After doing masses of work getting my books ready to self-publish, considering things like the book cover design, formatting, blurb, plot line, characterisation, etc, etc, I’ve become adept at these structural components. I’ve read many experts’ advice on what a book needs to succeed, but all of such well-meaning tips don’t take into account how readers actually choose books.
I’ve been keeping an eye on how I select consumer goods, and why I reject them too. I tend to buy books on eBay, AbeBooks or Amazon, using cheap price and free postage as an imperative. Were I to be borrowing them from my local library, I might consider the weight of them too, choosing a paperback over a hardback – as I have to carry them home.
My decision on what to read is based on several things, including a liking of the author’s work, a good review and subject matter that interests me, which I’ll skim-read off the back of the book. I may admire the cover art, or not, but it doesn’t influence me greatly. I never read the opening of a book or sample passages from further in, to see if I like the style.
There definitely is an old boy network when it comes to reviews. It’s easy to check how an author who says something favourable about a new book, which is quoted on the cover, is signed to the same publisher. True Story: In 1977 I was working as a dispatch rider on a motorcycle in London. I’d trained as a librarian but decided that I wanted something with more variety and excitement, so donned my leathers. I was delivering packages for an art design studio at the time, which involved visiting magazine publishers, printers and publishers. Many of these documents would be transmitted over the internet these days, but at that time having a hard copy was vital. I was waiting for an executive to come out of a meeting to sign for a package, cooling my riding boot heels in a swanky publisher one day, when I recognised a celebrity sitting opposite me. It was a well-known lawyer and political adviser Lord Goodman, who regularly appeared on political discussion shows and in the newspapers – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_Goodman,_Baron_Goodman
A publisher’s assistant went over to him, requesting that he sign-off that he recommended a new book, a guide to the law for a beginner. The Baron glanced at the book, declaring that he hadn’t read it, upon which the flunky stage-whispered that this writer had provided the blurb for his Lordship’s last book. “Do you happen to know if he even read it?” asked Lord Goodman. The assistant shook his head uncertainly while taking the signature. Lord Goodman noticed that I’d witnessed this hypocritical transaction, shrugging his shoulders in a dismissive ‘what-can-I-do-it’s-how-things-work’ way.
that’s how the system works, I thought, a little less naive than I’d been a few minutes before. All together now – it’s not what you know, but who you know that counts.
After overhearing a couple of readers talking to two librarians, saying that they chose what to read mainly be the title of a book, I’ve given more weight in my mind to coming up with catchy titles for my work, but I’ve never selected a book in this way. Again, I might admire the elegance and intrigue of a clever title, such as James Lee Burke’s In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead but it’s not an overriding factor.
I prefer American and Scandinavian crime thrillers, over those based in the U.K. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s something to do with liking the unfamiliar and wanting to get away from the plodding familiarity of British cop stories. I’m also more likely to choose a literary style novel about relationships that’s set in a foreign land.
How do you choose what to read?