Tuesday, March 30, 2010

To Buy or Not To Buy

Recently, Miss Snark's First Victim invited readers to submit the first 25 words of their WIPs for critique. I posted mine and got some interesting feedback. (Sorry, not linking to it, since I've got to agree that it isn't my best.) The point was for the commenters to say whether or not they were hooked.

Now, this might just be me, but I can almost never tell if I'm hooked by a book within the first 25 words. I usually need the first 150 or so to figure it out. Really, at least one paragraph, sometimes more. But, rarely will I know whether I'm interested or not in the first 25 words. (If you've scared me off that fast, holy hopscotch, what did you do?) Usually, at such an early stage, most are in limbo, some are on probation, everyone is still awaiting judgment.

My book selection process is simple and gleaned from how agents pull books from the slush. (I kid you not, learning how agents pick books made me better at picking books up at the store. I now am better equipped to select my own reading material):

1) Read the summary on the back cover or book jacket. Basically, read query. (Books without 'queries' tick me off. I resent being asked to make a decision with basically no information.)

2) Read first page or so--
a)If I don't like it, put it back.
b)If I sort of like it, read a bit more (like requesting a partial) or set it back on the shelf to see if I like it enough to think about it (considering a partial/full MS).
c)If I love it, select for purchase/borrowing.

Now, for you guys. How do you decide which buys to buy/borrow? How long does it take you to decide if something is good/your type of book or not? Where did you get this decision making style?


  1. I usually go by recommendations. Good for you for subjecting yourself to Miss Snark.

  2. You know Dom, I have to say 25 words make it or break it is BS...that is Bull Shi. Let's be honest, just like you outlined: 1st, you read the back cover, 2nd the first page or two (which is 300 plus words. Third, what i do is split the book in half and read a page or two from the middle. That seals the deal or not. I'll purchase it if it does. 25 WORDS/HOOK IS LUDICROUS. Sometimes I wonder if people just make this stuff up.

  3. I used to read through every book I picked up. Now, I'm way more selective. If a friend recomends it strongly, I'll give it a go but it doesn't always mean I'll like it. The cover jacket does help me choose but not always. Way to go on submitting. It's hard to put yourself out there like that.

  4. Some of my favorite books didn't hook me in the first few pages (The Hunger Games), but others did (Memoirs of a Geisha). The dustjacket blurb is critical and I'll admit the cover is too. A beautiful cover can catch my attention and occasionally convinces me to buy a book (Little Bee and Hush, Hush).

  5. Hm. I have to say, I judge a lot by the cover (shallow, I know). I also read the blurb... and then I open the book up to the middle and scan a few pages to get a sense of the writing style. If I like, I buy it!

  6. I do what you outlined and interesting that I never realized before how similar that is to an agent or editor decision. I usually can tell in the first few paragraphs if I like the writing style or the voice. Although I gave The Time Traveler's Wife to p. 60 before throwing it down in disgust. I liked the writing style but by p. 60 realized that the characters really really annoyed me. Plus I got tired of waiting for a story to unfold. It was the same thing over & over.

  7. I go buy the back cover blurb, inside cover, and or the inside cover blurb. The make it or break it for me is the cover itself. If I'm iffy on the book and the cover is great, then I'll take the chance.

  8. I don't necessarily judge a book by its first 25 words, but I can tell in 25 words (from anywhere in the book) if I like the writing style.

    I usually check out a book's cover, title, and dust jacket. Then I flip inside and glance at a couple of sentences. The subject AND writing style have to appeal to me if I'm going to read it. If I'm interested in the subject of the story, I'm OK with anything except BAD writing. It doesn't have to be genius, as long as it's not irritating.

    Good story trumps good writing, in my opinion. And I'll read pretty much whatever's in front of my face, if it's available for free. But give me the rare combination of a fascinating story and beautiful prose, and I'll throw down the money for a new book.

  9. I agree with you. It takes me a while to figure out if the book has hooked me or not. And books without 'queries' drive me up the wall. I don't think it's fair to the book either, because let's face it, not all good books have amazing cover art or titles. If they don't have a description, then it's much more likely they'll just be overlooked.

  10. Susan -- Recommendations are certainly useful, especially if you know the taste of the person doing the reccing.

    Girl -- I'm with you, 25 words isn't too helpful. People probably are making some of this stuff up. Which is comforting, I guess, since I'm certainly making this all up as I go along.

    L.T. -- I don't think I ever read all the books I picked up (I used to grab books at random in the library and read the backs). That sounds like it would be very time-consuming. But, I do think we all become more selective about what we read as we age.

    Stephanie -- I go by covers sometimes too. If the cover is super pretty, it'll motivate me to pick the book up, and it'll probably make me have a more favorable impression of what I see in it. I like pretty things.

    Talli -- It's okay. You're not alone on the covers front. I think we're all a little shallow like that sometimes.

    Karen -- I think a lot of people use an agent-like style of book selection, because, let's face it, it's effective.

    Piedmont -- I think cover has an impact on a lot of people's book selection process. Interesting how many times that's come up in the comments so far.

    Genie -- I'm with you, I cannot stand bad writing. And, I too think that good story trumps good writing. As far as I'm concerned, it can be beautiful wording, but if it's wasted on a bad story, then there's nothing really to focus on.

    vader -- I agree, it isn't fair to the book not to put a description on there. It does limit its chances of being picked up by readers, and a good story could get ignored undeservedly.

  11. This is my exact method for selecting a book to purchase (if I don't already know the author) and I stated as much to another blogger who posted on that site. It's a novel idea to pull people in...but I don't believe its really relevant to anything.

  12. DL -- Thanks for weighing in. It's been interesting to see how many people use this sort of browsing style.