You know that saying “you can’t judge a book by its cover”? Bullshit. I do it all the time and it works great.
First I look at the front cover. How’s the font? Cool but not overdone. The graphic? Interesting without being obvious. Old photos can be good. Abstract or just text works. Still lifes are iffy. Is it the painting everyone has on their dorm room wall or a fridge magnet? Oh god. Is it an obvious mash up title to draw in the crowds? The (insert historical racy type) of the (insert famous cultural period or famous historical figure) and hope people are fooled into reading it.
Then, I flip it over. Who wrote the blurbs? Are they even about this book or a previous one? The blurbs have to be by authors or publications I trust. And NOT from others that I don’t. If I don’t like your writing, I most definitely don’t want to read anything you recommend. Duh. But no blurbs is better than People magazine or their kind. Not to disrespect them but celebrity gossip isn’t my thing and books are not theirs.
Next, open and read the description on the flap. A good description makes me want to sit down and read it. Right now. On the floor. Even though I have to go to the bathroom and am hungry and running late for something. When I say I read, I mean fiction. Novels. Usually by women. Not translated. The kindle-reading people are always talking about reading “samples”. I need to hold the book.
My newest judgement area is the dreaded author photo. For years, I didn’t really think much about it but lately, I can’t read the book unless I check first. And of course, this is the most tacky and shallow part of my process but I can’t help it. I have very definite ideas about what the quintessential author looks like but I’m ok with variations. But too done up, too dressy, too stylized and fancy? We don’t have anything to say to each other. I also like it when they say where they live and if it’s with a spouse and children. I like to picture where they are. Mention a few awards or a good writing program, great.
The irony, soon after I started being snarky about the author pics, I got my first blog posted and they asked for my photo. Now there’s payback for you. Then, months later when we were having our family holiday card photo taken – I asked our friend/photographer to take a headshot. Now, I have one I like but no one is asking. All those authors I sneered at, enjoy.