Much of it has to do with bad school librarians or teachers we had as kids who scolded us for doing this. Well, I have made my entire career off of debunking library stereotypes and going out of my way to rethink how we do things, so today's topic is perfect, and it works like magic.
For example, when you see pastel colors on the cover expect a lighter tone. Lots of dark colors-- darker tone. Black with lots of red usually means violence inside. Complex or ambiguous covers-- probably a complex plot. And of course sexy covers-- steamy books.
Here is the link to a 2008 post where I first elaborated on this concept.
The point is that while the cover cannot tell you what happens in the book, it tells you quite a bit about what the feel of the book is. It sets the tone for the words inside.
I often use the cover of a book to begin talking to a patron about the book, especially when I don't know anything about that book. I will say something like, "From what I've heard, this book looks like you may enjoy it, but let's look at it together before you decide to take it home." I then use a combination of the NoveList record, Goodreads entry [plot and the 5 star AND 2 star comments] and the cover to have a conversation about the title in question with the patron.
Patrons love this "behind the scenes" peek at how we do our job. Obviously you can only do the long version with patrons who have time, but in a pinch, I grab a book and literally book talk to cover and the plot summary on the book itself. On books from the last 5 years to the present, there is often an appeal statement to begin the plot summary which helps. But with practice you can book talk the appeal of a book, from just the cover and reading the flap together.
Again, I am honest with the patron on what I am doing. I outright admit I know nothing more than what they do, but make it clear that I know how to "read" the cover. Patrons also love the conspiratorial nature of this interaction. We are "one upping" the publishers at their own game, and we are playing our own game of guess the book's appeal. I find that for many patrons, playing this "game" with me makes them more willing to give these "cold" suggestions a try. They are also more willing to come back and share what "actually" happened in the book with me and they give me detailed comments on the feel of the book and if it matched the cover or not.
Again, it won't work for every patron, but it works with quite a few. They will be easier to help because they are more willing to just take the book [it's free!] and give it a try AND, more importantly, this method entices more of them to come back and give us feedback on the book and our service. This later interaction is the one all of us are most looking for.
Here are some links to get you started on your judge a book by its cover adventure. In the first two examples you can begin your RA conversation with the cover because they have been deemed "best" by reputable sources. Yet another interesting way to frame the "best" books interaction [for more on that topic by me, click here]. The second two links are for sources which regularly assess cover trends so you can keep judging books by their covers all year long. In fact, I have had fun with cover trends displays and simply discussing these trends with regular patrons [many of whom check out as many books with the cover trend as possible and then report back to us about the books and how they are the same and different]:
- Paste Magazine-- The Best Book Covers of 2017
- Bookish-- Best Book Covers of 2017
- Book Riot-- They have a tag for all Book Covers posts; this one is good to assess trends
- Booklist Reader-- They have a regular series of books assessing Book Cover Trends
Give it a try. You will have fun and improve your RA Service by encouraging it to move from the suggestion only phase to a service which is about having conversations about books and reading.