Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The three-point rule (or Why I'm Glad Agents And Editors Put Lots Of Good Stuff On The Shelves So Readers Can Find New Books)

I've realized what it takes for me to buy a book by an author I've never read before, and I call it Three Good Things.  Here's how it worked the other day:

Step 1: I went to the bookstore.

Step 2: I took my sons to the trains in the back and had my husband watch them so I could browse.

Step 3: I went over to the Young Adult shelves and started looking.  When I noticed an interesting title, name, or cover, I'd pick up the book.

Step 4: Once I have the book in my hands, I examine a few things: the cover art, the summary inside the jacket, the author bio/dedication, blurbs, and, if at least two of those things impress me enough, the first ten to twenty pages (I tend to read more than most people might because A) I'm a fast reader, B) I love slow-starting books like Gilead and Middlemarch, and C) I have empathy for other authors).  If I love the pages, I buy the book.

Obviously a lot comes down to the pages, but a lot goes in to getting me to read those pages.  A friend's recommendation is huge.  So is author recognition (when I know the author from novels I've heard of/grad school/book lists).  But the title and cover art and back summary and author bio all matter, too.  And if I see something I don't like in any of those sections, I put the book back on the shelf.  Like a book I won't mention by name except to say it has "Witches" in the title--I like witches, so I picked up the book.  The cover was okay, and the introduction on the fairy tale elements had me interested.  But when I read the author bio, and saw the author really liked New Age stuff like crystal therapy and soy, I decided I'd only give it five or six pages instead of my regular twenty.  Within four pages, I knew I didn't want the book.  I might pick it up at the library, if it's available, but I've found that it takes three things for me to buy a book (plus pages), and only two things for me to pass.

There were two books I recently purchased based solely off the three-point rule, although I didn't realize it consciously.  The first time it was Sunshine, by Robin McKinley.

Now, this is sort of a cheat, because I'd read McKinley before.  But it had been a long time.  So there was 1) name recognition, 2) a blurb from Neil Gaiman saying it was "a perfect vampire novel" (or something like that), and 3) it's about vampires, which for some reason I'm not sick of yet.  Oh, and what a moody cover!  So maybe that's sort of four things.  But I bought it, and I enjoyed it.

More recently I wanted to see what made for a good summary, and I found the book Wither:

I haven't read it yet--it's on my list--but here's why I bought it.  1) Look at that cover!  Look at it!  Wow.  2) I love the title--Wither.  What a wonderful word.  Plus it's part of the Chemical Garden Trilogy.  Doesn't that sound fascinating?  3) The summary is so very, very intriguing.  It's detailed about plot, yet shows a lot about character, and I want to read about the world.  Oh, and the first twenty pages are awesome.

So there you have it.  What makes me buy a book by an author I've never heard of (a hardcover, no less!).  I'm sure I'll buy more debut books as I get back my teaching income in September (and/or if I sell my own book!), but right now I'll still visit the bookstore and trail my hands along the covers and read the summaries and author bios and blurbs and, if I get at least two points, or one point that's super good, those crucial first pages...


  1. Blimey would you get a load of that cover?? Like you said, wow. If I get published I want a fantabulous cover too! I wanted to read Sunshine - is it any good?

    Now, trying to think, when I buy a book, I look at the names first, so the name definitely has to grab me, then the cover art, (but if the art is mediocre, I'll still look on the back) and then the cover blurb has to impress me. I won't read the first ten - twenty but I will read the first few lines - how generous am I? lol. Really though, since Borders closed in the UK and because I only read American Romances of which there are few in England (!), I do most of my book shopping online. It's harder to browse :0(

  2. That's sad that American romances aren't more widely available in physical form! I don't read romance, usually, but I know of an independent bookstores within biking distance that sells pretty much all romance--so I'm not even potentially deprived! Sunshine was...well, it was dark, and had interesting world-and-romance building, but I've only read it once, so it's not my favorite of McKinley's books. There's definitely scenes you'd like, though! Maybe not enough of them, but it is sort of a supernatural romance/action novel (with more leanings towards action), so it might be worth a look. :)