How do you judge a book?
Posted by Sam Whitehouse
There are a few ways I judge a book and which help me decide whether or not I want to read it.
Some people go for covers. Not me. Not always. I learned a while ago that some books can have pretty boring, simple covers but what’s inside is the opposite. And it’s more common in the UK. For some reason US publishers have better covers than the UK. Percy Jackson is probably one of the best examples of this.
UK publishers often use photographs and stock images instead of original illustrations by artists/illustrators. Some people might not agree, but the original artwork for the US The Lightning Thief cover is a lot more cool and interesting than the stock images used for the UK covers.
The blurb is probably the second thing a reader looks at, and getting it right is a tough task. I know because I wrote twenty versions of the blurb for the book I sent out while I was querying agents. It has to be short enough that the reader doesn’t get bored, but give enough idea of what’s going on to be enticing.
But some books don’t have blurbs at all. I’ve seen plenty that have a question or single line for a blurb, and sometimes that can be enough to grab my interest.
Probably the most successful I’ve come across, that made me buy the book without hesitating was Skulduggery Pleasant’s blurb. It’s short and sharp, just like the writing style.
Meet Skulduggery Pleasant: detective, magician, warrior. Oh yes, and dead.
Some books I buy without reading blurbs, looking at covers, reading the first page.
But that’s usually only when I’ve read something else by the author and really liked it. JK Rowling, Stephen King, Lee Child, Derek Landy to name a few of only a few. These authors could write a book about pretty much anything and I’d buy it.
The first page…
This doesn’t happen so much now because I buy most books online. But I used to read the first page or two of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Find out if it was too wordy or too young or old. I used to pass on books that started with lengthy description and had little action. Now I give a book a little more of a chance. But the first few pages of a book are where an author has to get it right on the money. The first few pages are all a potential reader has time to read standing in a bookshop or checking the ‘look inside’ pages on Amazon.
Quality of writing…
This could be a part of the first page, but many will read the first couple of lines and if the writing isn’t up to scratch it might put them off. Sometimes I flip to the halfway mark and read a paragraph or so, to see if the quality of writing is still as good as the writing that caught my attention on the first page.
The first line…
Like a blurb, the first line has to hook a reader. That first line is just as important as the first page. Save the title and blurb, the first line is the first thing a reader… reads.
So lines like…
Gordon Edgley’s sudden death came as a shock to everyone–not least himself. (Skulduggery Pleasant Book 1 by Derek Landy)
“There are places you can go,” Ariana tells him, “and a guy like you has a decent chance of surviving to eighteen.” (Unwind by Neal Shusterman)
It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried out bed of the old North Sea. (Mortal Engines by Phillip Reeve)
My mother thinks I’m dead. (Legend by Marie Lu)
…are the kind of lines that immediately pull you into a story. They don’t reveal everything. But that’s where the skill is. Offering a question or something to tease the reader works. First lines give an impression of what the book will be like, or they should if they can.
The length of a book used to be something I considered when deciding to read a book, and I’d bet good money I’m not the only one. Long books can be intimidating, where short books should promise a fast read. But when I started reading Stephen King, I realised that length had nothing to do with how much I’d enjoy a book. Under the Dome is almost a thousand pages long, yet it’s in my top 5 books of all time. It’s the same with 11/22/63 which could easily double as a door-stop.
I like short books, but I no longer reconsider buying/reading a book if it’s really long. I’ve read plenty of short books where nothing happens.