What Gets You To Read A Book?

I’m muddling my way through a post on the power of word-of-mouth and as a writer of the hybrid variety (I get great gas mileage), I wonder:

What gets you to read a book?

We worry so much about marketing and promotion, about guest blog posts and book trailers and interviews and signings and readings and Q&As and panel talks and nude fireman calendars and beard-wrestling competitions and cupcake bake-offs — further, so much it is is expected, it is assumed that these things are What We Do and it’s maybe not often enough that people ask If They Work.

They may! They may, indeed.

But I want to know.

And while I don’t mind hearing from the writers on this as to what works for you I am more inclined to hear from the readers on what exactly gets you to pick up a book. An advertisement? A reading? A funny tweet? Free swag? A recommendation from a friend? A NUDE FIREMAN CALENDAR WITH ME, A BIG HOSE, AND A SLUMBERING DALMATION? (I hope the answer to that is “yes” because I just ordered like, 10,000 of these things.)

What works for you?

What gets you first to try a book?

Then to buy that book?

191 comments

  • Good title, good story, good writing. In a bookstore (real or online), I search genres I’m interested in, going to old favourites first. Then I look for interesting titles, good cover art. I read the synopsis, I scan the first few pages – if the plot is good and the writing makes the grade, I buy it. I’ve done a lot of reading, so I am MUCH pickier these days. I don’t bother even borrowing books that don’t grab me straight away. I don’t follow fashion – I read the first page of 50 Shades of Grey and couldn’t stomach anymore, not even for the promise of sexytimes. I have a couple of bookstores that I like and I get their newsletters, plus I have a Kindle so Amazon sends me reccomendations irritatingly often. Sometimes they get it right.
    I find it annoying not to have access to all versions in all countries – I travel, I live in a non-English speaking country (and I prefer to read my fiction in English)so I rely on my Kindle a lot. Often it’s just not practical to get a hard copy, but often an awesome new book is only available in hard copy, or in e-copy but not in the country I am in. I don’t bother going back later because I don’t have time to waste keeping track of when all the different versions become available. So that is a LOST SALE. I’d say roughly half a dozen books in the last couple of months, NOT PAID FOR by me, the reader, ‘cos it was too damn hard to get them.

  • 1. Blogs.
    In your case I bought Mockingbird and Blackbird because I read your blog. Had I not somehow come from Wil Wheaton to John Scalzi to you, I would never have known that I like the way you write and would probably not picked up the books. The beforehand knowledge of the way you write absolutely tipped the scales when I had to decide which book to spend my money on.

    2. Known authors
    If I like one book by a author, I am much more inclined to buy and read another book by that author. That said, there are limits. I can name countless of authors that I have followed devotedly a long time, but I abandon because a couple of books turn out to be utter shit. I am rather unforgiving that way.

    3.Amazon
    I don’t read reviews, they influence me too much, but sometimes amazon recommendations based on what I have bought previously manages to interest me.

    4. My brother.
    He shares some of my tastes in books and I trust him implicitly.

    5. Cover browsing
    In a real life bookstore, with shelf upon shelf of books. Internet I love you, but you do bookbrowsing really really badly. I need to have the book in my hand, flick through the pages, read the blurb on the back. I need to feel how big and heavy it is. I want to judge it by its cover.

    As for publicity, I live in Denmark and you could do Nude Kozak dancing on the top of the Eiffel Tower to hype your book and I would probably never hear of it. But, that said, if I lived in a country that actually had any sort of publicity for the books that I tend to read, I would probably use that as a guideline as well.

  • Recognizing the author’s name. This is usually through social media, or a rec from another author or on a blog, etc.

    Recs by authors whose work I like, but rarely recs by friends. I don’t seem to like the same kinds of books my friends do.

    Cover art, if it’s original or extremely interesting and doesn’t include half clad people, dragons, general cliches. (I’m sure unconsciously I’m influenced by colors of book jackets when I’m browsing, but I can’t really say in what way.)

    Blurbs by famous people on backs or covers don’t sway me at all. Books by famous people of the moment will probably not interest me, based on personal experience — too many over the top raves make me suspicious.

    Swag won’t make me buy or read a book.

