I don’t know who first issued that rule. But whoever it was, he/she was a pompous liar - in my opinion.
We do judge books by their covers, all the time. My students do it in the classroom library. When faced with three copies of the yellow Diary of a Wimpy Kid, my students will always fight over the least-bent, newest-looking copy. I try to tell them the story is the same in each of the three copies. And it’s true, the story is the same. But there’s something to be said for holding a brand-new (or newish) book. A book that has no pages bent back, a book without creases. A book that doesn’t look like it might have spent some time in someone’s washing machine.
And, in all honesty, I’m no different. Recently, I received an email from a large book store chain advertising it’s summer clearance. I clicked and encountered page after page of bargain books; each page containing 100 different book cover images. And I scrolled. Quickly. I paused when a familiar writer’s name adorned a book cover. Otherwise, I scrolled and didn’t stop until I saw an image that “spoke” to me.
I don’t even know how to properly describe a book cover image that “speaks” to me. There’s something about the photo, or the font, or the title that captures my attention. It might not be enough for me to buy the book (I do read the synopsis before clicking “buy”), but whatever I saw was enough - there was the possibility that I might buy the book.
Maybe that familiar adage should be amended; something along the lines of “The cover can only do so much.” Yes, the cover is important. But, if I’m not intrigued, if I’m not caught up in the story unfolding on those inside pages, it doesn’t matter what the cover looks like.