How to judge a book by its cover

You are at the airport, getting ready to board a plane for a long flight, and you slip into the airport bookstore to quickly pick up a good book to keep you occupied. You’ve already read all the books by your favorite authors, and you’re ready to try something new, but you don’t have time to read blurbs on the backs of the paperbacks, you just need to grab something and get to the plane. What do you pick?

Believe it or not, the general publishers’ marketing habits make it easy. Look for a book that has the author’s name as the most dominant element on the cover.

Here’s the reasoning. When a writer first starts out, he generally brings with him little to no name recognition in any market. His/her books will sale based on word of mouth and/or general marketing ploys, but potential readers are not going to pick up the book because of who wrote it. Instead, they may like the picture on the cover or the title might catch their interest, but who wrote it isn’t going to matter to them. If they do read it, they may or may not like it. If they like it, chances are they are going to look for that author again (and recommend the book to a friend). As sales increase for any given author, his/her name recognition increases. On the next book, the name will be a little larger, perhaps the same size as the title, or maybe just a bit smaller. As an author’s sales increase still further, he/she may eventually attain that coveted status as a “best-seller.” At this point, the author’s name is the biggest thing on the cover because his/her name is what sells the book.

So how does this apply to your need for a quick pick in the airport bookstore? It’s an established fact that writers improve with practice. Even best-selling authors like Nora Roberts and Steven King had to learn basic skills and mature as writers. Some of their earlier works will reflect that maturation process. An author who has written enough books and created enough of a following to be a “best-seller” will, theoretically, deliver a good read with pretty much every new book. So if you don’t have time to actually read the blurbs and pick a book based on subject matter, then a large author name on a book in your favorite genre is always a safe bet. When you have more time to browse, though, please give the small author names a chance, too. New writers cannot become best-sellers until lots of people read their first books and demand more.

Enjoy your read, oh, and your flight as well.


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