I'm the kind of person who goes shopping with a specific list and picks up random things on the way to checkout counter. This applies to my reading habits as well. Usually, I go to the library to pick up five or six books... and walk out with more than a dozen. But for every book I decide to take out, I leave a few more on the shelf. They have drawn my interest, but overall, I decided not to read them.
What I usually look at:
- Title. That's right, not cover, but title. This doesn't mean that I would read it, just means that it sounds interesting enough for me to read the book blurb. It meant that there was just something in the title to make me wonder what it was about. If the cover page is good-looking, that's just a bonus. For example, Epic by Kostick Conor. I thought that the story had to really epic (pardon the pun) to be titled Epic. (I'm picking this book because I think it doesn't get enough love.)
- Book blurb. If the premise sounded original, I keep reading the blurb. So it turns out Epic was the title of a video game that governs the main character's financial status. The more in-game currency one has, the more currency they have in the physical world. Prior to this novel, I have only read one book using video games as a main component as the setting and already, the premise is telling me that the plot line is different. So I keep reading. By the way, if there is no book blurb (and there were some books like that), I'm not reading it.
- Conflict and the stakes. For me, caring about the main character don't start from page one, it starts from the blurb. Why should I read x number of pages for this story? What opposes the main character? What does the main character want? With Epic, main character Erik wants revenge but any conflict can only be resolved in the virtual world. Coupled with the premise, it meant despite of actual justice, the person with the stronger virtual character would win. As Erik wants revenge, it infers that he had already lost once or he is an underdog. Already, I want him to succeed. However, what happens should he succeed or fail is another mystery that makes me want read more...
What makes me put a book down after reading the blurb:
Regardless of all my above requirements, if the book blurb had an a-or-b question, I will put the book back on the shelf. A few examples of a-or-b questions are:
- Will what's-his/her-name defeat the bad guy's name?
- Can so-and-so make it back in time?
- When her father finally croaks and the deadline for her wedding approaches, Princess Protagonist must choose between Earl Handsome and Baron Charming.
- Should Mac A. Roni pick chocolate eggs or pumpkin pie?
- Is this the end for Sir Main Character? Will he survive?
The blurb implies that the story only has two possible outcomes; it is either option a or option b. Either James Bond defuses the bomb in time or he doesn't. Judging by the subsequent films, he does. If it's choosing between Handsome or Charming, picking either one is fine, right? It's not like there are more than two suitors for Princess Protagonist. I'd rather read a story with Princess Protagonist attempting to court Prince Awkward over in the next kingdom while trying to avoid Handsome and Charming. Even if you know that Harry Potter is going to defeat Lord V., there are more complex factors that influences the outcome.
What I don't look at:
- What other authors/newspapers/editors recommended about this book. I don't know Joe Smith from Jimmy Bob Joe. Why should I care what they say about it? Even if I do know the author who recommends this book, our tastes might be different. The only exception is if I know the author personally.
- Winner of x Contest, X Prize Winner: See above, except replace 'authors' with 'strangers'
- Number of Pages: Whether you tell the story in twenty pages or two thousand, as long as I like what I'm reading, I'll read it to the end.
- Genre: if it's well-written, then it's well-written. If it's NSFW, then I'll just... read it at home.
What makes you put the book back on the shelf?