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.

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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.


This is a work of genius.

It is unbrowseawayable!


Totally untwit­ter­able

Best. Goat skull ref­er­ence. Ever.“
– Andrew McDonald


Unput­down­able’ is an abomination.


Andrew McDonald’s blog post on book cover quotes is a rip­per: etc etc


I have seen the future of hor­ror and his name is Andrew McDon­ald.“
–Stephen King

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

My favorite is “unskim­read­able.” I’ll use that. :)


A lit­er­ary tour de force”

So overused it makes me scoff every time I see it.