    A good title will make me pick up a book and browse it.

    Price. Which is to say, if I know the author, suspect I will LOVE the book, etc,, I’ll pay the 15 bucks for a nice paperback. I don’t buy hardcovers anymore due to price and the room they take up. But if it’s an author I don’t know, I’m unsure about, whatever, then I’ll only want to invest the 7-8 for a small paperback, or I’ll take it out of the library first and read it — then if I love it, I’ll buy it.

    I don’t go to many signings, etc,. but I admit that I have purchased a book when I did go to hear an author talk and I liked what he said, or rather thought it was interesting. I imagine this could be an iffy thing for an author, who may be much more or less interesting in person than his or her books 🙂

  • May 14, 2013 at 3:57 PM // Reply

    I find the books I read/buy in a variety of ways. First and foremost, I buy books by authors I already know and like. I almost always buy these at Amazon; I wish list them before they’re published and then Amazon helpfully sends me an email when they come out.

    The second way is with recommendations. Amazon is probably the largest single source; I find their suggestions to be excellent almost all of the time. I also buy a lot from the recommendations of the people I read online. Many of these people are the authors I already like, so when one of them says, “You MUST read this book,” I’ll at least give it a look. Scalzi’s Big Idea series, while not strictly recommendations, is another place I find books that look interesting, as are a variety of blogs where someone asks for favorite books and all the readers chime in. Also, “Best Of” lists and award nomination lists. I won’t always buy a recommended book – I check out reviews on Amazon and a few other places to see if there’s a common complaint I think will ruin the book for me. I buy a lot of the recommended books, though. If I’m lucky, I’ll like it well enough that the author goes on my always-buy list.

    The final way I choose books is browsing in actual bookstores. This used to be my main method but these days I buy somewhere north of 90% of my books online. If I’m in Barnes & Noble, it’s usually because I’ve decided on the spur of the moment to go to a restaurant and I don’t have my Nook with me. Since it’s impossible to digest food without reading, I’ll go to B&N to impulse buy. These are almost always books by authors I haven’t read, as I’ve already got the latest from the authors I have read from Amazon. My method is shallow – I look for titles and/or covers that look interesting, then read the back to see what it’s about. If nothing puts me off, I’ll take it. At that point, I’m hungry and not terribly picky. Still, it works out more often than not. The other bookstore I go to, Quail Ridge Books, is an independent. They carry a bunch of imported mysteries/thrillers, which is what I mainly buy from them. I also buy staff recommended books there; they’ve got a very good staff.

    I don’t buy based on personal recommendations; the people I know either don’t read or read books I don’t care for or read a particular subset of authors I already have on my always-read list. I also don’t buy based on professional reviews (NY Times Review of Books, etc.); I don’t read those very often and usually when I do, it’s a review of a book I’ve already read. I don’t watch much TV, so I don’t hear about books that way. I rarely go to book readings/signings; crowds make me nervous. I’ve clicked on the occasional advertisement for a book but I doubt I’ve bought more than a couple that way. No one’s ever offered me a nude fireman calendar before, so I don’t know how much that might influence my buying. I suppose it would depend on the size of the hose. Or maybe the Dalmatian.

  • 1. Known authors, but not author recommendations, because some the authors I love to read don’t recommend books I would like.

    2. Interesting back cover, or usual title of a book.

    3. People I’ve met, or heard of it before, but haven’t read.

    4. If I can I like to read a page or two in different area of the book to see if it I like the writing.

  • A LOT (most, actually) of the books I read and/or are on my “to read” list come to me via Amazon’s “you might like” or “people who bought this also bought” list generating algorithms. I can, and will, happily spend hours clicking hundeds of links and adding dozens of books to my Amazon wishlist. The rest of the books I read are mostly due to recommendations by people I trust on the web: the webcomic Unshelved has weekly book reviews, both written and in comic form, and I’ve read a lot of terrific (sometimes obscure) books thanks to them; I’ve picked up books Nathan Bransford, Janet Reid and Kristen Nelson have recommended and/or rep; The Millions often has in-depth articles about and reviews with authors that make me want to pick up their books; the now-defunct Comics Alliance (*tear*) is where I got recommendations for comics – indie, big two, webcomic, or otherwise. When bloggers I read regularly (The Bloggess, Allie Brosh, John Scalzi, you) publish a book, I check it out. If my local library has a blurb about a book on their home page (which they usually do for book club books or librarian picks), I’ll look it up.

