In 1860 the world was introduced to George Eliot’s novel The Mill on the Floss, the story of siblings Tom and Maggie Tulliver. The book includes some complicated themes of frustrated love and the struggle for acceptance. And not to spoil the story for you a mere 158 years after its publication, but it also ends with tragic deaths. Or something like that. I don’t really know. I’ve never read it. But I’m sure it’s good because it has a bang-up cover.
The reason I mention it is because this Eliot book is the oldest solid reference I’ve been able to find, to the phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” In Chapter 3 (the only part of the book I have read, because you, dear reader, are worth the effort) young Maggie’s father defends the choice of reading material to which his daughter has been exposed. He explains that he picked up Daniel Defoe’s History of the Devil because it had such a good binding. The man then goes on to lament, “But it seems one mustn’t judge by th’ outside.”
Versions of the expression pop up once in a while after that, and there’s probably a valid argument that the sentiment is quite a bit older. We pretty much all accept that it’s true, right? Of course the adage doesn’t always apply literally to books, but there’s little doubt that some great books are housed in awful covers and that some truly terrible books are also quite beautiful on the outside.
But as any author attempting to sell a book today can attest, we definitely judge books by their covers. In some ways that can be good. Often with only a glance we know roughly the genre to expect. It would be difficult to mix up the ubiquitous beautiful bonneted woman who invariably advertises a work of Amish fiction with the young seductress in black and red and plenty of gothic flare of a good (?) vampire love story.
The reading public has certain expectations. Like Mr. Tulliver, they are impressed by good bindings, and sometimes will pick up a book that turns out to be an imperfect fit. As an author facing the rapidly approaching publication date of my first historical novel, I find this to be a little intimidating. Fortunately I’ve been blessed to work with a brilliant artist, who designed a cover that completely thrills me. I hope you’ll like it, too. Or if you don’t care for it, I hope you’ll still give the book a chance, because it seems one mustn’t judge by th’ outside.
Just 49 days until publication! (September 6th)
14 thoughts on “From Amish Ladies to Sexy Vampires: One Mustn’t Judge”
I must admit the first thing that attracts me about a book is the cover. Then I read the back cover, and if still intrigued, I peek at the first few lines. If all three are a “go”, then you can bet I’ll be reading on.
Love your cover. It stirs together a nice mix of mystery and intrigue about the story.
Thank you, Pat!
I like your cover too! The shadow evokes quite a bit of mysterious spookiness… (When I was 15 I finished reading “The Mill on the Floss” under the desk during Latin class – and I burst into tears! The Latin teacher called me a Barbarian).
The synopsis I read certainly made it sound like an emotional experience.
I love the cover! How exciting that your publication date is just around the corner – can’t wait to learn more! (Also, I totally admit guilt to judging books by their cover)
Thank you! You are definitely not alone. I can certainly look past a not so great cover if I hear good things about the book, but I’m also the gal who will pull a random book off the shelf at the library and read it just because it looks so pretty.
The conclusion of your post makes me smile. Your cover is intriguing. Is it a thriller? 🙂
I wouldn’t classify it as a thriller. It is general historical fiction, set in 1833 to 1835, and follows the trail of a historical shipment of mummies that toured several states, a few of them eventually ending up with the early Mormon church in Ohio.
I would love to read it when it is published. I will keep an eye out for your post on when it is. All the very best, Sarah. xx
The origin of “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Who knew? Fun read, Sarah!
Well, maybe. No one seems to have done a very in depth exploration into the origin. This is just the oldest example I found reference to.
George Eliot’s OK in my book, either way.