I’ve heard for most of my life that catchy titles and attention-grabbing book covers and blurbs are essential for books to attract readers. I’ve also been hearing much lately about how many readers, quite logically, use sample chapters and other readers’ reviews to determine which books they want to read. What I’ve heard has factored into how I market the books I write, and it also got me thinking: how does lifelong bibliophilic Nadine usually go about picking what she wants to read?
During my earliest years in public libraries, my mother naturally took the lead in book selection for me, then she went from leading to assisting. From the time when I was about seven years old, when I was oh-so-mature enough to pick out my own chapter books at the library and at school, I’d never heard of most of the books or authors I picked. Not so surprising, since there’s only so much that little folks can have ever heard of anyway, generally speaking.
Some of the books I would pick had blurbs on them, some of them didn’t, and if I was reading a blurb, I often grew bored with it before reading the whole thing. That wouldn’t necessarily stop me from getting a book though, as I’d be more anxious to read a book itself than to read what it was “about.” I was into pretty things–pretty dresses, pretty dolls, pretty tea sets, pretty hairstyles–but I read a good number of books with covers I didn’t particularly find pretty. In fact, my absolute favorite book as a child, Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary, didn’t have a pretty cover whatsoever. Still, the pages of the book smelled nice, as I recall many of the books I read did, and I’ve been sniffing book pages as long as I can remember. I’d be an adolescent before I’d know that such things as book reviews existed, but I wouldn’t go around looking for them. My picking process was rather simple: I saw, I wanted, I got, I read. And the majority of the books I read, I enjoyed.
I take it that much from my childhood book picking, when covers and blurbs didn’t matter a whole lot, seeped over into my book picking and buying later in life. Within the genres I read the most (classic, contemporary, non contemporary, and Christian fiction), I still find and enjoy books with both attractive and unattractive cover art and designs, and some of my best finds in childhood and adulthood have been old, dust jacketless hardbacks with no cover art and only titles and author names printed on the spines.
While, yes, I definitely like to find books by authors I’ve read and have gotten a kick out of before, it still isn’t strange to me to get books by authors I’ve never heard of. Despite the fact that I know a whole lot more now than I did when I was a tyke or a teenybopper, I’m just one person, and this is a big world with tons of history and zillions of people, places, things, and ideas I don’t know anything about. Hence, “I never heard of this” or “I never heard of him/her” doesn’t turn me away from books, as, of course, one is never going to hear of something until one hears of it, and one will never know an author’s work until one reads it. Seeing an unknown (to me) author’s name on a cover doesn’t tend to mean a whole lot to me, positively or negatively, until after I’ve read the book.
To this day, I rarely read an entire book blurb, if at all, and for the blurbs I do read, I often forget most of what they said within ten seconds or so. I do read book reviews, but if I read a review of a book I haven’t read already, it’s likely because I don’t plan on reading that book. For books I do plan to read, I read reviews only afterward, not beforehand, since I don’t want others’ views or pointers (or sometimes spoilers) telling me what to watch for or swaying my opinion of a book too far in a direction before I can form an opinion myself. As far as book sampling goes, I usually don’t read more than the opening line of a book or a few words from that line, which may or may not immediately “grip” me.
Even book titles don’t always have the greatest influence, to me. I’m prone to procure and to like books with corny, hard-to-market, or even forgettable titles as much as I do books with “good” titles. I’ve been keeping better track of titles and authors since I joined Goodreads and began reviewing books myself after finishing them, but even for books with titles and author names I’ve forgotten, I still remember the experience of reading the books, how they made me feel, what they made me think. It’s not super-unlikely for me to remember how a book smelled as well.
So, goodness, how do I go about picking books? I read books by authors I personally know and like–“I know you, I like you, I’m going to read your stuff”–but besides that, if covers, reviews, or even titles aren’t playing the hugest roles to me, how am I choosing? Budget sometimes narrows my choices down, but even then, when I don’t have the cash on hand for a specific book, I save up to get it later because I want it.
Because I want it. Well, hey, there. That’s what most of my book picking pretty much comes down to. It might not be that scientific, but it’s been working for me since I was a kid. I see, I want, I get.
Nowadays, I might pick a book I’ve heard of on account of its classic status, even if I don’t find anything great about the cover or blurb. There may or may not be anything great about the covers or blurbs of other books I see either, but if I get the sense that I want a book (even if I can’t smell it, because I’m shopping online or it’s an ebook), I get the book. And, still, the vast majority of books I get and read, I enjoy.
So. What normally goes into your book picking process? Gripping blurbs? The hook in the book’s first few pages? Recommendations? A funny sense that you just want the book?
UPDATE: September 6, 2014
As a casual reader, book covers, blurbs, etc. still don’t play huge roles in my book picking, but as a fairly new book blogger, covers and blurbs play a greater role when I’m selecting books for review, as I have to consider whether or not a book may fit my blog’s purpose and “hope and inspiration” theme.