    One thing that used to get me to buy/read books, but doesn’t really factor into my life anymore, is bookstore placement – and bookstores in general. Back when I was at college, I would regularly visit the campus bookstore to see what the new fiction releases were. The bookstore was very good about displaying new releases in prominent locations, and had many tables at the front of the store/along the check out line piled high with new – or seasonally appropriate – fiction, non-fiction, and graphic novels. I’ve been to a bunch of college bookstores – growing up, I practically lived in the one at the college where my mom taught – and I’ve never seen a campus store with a better curated collection of titles than the one at my university. It rivaled the best indie bookstores I’ve been to. Between the store’s displays and my (parents’) disposable income, I picked up a LOT of books.

    *sniff* I miss that store.

  • I rarely settle for anything I’m not sure about. I read a lot, and I write a lot. Sometimes I try to have a life in between… Before I pick up, download, or otherwise purchase a book, it’s got to have three things. It’s been said there is power in 3’s, so here are my three pre-requisites to book reading:

    1. Title: It better be great. Original. Unorthodox. Unique. For chrissake, something I haven’t seen a thousand fucking times that day already. Nothing containing the words “Love”, “Murder”, or “Part of the Twilight Saga”. (Alright, fine… “love” and “murder” aren’t grounds for automatic dismissal, but they certainly wouldn’t be sure to catch my attention. Call me a brown-nose, but “Penmonkey” worked wonders for me.)

    2. Cover: Something badass… something that makes me stop and look twice, whether I’m scrolling through a list on Amazon or browsing the shelves of my local book store; if the cover doesn’t grab me – or in some way manage to pique my interest – I’m gone. Miles away. Might as well be in China. Or neck deep in the tits on the girl down the isle… Because that is actually worth staring at. (Think: the bar of soap from fight club. Or that little cat with dragon wings from Irregular Creatures. Subtle, weird, immediately striking…)

    3. Description: Most people overlook this and go straight for the reviews. Let’s get one thing straight… If you pass on a book with a great title, a killer cover, and a badass description all because the reviews aren’t great, or because it doesn’t have a 5-star rating, then you’re a total cock snot and you need to be slapped hard, preferably by a big burly mountain man. I pride myself, as I’m sure so many of you do, on having a brain and an opinion of my very own. I’ll be the one to decide if something is good or not, thank you… I could give Christ on a holy fucking graham cracker WHAT you think.

    Put a book in my vicinity that has all these things, I assure you I will read it. Doesn’t matter about the marketing, or what book club sticker it has on the cover, or who’s been plugging it on Late Night TV. I don’t even care about the price. Just hit me square on the nose with these three simple elements and I’m sold.

  • May 15, 2013 at 4:21 PM // Reply

    Disclaimer: I’m an author and cover artist myself, so my answers may be skewed from those of the average reader.

    Most common influence: it’s by an author I’ve already read and liked.

    Second most common influence: recommendation from an author or reviewer on a blog (but only if it’s backed up with some explanation of why. “This is a great book, everyone should read it” isn’t enough by itself). Recomendations from friends, too, if they’re friends whose taste I know is similar to mine.

    Back cover or dust jacket description: Definitely. Despite the fact that these descriptions are often overblown market-speak, or in some cases outright deceptive, I like to get at least an approximate idea of what I’m getting into. (Is anyone else finding themselves resenting the tendency of publishers to skip the jacket synopsis entirely on certain bestselling authors’ books these days?)

    Blurbs sometimes influence me, but usually only if (a) I like the blurbing author’s own work, and (b) I know something about their taste. Some authors, even some really good ones I like to read, seem to be blurb whores. Others are really careful and selective with their blurbs. There are some authors whose blurbs might influence me to buy something I wouldn’t otherwise have bought, but it’s a very short list.

