How Do You Choose What To Read?

Posted by Shannon Haddock on November 20, 2014 in GI Joe praise, InCryptid praise, Kingkiller Chronicles praise |
Cover of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, issue...

Cover of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, issue #150 © Marvel Comics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As part of learning how best to market my books, I’ve read many things that purport to tell how people choose books.  The fact that none of these reports, blogs, etc. say the same thing makes all of them a bit suspect, to my mind.  The one I remember clearest right now said that a person had to hear of a book a certain number of times before they’d but it; another that the important thing was to sell yourself not the book; some insisted covers were more important than content . . . you get the idea.

So I got to thinking about the last things I’ve read that weren’t assigned for a review group and why I read them:

  1. Three different M.C.A. Hogarth short stories:  One was a reread, the other two were because I enjoyed that one so much.  So, why did I read the first one in the first place?  It was free, by a self-published author — we need to support each other, and  the premise sounded interesting.
  2. The Name of the Wind:  I saw Patrick Rothfuss on Tabletop and was amused so I found his blog and was amused and very impressed by his way with words, so I read the blurb and sample and then some reviews to make sure the book didn’t start out good but end up horrible and then bought the book.
  3. The newest InCryptid short story:  I’ve been an InCryptid fan since I read the first book after the author described the main character as the daughter of Batman and Dazzler.  I discovered the livejournal post where she said this when a friend commented on someone’s reblogging of it on Facebook.  I don’t think Facebook shows me friends’ comments on other people’s posts any more, so this avenue of discovery is closed.  What keeps me coming back?  The characters are competent, amusing, and flawed — just like real people.
  4. The most recent issues of G.I. Joe A Real American Hero:  I’ve covered before how very long ago I fell in love with Larry Hama‘s story-telling.  So I guess the question here is what keeps me coming back every month.  And that’s a question with an easy answer:  characterization.  Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Duke, Stalker, Storm Shadow . . . they feel more real than some people.
  5. Self-published novel I won’t name because I don’t recommend it:  The blurb made it sound really good and it was free and self-published.

Reading over that list, it looks like for me the key to getting me to read your book in the first place is to make it sound interesting — and there’s no way I could make a list of what criteria do that as sometimes I’m not sure myself what makes one book’s blurb appeal to me while another’s doesn’t — and the key to making me come back is to give me competent, interesting characters; characters that might score high on Mary Sue tests, but who are flawed enough that you still can empathize with them.

Hmm, a list of how I choose to read a book would look like this:

  1. Blurb sounds like it’ll be an interesting book.
  2. Sample has interesting characters, good world-building is a plus, but I can overlook it a bit for characters.
  3. Sample doesn’t have many terrible grammar errors.
  4. There aren’t a lot of reviews saying things like “The first 50 pages are great, but then it’s like the editor quit.”  I have, unfortunately, read far too many books, both self and trad published, that have read like this.
  5. Cover, number of reviews, who the author is, all that other stuff some people will tell you is so all-fired important

So, what about you?  How do you choose what you’ll read?  What keeps you buying an author’s work?


Tags: , ,


  • Cover art does matter, but only somewhat; I still (incorrectly, I admit) assume that the cover gives some idea of what the author intends the story to be, and if it implies a subgenre I’m not interested in, I may not even look at the blurb, etc.

    A good blurb is essential, though. It has to sound interesting, and it has to be free of errors and/or clunky writing. If the author doesn’t get a 100-word blurb correct, I don’t trust that person to get a 300-page novel correct.

    I don’t trust a book that has ONLY dozens of 5-star reviews, especially if those reviews are vague, saying stuff like “I loved it and am looking forward to the sequel!!!” Fine, but WHY did you love it? Details, people… A book that has a lot of 4- and 5-star reviews but also an occasional 3-star one (because there is such thing as “this is a well-written book but not to my own personal taste”) is more appealing to me because the 4- and 5-star reviews appear more honest.

    • Regarding cover art, I heard a trad published author once tell a story about how once she had a cover artist insist she tell him nothing about the book but its title so as not to ruin his artistic vision, another one insisted on using his wife for the cover model even though she looked about as unlike the main female character as possible. With self-published books, I tend to pay a bit more attention, because generally people who can’t be bothered to find some way to have a halfway decent looking cover can’t be bothered to even run spellcheck, I’ve noticed.

  • J. M. Brink says:

    I notice books because of the cover. Not because I expect the cover to say what the book is about … Elaine Cunningham’s lament about the artist not wanting to know about the story and other foolishness that transpires in making of covers means I have no expectations there, but rather just as I’m scanning the shelves virtual or physical something about the cover has to stand out … a book that looks like every other book on the shelf I just can’t get my eyes to lock onto. Even if I’m looking at the spines of a bunch of books on a shelf, the title needs to be eye catching both in that it needs to be a title that is interesting and it needs to be visible enough my eyes take that brief moment to try to sort out that the funny shapes are letters and what they spell out.

    Next is blurb – no rhyme or reason to what is catching about a blurb, it just has to sound interesting relative to what I’m in the mood for right that second … even if I’m not aware of being in any particular mood.

    Finally, I’ll read a few pages and see if I like the narrative tone/style/voice. If all looks well, I settle down to try to read the sample or the whole book and if I can get as far as that first page I’m liable to read the whole book. If I can’t read the first page I’m going to move on. The cover, title, and blurb just draw me to check that first page.

    I also, in this day of samples, do look over the reviews looking for anything that indicates that the author, editor, or both stopped bothering with anything like quality at the end of the sample as some books do.

    And if I like a book well enough to read once, chances are I’ll read it again. The better I enjoy the characters and story the more often I come back. Some books I’ve read twice in 23 years, some I’ve read 45 times in that same span.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Copyright © 2011-2024 The Blog Of Shannon Haddock All rights reserved.
This site is using the Desk Mess Mirrored theme, v2.5, from BuyNowShop.com.