Book Talk: What Makes You Pick Up a Book by a Debut Author?

I’m very interested in the way books are marketed. In a lot of ways, what a librarian does is about marketing books to readers. We create displays and curate lists and pitch books to readers “looking for a ‘good’ book” or “looking for a book like title X.” Although our interests lie in assisting patrons rather than selling a product, a lot of the techniques are the same.

Readers have infinite choices and limited reading time. As I was making my list for yesterday’s Top Ten Tuesday post on 2014 debuts, I got to thinking about what draws me to a new author. Even if I haven’t read an author before, if they’ve previously published, I have critical reviews and opinions of friends and other readers whose taste I am familiar with to inform my decision to read a book. But a debut author, particularly when you’re reading a review copy, is a largely unknown quantity.

After reflecting on my choices on which debut novels interested me, I realized my motivations for reading a book are complicated. Here’s what factors into the decision:

Local and/or librarian authors

I selected four titles to give a try solely because they were written by librarians or local authors (or sometimes both). I want to support both and will give a book written by a local author or a librarian a second look even if the blurb doesn’t immediately sound like a “me” kind of book. I’m sure every reader has personal interests that can inspire them to give a second glance to a book, and for me, if an author is a librarian or local, I’ll definitely check it out.

Blurbs from other authors 

I’m often skeptical of an author who shares the same agent or editor recommending a title, but other times it seems like an author genuinely wants to promote a book because they’ve enjoyed it, and if I liked their book, logic follows I might like one they suggest.

This doesn’t always hold true. I can’t stand Cassandra Clare’s writing, but I love Holly Black and have really enjoyed Sarah Rees Brennan’s books, and not only do they promote The Mortal Instruments series, they even write in the Shadowhunter world. Still, sometimes I love a book recommended by a favorite author. When I first started working in the young adult department, I picked up The Miseducation of Cameron Post because it was recommended by Curtis Sittenfeld. LOVED IT.

When I received a copy of Eleanor & Park in the mail months before release (or before anyone was talking about it), I read it because Gayle Forman had written a line for the cover about how it thrummed with first love and punk rock. I read it and loved it and didn’t think many other people would, but I was wrong.

Comparison pitches

Sometimes I fall for comparisons to other books or media I loved, even though I know that I shouldn’t. This kind of marketing definitely catches my attention, and mostly it makes me want to challenge the comparison—but that does mean I am driven to read it, even if I’m skeptical going in and only rarely surprised to find the comparison is accurate.

Graceling is one of my favorite books, and when Cruel Beauty was pitched as Beauty and the Beast meets Graceling, I was skeptical but hopeful. Rosamund Hodge’s story and writing style ended up being almost nothing like Kristin Cashore’s, and while the comparison caught my attention, it ended up making me compare Cruel Beauty to Graceling—with unfavorable results.

Book covers

Covers can repel or attract me towards all sorts of books, but particularly for a new author, a beautiful cover design can tip the scale and influence me to read a book. I am drawn to graphic covers with bold typeface, illustrated covers rather than ones with stock photos, and covers that communicate what the book is about rather than just having a girl with a pretty dress. For instance, it took me a long time to read Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi because of the sparkly white dress on the cover, which had nothing to do with the story. It ended up being a book that played with voice and style in a way I greatly admired, but the cover made it seem like the same old paranormal romance I’d read before.

Social media presence

There are a lot of authors who I think are hilarious or insightful on social media whose books I find dull. Equally often, I love a book but am not interested in the author as a person or what they have to say on social media. But particularly with new authors, the way they use social media can make me decide to give them a chance or motivate me to never read their book. It’s a double-edged sword.

Discussing how readers (and librarians and other publishing professionals) interact with authors is a fascinating subject that requires its own post to really explore, but I do think it influences my decision to take a chance on a debut author.

Diversity

I have a special interest in LGBTQ young adult fiction and try to also keep an eye out for both books about characters of color and books written by authors of color. I will give these a second look.

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How do you decide to pick up a book by a debut author?

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8 thoughts on “Book Talk: What Makes You Pick Up a Book by a Debut Author?

  1. This was a very interesting post, and really well written! I find that I typically pick books up based on the cover and the blurb, and a quick check on Goodreads. (Anything with less than a 3 better have a beautiful cover and/or a amazingly intriguing blurb!) I’ve also found that most times I don’t realize a book is from a debut author until after finishing, which has worked out really well for me. (Have you read ‘A Light Between Oceans’??)

    Working at a bookstore is little different, because we have buyers sending us books they think we should promote. But I still rely more heavily on co-workers, customers, and Goodreads than I do what gets auto-shipped to us.

    For whatever reason, I found it really difficult to find 10 authors debuting in 2014 for that TTT, I had to go back to previous years to get all 10. Maybe because it was hard to find lists not solely focused on YA, & I tend to read more adult fiction? Not sure, but either way, I’m excited about the 10 I
    chose!

    1. I haven’t read A Light Between Oceans — but thanks for putting it on my radar.

      Yeah, I don’t think if would be as easy to make a list of adult titles. I look at adult catalogs, but not as thoroughly because I don’t buy adult fiction except for our circulating ereaders.

  2. I have been burned by false book or author comparisons in the past and I have learned to take those with a grain of salt. Author blurbs sometimes convince me to take a look at a debut. I usually look for early reviews from book review magazines or on Goodreads too. Ultimately it is the book’s description that helps me decide if I will read a debut or not. When it comes to buying for the library I pay particular attention to professional reviews.

    1. I pay a lot of attention to professional reviews when it comes to buying for the library, but I wouldn’t say that if Kirkus hates a book, I don’t buy it. Sometimes I read a snotty Kirkus review and think “oh that will circulate like crazy.” It’s a balance, I think. And I value the opinion of other advanced readers, especially librarians whose taste I’ve gotten familiar with, as much as any professional review.

  3. Great thoughts! What you said about comparisons is so true. I find it turns me off to see a book compared to Chronicles of Narnia or To Kill a Mockingbird, etc. I’ve just seen too many which aren’t what they advertise. I have a soft spot for indie authors and anything exploring father/child relationships. :)

  4. This is a really great post (and I say that as both a librarian and upcoming debut author-ha). I think my tactics are similar to yours – if they’re local, I’ll try to read them with the intentions of promoting them, and hopefully getting them to stop by my library. Though they say don’t judge a book by its cover, come on, I do. A new book with an awesome cover will definitely make me pick it up when it comes in. Descriptions are important, too. I try to ignore the comparisons because, like you said, sometimes they leave me unhappy, and I don’t want to dampen my experience reading a book because it’s nothing like the compared book. And, yes, blurbs will get me too (I read E&P for the same reason!) But also, since next year i’ll be in the same boat as these authors, I like to support them and wish them all the luck.

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