (it’s usually women) on the covers. And, I love most ‘Graphic Text’ covers. I also usually like tree covers, for some reason.
    The book I am reading right now for Literary Wives is about Henry VIII, and has a typical cover with a headless lady wearing a period gown. I hate it (the cover, that is), but it definitely let’s people know what kind of book it is.

    • It’s a shame that so many period books are ruined with bad covers, because I think I’d probably enjoy many of them. It’s so hard to know, though!

  • Ti Reed

    Your ‘turn ons’ are the same as mine. That sounds really creepy now that’s I’ve said it. But I love retro images or anything text based. Weird lines or illustrations, a plus.

  • Claudine

    I love your collection of images. Great topic! I’m with you on the Pretty Things. Big turn-off for me. The cover of Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter is the epitome of the retro type cover that I love. And it turned out to be a wonderful book.

  • We are so on the same page. So to speak. I love all the things you love and dislike your dislikes.

  • Amy Sachs

    Retro covers are generally a turn off for me, but I definitely agree on the cute and pretty covers. It makes the whole thing look twee! I LOVE that cover for Of Things Gone Astray!

  • Lindsey Stefan

    You seem to be a text lady, at least when it comes to covers. I think the pictures featured on most book covers are just so repetitive!

  • This is such a great idea for a post! I have no idea what things turn me on about book covers! Although I’m pretty sure that I love the mysterious ladies! I’m reading Night Film right now – mysterious lady! And I love anything that evokes a place – city scapes and houses especially. And portraits – anything with a whiff of history I’m there. Not so into the text covers actually. Apparently given a nudge, I *can* tell you what I like about book covers!

  • Lost in Literature 108

    I agree with you on all except the last two. I like the pretty things and not so much the weird.
    Really like the retro.

  • kayleigh M

    I pretty much align with your dislikes/likes. Graphic text or abstract/geometric shapes are my all time favourite for covers probably. I’m not big on photographic covers unless they’re a biography but I really detest those ones that cut women in half. You know the type, they’ll be missing the top of their head or their right arm or not have any legs from the knees down.

    • And there are so many half woman covers that use the same image over and over! I mean, there must be more than one flapper-era stock image out there.

      • kayleigh M

        Yes! And they flip it back to front as though that’s enough to trick people into thinking it’s a brand new image.

  • Belle Sarff

    The retro theme wins for me every time – unfortunately, even when some publisher is bold enough to put a real crap book behind that gorgeous retro-ness. I do not like real people on my covers. A photo of anyone posing as a protagonist is going to annoy me unless it is a biography. Part of my joy is deciding how someone looks based on the word descriptions. I don’t want the cover to do it for me. I love graphic and I love weird. I will always stop for a second look at a dark, creepy, macabre cover. Oh wait, I am starting to get really tired of silhouettes on the cover too.

    • Yeahhh, I’ve totally fallen for the good cover on an icky book trick more than once. It’s definitely not a perfect system!

  • Great post! Agree with all your likes and dislikes. I also like vintage covers on Contemporary books.

    • It’s always fun to see a little bit of a throwback, especially if it gives a little hint to the themes in the novel.

  • Jennine G.

    You and I have the same turn offs for covers. But I’m not sure my turn ons are consistent enough for me to track. I’d have to really think about it.

  • Words for Worms

    LOL, I like all the pretty things. COME TO KATIE, PRETTY THINGS!!!

  • I like the “all the pretty things” covers. Just the covers, though. They totally make me run away from the book itself!

  • I am so with you on the “mysterious women” and “pretty things” covers. I also really don’t like full-body covers, for whatever reason! Something about seeing real people on them just turns me off, I don’t know. For instance, I thought These Broken Stars (http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1383578978l/13138635.jpg) had a gorgeous cover until I noticed there were people on it!

    Awesome post.

  • I absolutely LOVE covers.

    You definitely chose some good ones.

    The Retro ones are interesting. I like Saint Mazie the best.
    I like ALL of the Mysterious Lady ones. I have The Pocket Wife…looking forward to reading it.
    The Graphic Text ones are all turnoff for me. :)
    I like the Pretty Things except for the Scent of Triumph….too many roses.
    The Weird ones are WEIRD…all turnoffs for me.

    Thanks for this terrific post. I love it.

    Have a great rest of your day.

    Silver’s Reviews
    My Blog

  • When I scrolled down to the mysterious ladies, I scrunched up my face and said “Ugh, not those,” so I was pleased to see that’s one of your turn-offs too! I love all-type covers a lot — not always, but often. And I really like it when covers have texture (ideal! but expensive) or look like they have texture.

  • Fun! I love it. I love the new trend of graphic typography as well. It is also a turn-on for me! A turn-off is when the covers have absolutely nothing to do with the book.

  • Pretty covers always turn me off too… it’s not really fair, but they just seem to girly and nice. I love the graphic text ones you included.

    • Yeah, they definitely seem too sweet to me. I’m sure there must be some conflict there, but it doesn’t seem that way from the cover.

  • Hah, I might not have realized it on my own, but I agree with each of your points here. Particularly with weird covers – if a book has a great strange cover but I start to read it and don’t like it, I’m especially disappointed. I definitely judge a book by its cover, unless I have a substantial reason not to. Maybe it’s terrible, but there are so many books to choose from. I have to use covers as a way to narrow the options sometimes!

    • It definitely helps narrow down! Sometimes I’ll hear great things about a book that I passed over because I didn’t like the cover and feel a little bad.

  • Ciska van der Lans

    I do not mind the mysterious woman but than I do love a good mystery novel. I do agree with the rest of the list. Specially the retro and weird covers.. I just need to see more about those books.

  • Great post! My preferences match yours in some cases (I love weird covers and often like retro images or graphic text) and don’t in others (the all the pretty things covers work for me) and it’s fun to speculate how that might reflect our reading preferences. I think I might like some light, fluffy reads a bit more than you do, which is probably why I like the pretty covers, but I share your dislike of both mysteries and the mysterious woman covers.

  • Chelsey @ Chels and a Book

    What an awesome idea for a post! I’m so with you on the pretty, girly covers. I’m having that dilemma with my next read. I saw it online and LOVED the cover, only to find out that it was the UK cover and the US one is a pretty, Victorian, girlier one. (For real, check it out! The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman.)
    I’m so with you on the quirky weird covers and the typographic ones. So beautiful!

  • I cannot handle movie tie in covers, especially the fact that many book stores only stock that version. If I haven’t read a book and can only find a movie tie in I won’t buy it.

    The mysterious girl cover is a peeve of mine as well. Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites is a fabulous book, but the mysterious girl is distracting rather than appealing.

    I don’t mind the pretty covers though – but of course a book with a pretty cover is bound to be a certain style of book, one that I often look for with holiday reading.

    Great post idea

  • I’m so with you on all of these. I love vintage designs, bold typography, and quirky images, but anything that looks fluffy is a huge turn-off.

  • Haha, I agree exactly with everything you put. So I have nothing to add on that. I will say Get in Trouble, if you’re not reading it, its excellent so far.

  • You’ve categorized these book covers well. I like a book cover that says “pick me up” … one I can think of this past year was The Martian. Wow it does allure you …

  • Visiting due to your Rewind Twitter posts :) Ooo interesting topic. I agree with everything you’ve said here. I know everyone says you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I mean – come on, we ALL do it. I generally don’t like pictures of people on my books covers… I like to imagine characters for myself, and find if they’re pictured on the front, it’s just never quite right.

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