First impressions are important. Unfortunately, we often judge people in the first 3 seconds we meet them. While many of our initial impressions are wrong, it does not change the fact that our first moments with a person can color how we see all subsequent interactions. I find that the same idea can be applied to books. In my mind, there are three major categories that color our initial impressions of books: the title, the cover art, and the blurb. Each has their own pitfalls and nuances, but at the end of the day their goal is to get potential readers to pick up and open the book.
Book Titles – Books are frequently either dismissed or picked up based on their title. There has been a great deal of research (here, here, and here and good examples) about the redundancy of fantasy titles, and, as you can see, there are a group of words that appear frequently in fantasy titles. These words often seem to be picked because they are both descriptive of the book and because they seem “cool”. Unfortunately, lots of people have similar ideas of what sounds cool and it often results in situations like I found myself in last year where I was reading Promise of Blood, Blood Song, and A King’s Blood around the same time. In addition to making it hard to keep books straight, sometimes names sound so cliche that I am naturally inclined to avoid them. While it is important to pick evocative titles that represent the story well, authors should be careful to choose a title that doesn’t make people internally groan or roll their eyes when they read it.
Cover Art – The saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” exists because that is exactly what people do. I find books to read in a plethora of ways, but one of my favorites is to go to bookstores and look at the various book jackets on display and pick up ones that look intriguing. I have read some truly terrible books (which will go un-named) because the author was smart enough to hire a great cover artist. Conversely, I held out on reading The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan for forever because of how ugly I found the covers to be (a mistake). Different art appeals to different people, but the most popular covers tend to make strong artistic statements. Some great examples of fantastic cover art are: The First Law by Joe Abercrombie, The Expanse by James Corey and Brilliance by Marcus Sakey. The First Law books are both incredible to look at and to touch with their textured covers that look like damaged parchment. The Expanse series is one of the few books I have seen to go with bold neon colors in their titles (on the spine) with beautiful sci-fi backdrops. Brilliance stands out with it unconventional minimalist design that just stands out among all the other titles on a shelf. The books do an incredible job of getting noticed and that goes a long way towards getting picked up and opened.
Descriptive Blurbs (scientific name) – It is interesting to me to see the various strategies authors undertake when describing their book. I find that a surprising number of books fail to talk about their unique hooks and angles in the small space provided. Learning that a book can offer me an experience unlike I have ever had is almost a surefire way to get me to pick it up (for example, see my post about Daniel Abraham’s books). However, when providing this information it is all about the showing and not the telling. Many books boldly claim to be one of a kind on their backside, but in practice that rarely holds true. On the other hand, authors like Daniel Abraham, who talk about how their books are about godlike poets, spark imagination and wonder. If you can show me something new, it goes a long way to picking up your book.
I will leave you with a story. I recently finished A Shadow of What Was Lost, by James Islington (an author I was unfamiliar with). The title, cover, and blurb did not impress me, but I got it for free from Amazon Prime so I picked it up anyway. After sitting on the book for a long time, I felt obligated to read it, no matter how bad it was. After drudging through a painful start I started to actually enjoy it. By the end of the book I was really loving it and ended the story thrilled and excited for the next installment. Upon finishing, I went back and re read the beginning hoping to figure out what was wrong with it. Doing so, I realized that the beginning was fine but my expectations that the book would be bad greatly colored my initial read through of the book. With more confidence in the author and a better mindset going it, I enjoyed the book a lot more.