Merlin Mann, editor of 43 Folders, who appears to be a personal productivity guru and which appears to be a sort of personal productivity website (among other things: the whole thing, author and endeavor, appears to be very Web 2.0, which I’m not sure I mean as a good thing or a bad thing), offers a reductive checklist of what he considers in evaluating a book when deciding whether to read it. He applies it mainly to non-fiction by authors he’s never heard of, but a lot of his bullet points are pretty universal:
- At the highest level, is this book’s topic based on the typical “zeitgeist” product that gets greenlit by someone who watches lots of golf on TV and who seldom finishes reading the 1,000-word “features” found in in-flight magazines?
- Does the book have one of those irksome, “Everything You Know About Everything is Completely WRONG!” titles?
- Is the author’s large, whitish face the primary feature of the cover?
It set me to wondering. I used Springsteen and Sinatra as inspiration for my cover, and I still think it looks pretty good. I’ve been playing around with ideas for covers for other books (one thing that helps me, in my own writing process, is having a visual of the finished object in my head as I’m writing it. It helps to have something in mind between what the black words on the white page are conjuring in my head, and seems to help me get into a more concrete setting).
I’ve heard lots of marketing theories that break down the amount of time and attention browsers give to prospective book purchases. Something like a half second on the front cover, another half on the back, a second on the first page . . . it’s amazing how quickly we process and make decisions. Partly, I believe, the thesis of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink.
I started to consider my own purchasing habits, which are as follows: go to the remainders table/bargain section, hit novels (I rarely read non-fiction unless of research for stories), search for everything under five bucks, and then consider the covers. Also the author: I tend to prefer the style of female authors over men (no idea why). No spaceships or half-torsos (hallmarks of genre-driven science fiction and fantasy). No quiet family sagas, nor middle-aged-crisis-driven protagonsists who are losing their families and careers and whathaveyou and must face their own demons.
Because seriously, if someone in a story has to face a demon, it had better be a real one.
But I’m interested to know: what do you consider? What prompts you to take a chance on a book/author you’ve never heard of?