    Covers, yes. Having hated some of the covers on some really great books, I know I shouldn’t really judge by the cover, but it happens anyway, at least to the extent that a good one will make me pick it up or click on it to investigate further, and a really bad one, especially in e-book only editions, I may not look beyond. (It was the cover got me to pick up BLACKBIRDS. But having read it, I would have bought MOCKINGBIRD even if the cover sucked.) Admitedly, as an artist, once in a great while I’ll buy a book just for the cover, whether I enjoy reading the thing or not.

    Amazon recs: sometimes. I find them very hit or miss.

    Swag: Not at all. Couldn’t care less.

    Very often, none of the above is a deciding factor in and of itself, and any given factor may have had more or less influence on my buying a particular book.

  • 1. Covers. It’s a terrible thing, but usually if I’ve picked up a book or clicked on a link to look further into a book it’s because the cover is awesome, or at least intriguing.

    2. Blogs of goodness

    I find a lot of new writers through their blogs. If I really enjoy a blog, then I’ll want to support the creator as well as just plain wanting to read their stuff.

    3. Word of mouth

    Sometimes people speak to me with their faces. If those faces recommend books, I will try and read them.

  • I’ve had to think about this a bit, and now that I’ve actually been in a book store since I read this I have part of an answer.

    The first thing that grabs my attention is either the color of the binding, or the title. I much prefer to browse books where I can only see the binding rather than books where I can see the whole cover. If the title is interesting I’ll pick it up to find out more. If the back cover makes it sound more interesting, or at least not less interesting, I’ll read the first page or two. If the writing is bad, back on the shelf it goes. If I notice misspellings or typos on the first page or two, back on the shelf it goes. (I know that may be unfair to the author, those are probably caused by someone else further down the line, but that’s just how it is.) If all is good still and I haven’t picked up too many books already I’ll buy it. Whether or not I ever get around to reading it is a completely different discussion, that I don’t really have any answers for.

    If a book is recommended to me by someone I’m not likely to remember that long enough to go look for a copy unless they have one to let me borrow, so word of mouth is probably not very effective on me.

    Kindle books are most likely to be purchased by recommendation from someone. I almost never just browse those, I much prefer paper books. I do have several of your books on my kindle though, because I stumbled across your blog looking for something else, liked your writing style in your posts, then decided to look you up there.

    • Replying to my own comment because I forgot something…

      If I read one of your books and like it enough to keep it for rereading or lending out it’s almost guaranteed I’ll buy the rest of your stuff.

  • I always gravitate to authors I know first. They have a proven track record and I know I’ll enjoy them – that doesn’t work 100% of the time however. Sometimes I get stung.

    I rarely read reviews because I don’t like someone else telling me if I’ll like a book. Instead I read the blurbs, basically the pitch to catch my eye. On occasion I will be drawn to the suggested books that pop up when I purchase a digital book. But the pitch has to sell me.

    Most often I go for books suggested by friends, especially other writer friends. I trust their opinions because I know that they aren’t drawn to tripe. I currently have about 50 books on my To Read list, most are literary fiction, but I also like to mix it up with a variety of genres.

    Reading is my late night relaxation fix so I go through at least a book each week. Know any good books?

  • Wait… did I miss a cupcake bake-off? Dang it!

    Short of that, most of the books I choose are based off recommendation- either from a friend (or my book club) or from one of my favorite bloggers. If someone that I like to read mentions an author that they like to read, I check it out because I figure we must have somewhat similar interests.

    I also pick books while wandering bookstores if something catches my eye. But mostly, it’s because someone I trust (either in real life or online) has mentioned it.

  • I read a lot – on Kindle, purchased books, local library (here in the UK it’s ‘use it or lose it’) – and there are 2 things that, seriously, are of little/no interest AT ALL when choosing a book to read…

    1) of little interest is the TITLE and
    2) of no interest is the COVER (could be last year’s newspaper for all I care!)

    The MOST important is the SYNOPSIS. If that grabs me I’m in and will give it at least 2 chapters before abandoning all hope…

    If I get an author I like I’ll read their entire oevre and then cast around for a new ‘best friend’. I read almost all genres…

    I welcome recommendations but rarely receive them but got to your blog via Nick Spalding and liked your blog writing style and your piece on Marko Kloos and ‘Terms of Enlistment’ which I have read and loved. I am currently embarking on your own ‘Blackbirds’ – on chapter 3 and it still has a bookmark in it.

