WHAT MAKES YOU OPEN A BOOK?
Thus I asked myself a question. What grabs my attention to make my hand reach out and take a particular paperback from the shelf in the bookstore?
The author? Possibly. I have my favourites but I’m not averse to trying out an unknown face.
The cover? Yes, that helps if it stands out.
The Genre? Mostly yes. I love epic fantasy but I’ve read thrillers, sci-fi and biographies and a few books from other genres as well.
It all sounds so easy to choose, but in reality the task can be a little tricky, so I decided to look at the problem from a wider perspective. I visited my local library, randomly chose a large collection of hardbacks from the shelves, sat down, and read several pages from each one before making notes.
Each author has their own voice, and it didn’t take me long to decide which ones jumped out of the page and grabbed me by the throat, and those, let’s say, that I put on the discard pile.
We are all unique and your favourites would surely be different to mine, but here are my findings. Naturally I’m not naming any of the books.
1. The quality of writing was generally good, but every book had errors. All were professionally published, yet all had spelling mistakes – some that made me wince.
2. One book, a fast paced best-selling thriller, had pages of dialogue, which made me want to turn each page. Alas, the writer annoyed me. Using, ‘he said,’ ‘she said,’ after every comment was lazy writing indeed and I gave up.
3. Girly books aren’t for me and the one I’d picked up didn’t have a brilliant cover. However the dialogue was excellent and I warmed to the main protagonist as she suffered one misfortune after another.
4. The blurb on the back covers was generally good. Yet, even with the might of the publishing company behind them, some authors must be losing sleep, for the blurb on the back cover of their books wouldn’t grab the attention of a gnat. Bland was definitely the colour here.
5. I found errors - page numbers missing - poor formatting - the odd blank page in the wrong place - and a few grammatical errors. The number of problems was surprising in such a small sample of books.
6. A fantasy book with a brilliant cover caught my eye and before I knew it I had devoured the first three chapters. I checked the stats on Amazon, and whilst the sales were adequate I had seen many inferior books much higher in the charts.
7. If there is one thing that I hate, it’s pages and pages of long descriptive passages. I know some readers love this style, but even they would surely yawn with two of the books that I picked up. In both, there was no dialogue until the 3rd and 4th chapters respectively. I had no idea of the plot and only a little understanding of the characters. Describing the same, or almost the same, scene, in a variety of ways is boring. I hasten to say that the books were written by the same author. I had to read the second book as I couldn’t believe that the author would write the same opening chapters as before. I was wrong, she did, but in reality, who is the winner, for she has sold thousands of books.
8. I’ve heard many times that a cover can make or break a book as obviously it’s the first part of a paperback/hardback book that a reader sees. I looked at dozens of books in the library - different genres - and more often than not the cover seemed no more than adequate. Maybe my survey wasn’t big enough but it seemed to me that the publisher hadn’t taken the time to pick the perfect cover. Was that down to cost cutting?
As always, we pay the money and we take our choice, but think - caveat emptor - buyer beware.
With publishers under pressure to produce more profit, I think Indie authors can take heart from my findings. Check, double check, and triple check your work. Employ an editor that loves your gene, that’s if you can afford one. Ensure your cover is superb. Write your amazing blurb, and most importantly sell your wonderful books, as you may not need a publisher to succeed.
I wish you all much success.