How do you judge whether or not to read a book? By its cover? By its author? By the back-cover blurb?
I think new readers—those who haven’t read either a particular genre or a particular author before—make their first judgment by the cover. That’s why cover design is so important and so stressful to authors. We fill out the artist’s form, answering questions about the book, the characters and our own preferences. We agonize over whether the artist’s vision matches our own. We know that the cover is one of the first things a potential reader is going to notice.
My dad wanted to try reading a vampire book. He’s a True Blood fan, so he went to the bookstore, found one and started to read it. Yes, I glossed over his process on purpose, because frankly, I don’ think he had one. After a few chapters, he decided he didn’t like the book and stopped reading. When he showed it to me, I immediately understood why. The cover was a cartoonish drawing of a 19th century woman with her dress half open in the front, boobs showing, fangs dripping blood. I don’t remember what the title was, but it must have said “vampire” because that’s why my dad grabbed it. Had I been with him, I could have told him it wasn’t his style book. But I wasn’t and he learned his lesson.
Repeat readers—those who have read a particular genre or author—often pick their books by the authors they’ve read before. I keep a list of my favorite authors’ books, and sometimes even keep track of release dates so that I can be sure to read their latest books.
But what about the roamers? The readers who walk the aisles of a bookstore, or sift through book sites online looking for the perfect book. What about the readers who ask friends for recommendations? They’re the ones who read the back cover blurb. Those 50 or so words can be the most important words the author writes, because it has to whet the reader’s appetite, create character impressions and give just enough hint of a conflict to make the reader buy the book.
I know a lot of authors who struggle with this. I do too, although I happen to like writing blurbs. My background is in PR and some of the most fun things to do was to create marketing hooks for our products. The back cover blurb is like a mini-commercial and they can be a lot of fun to write—I, for one, love to channel my inner “deep-voiced, slightly cheesy spokesperson!"
So, how do you judge a book?