If you have a $25 bookstore gift certificate, how do you pick from a large room filled with many good books?
On the mystery side of things:
- I started one that was covered with blurbs from pretty much everyone in the business. An amazing number for a first-author, but then again he lives in LA and has more chances to network. The premise sounded intriguing: a professional clean-up guy, hired to make crime scenes as if they never happened, finds himself the target of a killer. But the longer I read, the more preposterous it was. In this imaginary world, there are lots of freelance spies working for shadowy government agencies, and each of them serves as a mentor to a younger person. It’s like some kind of weird guild. I wasn’t willing to suspend so much disbelief.
- A book with wonderful pre-pub reviews, told from four women’s POVs. All of the women were damaged, and most of them had done damage. It was well-written, but I decided I didn’t want to spend hours in a world where people are using drugs, hating themselves, having sex with people they don’t like, recounting how they killed their children, etc.
- A book by a first-time author. Kind of a basic plot: man’s wife is killed, and he’s the primes suspect once the cops discover he had an affair. He uncovers a web of deceit - but it’s a very well thought-out web, one that took me to places I didn’t imagine. The dialog was first rate, the characters real. The one thing I thought as a writer was that it was very hard to make two characters who were mostly off-stage (one was the dead wife) alive for the reader. But I liked the book enough to pitch it to my editor.
Let’s move on to the YAs.
- A book with a so-so cover, quote from Tamora Pierce on the back, jacket flap describes secret race of people who live under polar ice cap or something like that. A probable pass.
- An eye-catching cover of a dandelion clock. Lots of great reviews on the back for the authors’ other books, as well as a listing of awards. Would kids care? I don’t know. As an adult – a parent, teacher, or librarian , and especially as a reviewer, I like to see these things. Jacket flap says it’s about a girl who gets some drawing paper that turns out to be magic. I’ll read at least part of it.
- A book with a yellow tennis ball on the cover, a pull quote from the book on the back, and a jacket flap that says it’s about being a tennis phenomenon. A maybe.
- A book with a murky picture of some kids caring swords, a two-headed dog, and a glowing green castle. And a tiny note saying the book was previously published under another name. On the back, a quote from Tamora Pierce. A pass, because the book isn’t new.
Authors usually can’t determine covers (although they may have “cover consultation” which means the publisher shows it to you and might or might not listen if you hate it.) Authors can and should offer to proof their jacket flap copy. I’m going to work hard to have a listing of awards AND a quote from another author who writes similar books on the back of my next YA. I should have insisted on it last time.