What do you look for when picking out a book? Since you’re reading this, we’ll assume the logical – you go to the Science Fiction section of the local library or bookstore (for argument sake, we’ll exclude the interweb and e-books for another day). But when you first get there, are you more likely to go directly to the new releases, current editions (within the last few years anyway), or the classics? There are other aspects to consider as well. Do you prefer the hardbacks, paperbacks, or the magazines? And once you’ve targeted your format, what is the next hook to grab you? Are you drawn to a particular sub-genre, a specific author, an interesting title, or maybe just a shocking cover illustration?
Classics are always a favorite (mine anyway), but usually the last on my selection list because they’ve been around for so long. They will still be there when I need them (or so I hope). New releases might be one of the biggest gambles unless it is from an established author or reputable publisher because reviews and recommendations can be so limited. Current editions may have a more extensive review list, but in the end these are purely subjective. Decisions, decisions.
I’m embarrassed to admit this, but when I was younger, cover art always hooked me. Anything with rockets, spaceships, guns and explosions jumped off the shelves and took my money. My ideal cover would have had a retro bullet shaped rocket with sharp sweeping fins and a silver suited spaceman clinging to an umbilical. That’s not to say that a beautiful alien in a tight jumpsuit didn’t draw my eye also. But it only took a couple “sucker purchase” moments to learn the truth behind not buying a book by its cover.
Still, artwork can be appealing and even lend credibility to the effort within the pages. If the book is presented well, it’s a good sign that a publisher felt it was well worth the effort and investment. As for style, soft charcoal colors may not have the “Pop” of much brighter covers, but they often seem to leave more room for the imagination to grasp the story within the pages. Over time, I’ve learned that sharper or crisp detailed images tend to make the mind’s eye biased toward the cover and can become a distraction if the artwork is not loyal to the author.
Regarding the classics, books which have been on the market for a while have a better chance of familiarity, but sometimes the new releases can yield fresh surprises too. A new forward or commentary by a current author can be refreshing and even present some insights not addressed before. As new generations of readers emerge, it’s as if the old becomes new again.
Technology allows us as readers to research our investments long before we even step into a retailer. So a lot of these decisions can be made early on. But if you’re like me, impulse buys are still not out of the question. I’m not a publisher, but it still amazes me when I find a book which feels like the publisher catered to my own personal preferences. Either I’m lucky, or just a sucker for a good book. Finding that book is the challenge. I guess half the fun is in the hunt.