How do you choose a book?

While wondering how many Kindles, Nooks and e-readers were under Christmas trees this past holiday, I pondered whether such devices will change how we as readers choose the books we read.

I admit I do the majority of my shopping online, but when I do go into a bookstore, it’s still the title that grabs me. Here’s why: I usually go to the section I find most promising for my taste, and once beyond the feature tables and endcaps (expensive retail realty!) the majority of books have only the spine showing, so a title is often all I get. If a book is face-out and the cover is striking, it has a better chance to catch my eye. In that case, I’m more likely to peruse the back cover to see what the story is all about. Maybe I read the first page or two for a taste of the author’s style.

Of course, if I’ve come to the bookstore with the name of a specific author in mind, or a title recommended by a friend, none of the above matters. I know what I’m looking for and purchasing the book is only a detail. My friend already “sold” it to me.

Today’s culture of virtual friendship and social media may have taken that important place in our lives as readers. Through marketing magic at such places as Amazon or Barnes and Noble, I can see what other people are saying about a book. I can see “Customers who purchased this book often chose these as well.” It might not be as personal as a friend’s recommendation, but valuable nonetheless because it’s based on numbers of actual sales. The reviews themselves tell me something about the integrity of the reviewer and whether it sounds like someone with taste similar to my own.

Another avenue to choose a new book is checking out the list of free titles currently being offered for Kindles or Nooks. As an Amazon Prime member, there are a great number of titles I can borrow for free now. If I find an author I like that way, I’m more apt to actually put out real money for another book by that author because I already know I like their work. Only cover art is shown on such lists, but clicking through to see what the book is about is free and easy.

Convenience, trying out an author through a free download, customer reviews, popular “bought with” titles, recommendation emails based on my previous purchases—have revolutionized the way I shop for a book. All of that works for my e-reading habits. But cover and title still play a role, particularly when I’m looking at a list where the cover is all I see. It can give me an instant glimpse into the content of the book.

I guess I have all of this on my mind because I’ve recently received the finalized cover art for my next release, which comes out in July of 2012. Here’s a look:

I love it! I can’t take a bit of credit, though I wish I could. I recently met the photographer who worked with the design leader, and I learned he went to a nearby Arboretum to shoot pictures not only for background lighting and material, but the butterflies as well. We all laughed to imagine this giant of a photographer chasing down that particular little butterfly last fall. Great job, wouldn’t you say?

So my hope is when readers like myself go to their choice of venue, whether it’s online or where books can be touched before they’re purchased, this cover will promise the romantic tale that’s inside.

What do you think? Have you ever purchased a book solely because of its cover? Do cover and title have much to do with your choosing process? How do you choose a book?

About Maureen Lang

Author of a dozen novels, Maureen Lang has won the Selah Award, a Holt Medallion, FHL's Reader's Choice Award, and been a finalist in such contests as the Christy, the Rita, the Carol, Book Buyer's Best, and others. Before publication she was the recipient of a Golden Heart and a Genesis (then called the Noble Theme). She resides with her husband and kids in the Chicago area. Titles by Maureen Lang All In Good Time Bees In The Butterfly Garden Springtime Of The Spirit Whisper On The Wind Look To The East My Sister Dilly On Sparrow Hill The Oak Leaves Remember Me Pieces Of Silver
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13 Responses to How do you choose a book?

  1. Charity says:

    Some books get me with once glance at the cover. But, yes, often it is the title that intrigues to pick up a book and at least look at the front and back cover.


  2. Maureen Lang says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who can be gotten by a cover! I once bought a book for the cover alone, barely looking at the back. I don’t even recall the title any more, but the cover sold me. I was actually a bit disappointed in the book itself, but that cover art had power over me – well, enough to shell out 13 dollars with barely a glance at the content. I’m a little more careful now, but gorgeous covers still draw me in.


  3. I agree–covers can mesmerize me into buying a book even when the back cover copy only slightly grabs me. And it can do the opposite. I can leave a book with a so-so cover on the shelf in spite of an interesting blurb on the back. But even if I didn’t already know I loved your books, I’d pick up this one on the cover and title alone. Lovely!


    • Maureen Lang says:

      Thanks so much, Anne! I agree that an unfortunate cover can make me put a book down, too – colors that hit me the wrong way, or a tone that’s really dark (unless I’m in the mood for dark!). I’ve had blessedly few disappointments in my covers, but I’ve talked to other authors who have had cover “discussions” (i.e. battles) with their publishing team. It’s funny, because I know the publisher wants the same thing the author does – good sales – so you’d think covers could be most easily agreed upon. But taste and vision just aren’t universal.
      I loved the cover on your debut, by the way, and am looking forward to seeing many more wonderful covers for your books in the future!


  4. I love your new book cover, Maureen! It’s beautiful.

    I’ll pick up books because of their spine, title, or cover, but I don’t think I’ve ever purchased one specifically because of it. The story line still has to intrigue me. But, the fact is, the spine, title, & cover have to grab my attention first.


    • Maureen Lang says:

      Thanks, Brenda!

      And you have the common sense I should have for not allowing yourself to be swept away by cover art – I did learn my lesson with one disappointment after I fell in love with a book cover, but I’m more careful now. Another part of the reason I’m more careful about what I choose is that my to-be-read pile would be taller than I am if I stacked them all together, or half of them weren’t on my Kindle. 🙂

      Glad you like my new cover!


  5. An absolutely stunning cover…it’d make me pick up the book even if I didn’t know what a wonderful writer you are!


  6. Cassie says:

    I think it will definitely change things for readers like me who like to pursue shelves and read the back blurbs of books, hold them in my hands, feel the cover against my palm – that sort of romance relationship with a book.


    • Maureen Lang says:

      Oh, Cassie, you’re the hope of the world for real books to continue to be printed! I love books, and would hate to see them disappear just because of the convenience of electronic reading. We’re not alone!


  7. WordVixen says:

    If I’m bookstore browsing, I tend to hit up my favorite genres first, and home in on my favorite authors. Then I tend to glance around the immediate vicinity of those authors and pick up on title first, then cover, then back cover copy. If I’m still undecided, I glance at a few pages to see if dialogue seems stilted or if they seem to use a lot of my pet peeve words. The farther I get from my favorite author sections, the more my eyes tend to glaze over as I’m looking at titles, so an attention grabbing spine is pretty important too.

    If I’m not bookstore browsing, usually either a friend recommended a book (which, depending on the friend, I often buy, or I’m on Amazon adding something to my wishlist or shopping cart and notice a recommendation that catches my eye. Occasionally I’ll be in the mood for a particular author and will look them up to see if anything new is out. Those Amazon recommendations are wonderful, though. I’ve found some really interesting books and other products that way. In that case, I read the blurb and then scan the first few reviews. If I’m undecided, I look to see if that author has a cheap ebook out so I can taste test their writing (I can’t stand first chapter previews- I never, ever read them). I never spend more than $5 on an author whose work I’m unfamiliar with unless they’re already highly recommended, with a grabby title, cover, blurb and good reviews (not counting bookstore browsing- I’m more likely to impulse buy in a book store).


    • Maureen Lang says:

      Your buying process sounds very much like my own, and my daughter’s – a more voracious reader than me.

      I had to laugh when you said you looked for pet peeve words. Right now I can barely make it through a new book I just bought because every page has at least one word italicized. I’m okay with that on occasion, but every page??? It’s an e-book, and if I’d had the opportunity to flip through the pages before purchasing I probably wouldn’t have bought it, just because of that. But since I only paid 3.99 for it, I’m only 3.99 disappointed. 🙂


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