    Living in a very rural area the nearest bookstore is 10 miles away and the next 25 – so it’s Amazon or the library. Our tiny, local library frequently buys in books I order so rather than bemoan my not buying them myself I feel I am at least attempting to spread a few less known books in front of new readers – they now have the two Alex Hughes Mindspace novels and your own ‘Blackbirds’.

    P.S. I have a semi-clad firemans calendar – does this count? It was sold for charity and given to me by a friend too embarrassed to pin it up (probably as she knew a lot of the real models!)

  • I had a sort of book-iphany while following this conversation. It dawned on me that I don’t own a Nook, Kindle, or other ebook reader device. I’ve never even seen one before. What? I live in the backwoods where we run generators to get fleeting glimpses of light and the occasional blip on my old TRS-80 through an old and forgotten AOL connection, alright?

    Anyways, that actually figures into how I pick books.

    I still think of them as things to hold in my hands. I know what 175 paper pages feel like in my hands and I love me those solid books with 250 pages or more that I could chuck at the bear that ambles through my backwoods yard. I love the smell of ink and the feel of paper under my fingers and will knock the block off of someone who writes on a page or folds the corner for a bookmark. Books are still a tactile experience in my dinosaur brain and experience so it’s those buttons a book has to push before I’ll buy it. And I’ll generally buy the paperback because I can afford $7-10. bucks and know what that translates into in my hands whereas an ebook is an invisible thing that often won’t even give me the pleasure of seeing what page # I’m on so I know where I left off. (wtf is position 234#@#$#6012?)

    I’ve never bought a novella or short story other than in the form of a big book put out by, say, Steve King, and those were huge. (other than a slew I bought recently that I have not looked at since.) I’ve read a few for writer friends but reading on the computer is a far cry from reading on a device that doesn’t chain me to the kitchen table or a desk.

    Because I don’t have a reader other than the computer, the experience of reading a book isn’t awesome. I hate being chained to the table or desk and it hurts my eyes…also I can’t throw the computer at the bear or the wall if it pisses me off the way Pennywise pissed me off in King’s It. I can’t translate reading 56 pages into anything other than a long winded book report summarizing why Dante might’ve had the hots for Virgil. As a result, I maintain an antiquated perspective on buying and reading books and that’s not really fair to today’s standards or today’s writers. Hell, it’s not even fair to me as a reader because I’m missing out on some good stories because, in the end game, it’s the story I’m interested in.

    *note to self: start a kickstarter for acquiring a Kindle and Nook and update your lame ass.

  • I’m sort of late to the party, and will likely say a lot of what everybody else says.

    1) Primarily, I pick up books that my circle of friends has already read and liked, and highly recommends.
    2) Watch a movie, like it or love it, and then discover in the end credits that it’s based on a book.
    3) Following new releases by authors I already like.
    4) Walk into Barnes & Noble, pick up three books in the New Releases isle. Pick by title and cover (weaning out pretentiousness, sort of). Read the first couple chapters of each. (Hypocritically, I end up buying and reading books on a Kindle. All of my Barnes and Nobles purchases in the past year have been book presents on the whim).
    5) Rereading literature they stuffed down our throats prematurely in high school, and marveling at how much better the impression is now that there’s personal experience to connect it to.
    6) Picking up random books with pretty covers and discovering that a favorite writer has reviewed them favorably (I do this mostly with Steven King. I haven’t read any of his books – the language is great but the topics are not something I enjoy. I’ve read his “On Writing” however, and now he’s just warm to my heart. So when he reviews a book favorably – bam. On my to read list).
    7) Coming across (via the internet grapevine) a book that has conflicting reviews on Amazon. I read all the negative ones, and if I feel like those things are not something I am bothered by, I dive in.

    As for continuing to read a book after picking it up – for me, voice of the narration and characters is the deal breaker. I’m quite awful, actually – I will frequently read the plot of the book on Wikipedia if I suspect that the characters’s decisions will pull at my heartstrings or that all of them will die. The books I like the most are the ones that are still amazingly interesting even when I know what will happen.

