In a bookstore, I hate to admit it but I judge a book by its cover. But let me qualify that. I only let that be my first criterion. Still, for writers out there, hoping to sell a book, that first impulse of the reader to pick up a book with an intriguing cover can add a lot to your sales, so make sure you get a great cover for your book.
Next, I like to read the flap on the jacket, or the back cover if it’s a paperback. I want to be drawn into the subject of the book and have a taste of the dilemma the characters find themselves in without having the ending spoiled for me. Just a teaser is all I want.
Then, if I think this subject might be something for me, I will read the opening sentence, and maybe as much as the first page or two. That will tell me most of what I need to know.
If I’m browsing for an e-book and I’m on a site like Amazon or Smashwords, I will click on the book cover where it says “Look Inside.”
This is where I make my decision.
Does the opening sentence hook me right away? Is it relevant to the plot of the story? Beware of the amateur opening sentences that begin the scene with:
- the alarm clock going off
- someone waking from a dream
- someone driving by in a vehicle and describing the scenery
- talking about the weather and telling you “It was a dark and stormy night.”
How does the author handle dialogue? Are there too many fancy, distracting words that replace “said” and “asked”? If I see words like “inquired,” “responded,” “explained,” “answered,” “replied,” “questioned,” and “announced,” I will reluctantly leave that book for someone else to suffer through. Even if the author uses the standard “said” and “asked” to move the story along more efficiently, if these words are followed by adverbs, I am also turned off. Once in a while, it is acceptable, but not as a general rule. It becomes tiresome to read:
- “How did that happen?” she asked angrily.
- “I have no idea,” he said, innocently.
The only thing that could make it worse is to have a gerund added into the mix:
- “How did that happen?” she asked angrily, bunching up her fists on her hips.
- “I have no idea,” he said, innocently, rolling his eyes.
These are clues you will find easily in the first few pages of a book. If you notice these examples of poor writing, you can still flip a few pages and check to see if the pattern continues. If it does, you will probably be glad if you give that book a pass and look for something else.
There are many other clues you might look for to see if you might like a book, but in this post I have tried to mention a few of the main ones that I look for.
How do you decide on your next book to read? Do you have some ideas you’d like to share?