How to Buy a Book

a nicely drawn pile of booooksI can hear them now.

“That Tara Sparling one. She’s some tulip.”

“Come again?”

“She tried to tell me how to buy a book. Feckin’ cheek of her. What’s next? How to get up in the morning? How to breathe??”

Look – I know it seems simple. But this is more of an inquisitive How Do? than a How-To. People used to walk into bookshops and judge books by their covers. But that’s all changed now, with digital options in the mix.  So how do you select a book? What do you look for, when you don’t know what you’re looking for? And while we’re on the subject, for those of us who might want to sell a book in the future – what are our readers looking for?

Based on a completely flawed, statistically devoid survey I made up yesterday, one or more of the following would be the first to attract book buyers:

1. The Blurb on The Back

“Janey, Joanie and Jeannie have been friends FOREVER, since 5 years ago. They are growing up in the big bad world, discovering just how hard it is to pay those bills and discovering that NOT ALL SHOES COST THE SAME!!! Will Janey forgive Joanie for buying the Manolos first? Will Jeannie get her dream job in the shoe shop? Will Joanie ever get over her cheating cobbler boyfriend??”


2. The Picture on The Front

Wow. I love the way her head is entirely composed of sky and zeppelins. I’m totally buying that.

3. The Title

Sheesh. I never thought I’d see the day when I’d be buying a book called The Roly-Poly Pudding Boy and The Round Red Organic Tomato of The Heart but now that I’ve seen it I can’t leave it behind.

4. The Author

Oh, Anthony Bestseller’s latest one? I had it pre-ordered on Amazon for like, 6 years. Are you only reading it now?

5. Page 1

Most people believe that if the first page doesn’t grab you, nothing will. I admire this kind of decisiveness – great people to be around in a crisis, for instance – but because first pages are the hardest to write, I tend to give a bit of leeway here.

6. Page 59

The rationale here is that the first page could have been worked on by a team of editors for 4 weeks. It’s page 59 which will tell you what the book is truly made of.

Big bookcase or small man either or7. Chapter 1

On eReaders, this is standard. You download a sample, which generally includes Chapter 1, and then make your decision to pay for the rest. But reading the entire first chapter in a bookshop? Whoa, man, this is dedicated. I wouldn’t have the patience. Plus, if I do that and the book still turns out to be a total turkey, I definitely only have myself to blame.

8. Specific Subject Matter

Say, if you’ll buy anything involving rainbows, fiscal ruin, cauliflowers, schizophrenia, or vampires.

9. Thematic Flavour of the Month

This includes books which come from film or TV, or books which only became famous because of film or TV. Yeah. You know who you are.

10. Word Of Mouth/Friend Recommends

This can get ugly, so approach with caution. Sometimes, there is nothing more terrifying than someone saying to you, “Hey, I have to spend the next month in hospital! You’ll recommend a good book for sure, to get my mind off the intolerable pain and suffering!”

11. Professional Critic Reviews

We all have our trusted publications and trusted opinion formers. Most of the time we disagree, but that’s not the point.

12. Open Public Reviews

Ah, the denizens of Amazon and Goodreads. Approach with a battalion of caution. This can get uglier than a blobfish.

13. Advertising

This is a tricky one. Does anyone really buy a book because of advertising, or does it only reinforce a decision which has already been made? Perhaps the radio ad merely alerts you to a new book by your favourite author, perhaps a book trailer looked good enough to finally force your hand to click that button. But it’s not always employed as standard, so hard to know how effective it is.

Tell us! What makes you select your books? And how has it changed?

  7 comments for “How to Buy a Book

  1. Brid
    September 17, 2013 at 10:17 am

    14. Whatever is in the 50 cents pile at the Simon shop on Camden Street.
    Your bookshelf looks GOOD girl(“,)


    • September 17, 2013 at 10:20 am

      I forgot about charity shops! The beauty of limited availability making your choice easier 🙂 … Actually paves the way for the discovery of hitherto lost gems!


  2. johanna buchanan
    September 17, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    The real problem with buying a book on recommendation is if you totally hate it but like the person who recommended it and don’t want to upset the apple cart by admitting it. But if you’re not honest you might be quizzed on what happened on page 79, the page you never got to. It can all turn into a minefield.


    • September 17, 2013 at 1:43 pm

      Agreed. My family has perfected the tentative recommendation over the years by assuming a hang-dog expression whilst handing over a book and shrugging “see what you think, I thought it was all right, anyway”. We then assume the stance of a dog which has been slapped and doesn’t understand why. It’s extremely effective in warding off accusations of timewasting and bad taste.


  3. September 18, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    I’m a blurb girl myself. And I still can’t believe the real truth about the price of shoes!


  4. Scoop Jackson..."News 60"
    September 25, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    Great advice! Thanks for sharing this…



  5. October 8, 2013 at 11:57 am

    I think the cover image is the first level of attraction, then the blurb on the back – funny that I never read the inside page 1 or 59 before deciding to buy or not – thanks for sharing. Hopefully my book, Solitary Desire-One Woman’s Journey to France, has just the right stuff!


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