    • Oh, and sometimes, I’ll pick up something purely for the purpose of keeping track of culture. I read the first 2-3 books of Twilight only because everyone was talking about it. I could tell it would be a waste of time in terms of literary worth, but I wanted to be able to take part in the discussions, to be able to analyse where and why my opinion differed from that of my peers.
      Similarly with Harry Potter – the series wasn’t very satisfying, and was easy to swallow without chewing. But so many visual concepts and story line bits were quoted and focused on by everybody, that not reading it would have been isolating.
      At least, being an immigrant at the age of 12, the gap in culture felt very acute – sharing no cartoons, films, books, food or historical developments with any of my American peers. Getting into series like Harry Potter made is easier to find common ground.

  • 1. Recommendation from a vetted source (e.g. sister, friend, blog of author whose work I love) – I will buy a book based on this alone. (I have no English libraries where I live, so every few months I make a list of books based on recommendations and order them online.)

    2. Quality writing – In a book store, I will pick up books with interesting covers or titles and open them to a random page. If I am pulled in by the writing, I buy it.

    That’s it.

  • Sometimes just through name recognition, either by seeing an author’s name in more than one place or reading a review by an author of another author’s work. As an example, you have an interview with Delia Dawson. She’s a friend on Facebook with Sam Sykes. I read Diana Galbaldon’s books and Sam is her son. So there’s this nifty little triangle thing going…and I bought a book from all three…well, actually four, which now includes Blackbirds, which came in the mail today.

  • Easy, walk into the library or internet looking for specific genre. Once found it(in library) I look for about 30 minutes the COVER and TITLE then I read the BACK PART of the book telling me what to expect what´s about. Done. Don´t even look at the name of the authors at first. To not loose track of all the books I developed a unique technique, instead of grabbing the book and holding it while I look for another and then holding it and on and on and end up not knowing what to do with all the stack of books which is hurting my biceps muscles. I just go from top row to bottom living the ones that interest me a little out, meaning leaving them a couple of inches off the linear row of books. Then out of ten, I pick 1 or 10 depending on the money I have. I do sometimes cheat and just read the book in the corner of the library write down which page I have gotten up to and the next day resume my reading-cheating.

  • May 21, 2013 at 6:58 AM // Reply

    Late to the party on this one:
    In no particular order, some of the things that attract me to a book (in a vacuum where I haven’t heard of it previously) are the genre (I’m not a Romance guy or someone who’s into this burgeoning genre of Amish stories, for instance, so if I know something’s in those categories, I’m movin on down the road); the cover (first off, yes you can fucking judge a book by it and I suspect more people do so than will admit it or perhaps even realize it — see above for starters — but also if I know nothing about the book, an attractive cover spotted on a shelf may pull me over to at least check out what it’s about); and the blurb.
    Here’s the thing about the blurb: regardless of the three of the aspects above, the blurb will make or break it for me. Not just how well the blurb is written (though yes, that does matter — I know for myself that synopsizing a whole story down to a brief, super-engaging paragraph is no mean feat and a whole skill unto itself that may not speak in the least to how well written the book is, but I still judge what I expect from the book based in part on how well (or poorly) written the blurb is), but what the blurb tells me about the story itself. If the blurb hooks me (and what works or doesn’t on that score can be a whole other post), I’m in.
    There’s some mixing and matching going on there with different weights of importance: if the genre’s up my alley but the cover sucks, I’ll still check out the blurb. If the cover’s attractive and looks to be something I may want to investigate, I’ll check out the genre first, then if that makes the cut, I’ll check out the blurb. But regardless of all else, if f the blurb loses me, I’m out.
    In terms of what would make me buy it (again, in a vacuum where I haven’t read reviews about the book, etc, i.e. if I haven’t gone out of my way to buy it because it’s something I know I want in advance), all of the above except the cover (hands down the least important part of the equation — if it’s a genre I like and the blurb has sold me but the cover’s brutal, I’ll likely still want it), plus price.
    I know that sucks, but there it is. While I don’t have a set number in my head for “this is the dollar amount I will spend on a book and no more” (because that varies wildly on a number of factors for each situation), I know for sure that I’ll look at the price of a book and that will be the final decider on whether or not I walk up to by it vs. ask for it for my birthday or Christmas and cross my fingers that I get it some time. As a for instance, I stopped buying Christopher Moore’s (distinctly formatted) books years back, despite quite enjoying them, and price is the sole factor for that choice. I’ve never made a lot of money, which I’m sure plays a role in that (Bill Gates doesn’t mind dropping any amount for a book he wants, if he even ever bothers checking out what the price is, you know what I mean?) but it’s simply a matter of my not being able to justify putting down that much money for what those stories are in that particular case. If the publisher charged closer to a common price for the books — or less, of course — I’d have bought every one so far.

