Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover Quotes

A quote on the cover of a book can do wonders for book sales. The right words will sell the right book to the right person. Putting review quotes on book covers can, however, be troublesome. Bob Harris wrote about some of the pitfalls of writing book review copy a couple of years ago in the New York Times, mentioning words such as ‘lyrical’, ‘poignant’ and ‘craft’ as being overused and predictable.


And of course the old favourite – as used here on poor Mary O’Sullivan’s novel – appears on a regular basis.

Here are a few of my favourite testimonials that pop up all the time on book covers. I’ve included a few words on each to help with that unenviable task of matching up the right book cover quote with the right book.

Only use on the book’s cover if the movie adaptation is unDVDpausable.

‘A triumph.’
Best used for musicals and muffin recipe books.

Only to be used on the covers of books concerning vampires. It’s a thrall thing.

‘The must-read book of the summer.’
This is for books that feature beaches and/or murders. Use on political memoirs at your own risk.

Officially retired from bookselling jargon these days, but was commonly heard in bookshops until ‘unputdownable’ was discovered.

‘Compelling’, ‘astonishing’, ‘astounding’, ‘amazing’, ‘thrilling’, ‘shocking’ or ‘disturbing’.
Best used on books that are so good that the reader needs to be warned not to start reading with malaise.

‘A work of genius.’
Use sparingly. It’s a big call.

‘A work of evil genius.’
Good for autobiographies of killers, mad men and anyone convicted of anything really.


‘A sensation.’
Again, only for musicals.

This is a good one for historical fiction as things in the past usually came in bigger formats, from mobile phones to reptiles. Ergo, epic.

‘Roll up for the Magical Mystery Tour.’
This is a Beatles lyric. Do not try to pass it off as someone else’s quote. Unless you’re quoting Paul McCartney.

For rags to riches biographies, sports biographies and any biography of Nelson Mandela.

‘This is the best book I’ve read that combines aliens, the fall of the Ottoman empire and the “secret life” of Peanuts’ creator Charles M. Schultz.’
Spelling out the plot of a book in the cover quote isn’t always the best idea.

‘A fresh new voice in contemporary fiction.’
Works best when followed with a comparison to another author. For eg. ‘A fresh new voice in contemporary fiction. A cross between Vonnegut and Kerouac.’

This quote has never been used on a book before. It’s yours if you want it.

10 thoughts on “Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover Quotes”

  1. Don’t forget

    “A gripping read.”

    Particularly on harlequin romances where it makes you wonder what kind of gripping the reviewer was talking about ;-p

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