Monday, November 6, 2017

Choosing What you Read

Terry Shames weighing in on choosing books:

This was the topic of a lively Goodreads conversation I recently participated in. What I discovered was a big surprise.

A lot of people in the self-selected discussion group said they choose books by the cover. I would never have guessed that. I thought people would choose by recommendations from friends, by books that have won awards, or from reviews.

Many said they ignored reviews and blurbs because they thought those were manipulated. They figured that the author knew the person blurbing or reviewing their books, and therefore it wasn’t really valid. That suspicion even applied to trade reviews. People speculated that publishers have an “in” with trade review publications.

                  Come on! Is this a manipulated review?:

“…still, like a good shade tree mechanic, (Craddock) gets the job done."
-Publishers Weekly, August 4, 2014

This means to me that the publishing industry is not doing enough to let people know that trade reviews are largely outside their influence.
But is that true? Certainly my publicist seems to hold her breath when reviews are due. Will the review be positive or unenthusiastic? I’m with a small-medium publisher. Do books from the Big 5 publishers get a more lenient look from reviewers? I don’t know. But I do know that whatever the review is overall, the publicist picks out the best line of the review to promote the book. Stands to reason.

There may be reason to suspect that some blurbs are meaningless. Some big name authors seem to blurb indiscriminately, always with superlatives, like “Dynamite!” Do they actually read every one of the books they blurb? The authors I ask to do blurbs for me seem to read the whole book, but there’s no way to signal readers that one blurb may be any more valid than another.

I was also surprised to find that readers didn’t depend on word of mouth. I personally will pay attention to advice from fellow readers, especially if I know they like the same books I do.

As for choosing by cover, I actually think it’s a good idea. The cover can tell you a lot:

1)     The general sub-genre. I don’t read many cozies. If a cover has a picture of a kitchen with a pan of muffins, I know it’s probably not going to be for me. But that same cover will tell cozy readers that it’s perfect for them. If a book cover features a picture of a bulked up man with a gun, I figure it’s probably going to be a thriller, so I’ll read the teaser on the back cover to find out more.
2)     Regarding the “teaser:” When we say “cover” we automatically think of the front of the book, but the back cover usually has a short description of the story. That’s why it’s so important for writers to come up with a good grabber in that back cover copy.
3)     The cover also has the name of the book. How many “Girl” book covers were sold after Gone Girl? Some titles leave me cold, while others are intriguing and I can’t really say why. This is why authors and publishers spend enormous and energy on titles.
4)     The author’s name. Have I read the author before? Have I heard of her? Most readers said the author’s name only mattered if he or she was a “big” name.

The other thing I do when choosing a book is read a few passages. I’ll read the first page or two, and if it looks like the writer knows how to put together sentences, I’ll turn to an interior page and sample more.

So if I were to give advice to someone who wants to sell books, I’d say first write a good book. Then be really careful to make sure the cover is eye-catching, the title intriguing, the cover copy snappy….and change your name to Lee Child.


Kristopher said...

I too am surprised by how many people believe that reviews are manipulated. I don't know how we combat against this, however. When questioned about it in regards to my blog, I will often point out the number of books *not* reviewed on the site. Certainly, I have not read everything - no one can - but I read far more books than I actually review. Hopefully this clues my followers into the idea that I really am enthusiastic about the books I do mention.

Blurbs on the other hand, I can agree rarely sway me. Being so active in the community, I generally have a sense of which authors are good friends in real life. That does not mean the blurb is not true, but it does leave open the possibility of a biased opinion. But at the time time, there are authors who rarely grand blurbs - for just the above reason - so when they do, I know that it really means something (but that is not something the average consumer is going to know.)

Lastly, one can never underestimate the power of a strong cover, which is so much more than just the image (and Terry explained so well.)

Kathy Reel said...

I am a big fan of outstanding covers, and I have actually bought some books for the cover. I often like to buy both the UK and U.S. editions of a few favorite authors, too, just because the covers differ and both are usually gorgeous. However, I most usually read a book because of one of the following reasons: 1) The people in my book community, mystery and crime, are wild about the book 2)It's an author I always read, especially a series 3)It deals with a subject matter that interests me 4)An author asks me to read his/her book and it interests me. I will add that a blurb has never convinced me to read a book.

I have never had an author even hint at wanting me to slant a review in the best light for them. Of course, it seems like I am lucky in that I truly enjoy most everything I read these days.

Terry said...

Thank you for your comments, Kristopher and Kathy. I'm interested that you say blurbs don't mean much. I've heard that from readers as well, and it makes me wonder why publishers persist in asking authors to get other authors to weigh in.

As for reviews, I know they aren't manipulated and wonder how we can get the word out there that they aren't.