    Hope that gives you a peek into that corner of my brain.

  • May 21, 2013 at 9:32 AM // Reply

    The people who choose a book by its cover amuse me. You authors, especially, should know that covers are pure chance. Rarely does a contracted author have more than a feeble power of suggestion to the cover artist. Most of these “artists” draw nothing, they create nothing. They find art in photo image files and use it to come up with some idea the author tried to convey by way of a rigid form. Some of them actually “create” images like clay-mation that have a Play-Doh appearance. No thanks.

    A good cover artist is rare to find…one who listens to the author, gets a feel for the novel, asks and wants the author’s opinion. And even then it’s a matter of pure chance if s/he comes up with a cover that actually reflects the novel—its theme, characters, symbols, etc. Many of us have our “cover from hell.” My worst was a book set in fifth C AD that showed the heroine in a 18th C corset. Her head was turned (can’t say I blame her), and she was emerging from the water like a creature from the black lagoon. Murky, ugly, tasteless. Sales to date, after a year, 10.

    I will append this note: I am a better-than-average writer with fifteen published books, by four different publishers. Now, for the rest of my writing career, I will choose only publishers who give me more than nodding influence on the cover of my book. For my latest books, I have chosen to contract a cover artist rather than take pot luck. Why? Because you (you know who you are) choose a book by its cover.

    There are exceptions, and so I hope my artist friends (especially Marion, Rebecca and Sessha) will forgive me for my rant.

    • Erin, hey 🙂
      What part of the book presentation does an author have control over?
      I suspect that none, really, other than the title (and I feel like a publisher could get an author to change a title to be more appealing also). For covers, it’s very obvious that they are sometimes contracted out to designers who put minimal time into them, and don’t even know what the book/characters are about. But even the summary of the book on the paperback cover, or the intro synopsis on the inner cover of hardcovers… How often do they a) spoil the plot of the book; b) describe all the wrong conflicts c) seem to be talking about a totally different book?

      Basically, nothing but the actual novel text is consistently reliable.

      However, all of those reflect the effort the publishing house puts into presenting the book favorably. It also reflects how well the publishing house knows how to market, and how in touch with the target audience they are.

      So, I feel like choosing a book to pick up by the cover (out of dozens on the new release shelf, or the stacks and stacks within a particular genre) is as good of a method as anything.
      Like, imagine you see a handsome vampire necking a limp girl in contemporary clothes on the cover – bam – the publisher thinks this book is tailored towards girls who are into immortal romance, unhealthy relationships, etc etc. Do you feel like that kind of girl? Hell no, spare me that silliness.

      However, if the paranormal fantasy romance genre generally interests you, and that book with the stupid cover is good writing, chances are you’ll hear about it from someone. At which point, recommendations trump any part of the book’s marketing.

  • June 24, 2013 at 2:51 PM // Reply

    I am in the Library, because I can’t afford to buy a book. I want to read something to help me not think about stuff I would be thinking about if I didn’t have a book, but the story could be close to home, I don’t care about that, and sometimes, close to home is good. The book has 10 seconds to grab me. If one sentence doesn’t make me read the next. I put it down. I don’t want to spend an hour in some whiny writers head reading dross and snivel. They have 10 seconds to say, or for their protagonist to say something meaningful, truthful, universal. Resonate, not candy-coat, that just wears me out. If I see dross on the cover, I don’t even bother to open it. There are a lot of books to choose from. I move on to the next.
    Most people don’t have time to read all the stuff everyone writes.
    Like this.

Speak Your Mind, Word-Nerds