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Judging an Unread Book

Confession: I judge books by their covers.

I always have. I look for a cover that sparks my interest, and then I check out the back cover blurb. If the back cover further intrigues me, then I’ll check out the first page.

This all seemed innocent enough, regardless of the phrase “Never judge a book by its cover.” Until I became a writer myself. Then I realized the harsh truth:

I’m judging a book on something the author may have no say over.

Depending on how a book is published, the author may retain total say or no say over the cover. There will be other limitations: model options, photo rights and availability, publishing line requirements. A cover can mean diddly squat about the novel itself.

As for the back cover, sometimes that’s written by the author. Sometimes it’s not. Regardless, those little blurbs are the bane of most writers existence. We’ve just written a novel between 60-90k words, on average. And now we need to summarize all those beautiful, brilliant, wonderful words, to 200. Or less. And if you are talking about Facebook/Twitter/E-mail blurbs, well now we’re down to 140 characters in some cases.

140 characters, out of a 90k word novel. For kicks and giggles I looked up what my 87,000 word novel translates into characters: 355,000. Down to 140. Why don’t you just shoot me.

These blurbs are hard. There isn’t a writer I know of who doesn’t pull at their clothes, stomp their feet, and hiss at the screen while writing these up. The blurb goes through more drafts, more eyes, more revisions than the novel itself.

The worst part? That blurb is what is going to make a reader/reviewer/agent/editor take notice. Before you can even get to the 60-90k beautiful words, you need to hook your audience.

Even after realizing all of this, I still judge a book by a cover. But I don’t do it to the same extent. In fact, some days I don’t see the cover at all. I get e-mail book deals and there are times the cover image doesn’t load. I love these times, because a bad cover won’t influence me. No, now I’m influenced by the 140 character type blurb.

But what is different now, is that if my interest is grabbed in any way shape or form, I always, always, always look at the first paragraph. I let the author’s own words be the deciding factor. I know, I might be looking at these promotional words based on nothing the author herself has done. At the end of the day it will be her words that make the read enjoyable.

The next time you judge a book, take a moment to think of who you are really judging.

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