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What stops you from buying a book?


What stops you from buying a book?

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What stops you from buying a book?


Published on October 26, 2008


Book covers, we are told, are not illustrations for the story but little billboards meant to sell the book. They’re not even meant to sell the book to readers, but often to the stores. They’re full of coded information like gold lettering meaning “We take this book seriously.” Publishers spend ages collecting blurbs from authors and go to all this trouble to make books look attractive. Mostly as a reader I ignore all of that—to the point where I often don’t read the back of the book until I’ve read the book several times. I’d be quite happy if they were all like old Penguins, just one solid colour per genre.

A really staggeringly bad cover picture will make me hesitate if it’s a book I’m only considering, but it won’t stop me buying a book if it’s an author I like. It might stop me reading it on the train if it’s embarrassingly awful, but that’s all. Boring generic covers tend to merge into each other (or become like that one solid block of colour) to me and I only notice if something has a specially good cover.

Some people won’t buy a book if it has won an award they don’t like —you’d think that would be a certain winner, but apparently not. Any award would seem like a plus to me.

Holes in the cover, or covers that don’t actually cover the book. They never wear well. It might say all sorts of exciting things to the shop, but it says to me is “torn cover waiting to happen.” Usually if this is a book I really want, I’ll grit my teeth and say “I’ll buy the British edition…” (or the US edition if it happens to be the British edition that has the hole). If I don’t really want it, if I’m just idly looking, it goes straight back on the shelf. I’m really rigid on this one. The last book I actually bought with a hole in the cover was Seventh Son, in 1988.

Then there’s “Reader’s guides” or “Questions for book clubs” in the back of the book with lots of dopey questions like “Why did Sissy kiss the alien?” and “Is Randy’s confession really sincere?” I  despise these. They don’t threaten the physical integrity of the book, but I can never stop myself from reading them and rolling my eyes at their inanity. I hated comprehension questions when I was in school, too. I will buy books with them if there’s no choice, but if I’m not sure I want the book this tips the scales towards not buying it because it’s clearly aimed at morons.

Slightly less irritating are paperbacks bound with the first chapter of the next volume at the end. This won’t stop me buying something, but I do hate it. A book should be a book, and you should be able to physically tell how much of it you have left. Also, I hate reading the first chapter of the next volume. It ruins the pacing of my reading to read the first chapter and then wait for the rest. (Yes, I know they do that with my books. I grumble about it, but what do I know about marketing?)

I also detest the trim size that in Britain is called C-Format, aka “yuppieback,” the size of a hardcover but bound as a paperback. I have simple practical reasons for disliking this—all the lightness and convenience of a hardcover combined with all the solidity and durability of a paperback. For some reason, possibly because the glue used for paperbacks is just right for holding a paperback together, I find them even less durable and far more prone to spine cracking. Fortunately, I encounter these much less frequently than I used to, as they’re mostly a British fad, thank goodness.

Pages and pages of quotes at the start of a paperback can be offputting. I like a few blurbs, especially if they’re from authors I like, but when it gets to pages and pages of them, it seems excessive and had the opposite effect. Related to this, there are some authors and sources that do put me off. If an author I hate loves something, that doesn’t look like a good sign. Also Kirkus. Kirkus almost always hate my books, so they clearly have awful taste. Besides, who ever saw a copy of Kirkus, or heard of it except on blurbs? A quote from Kirkus among others won’t stop me, but if I pick up something I’ve never heard of and it only has a Kirkus quote I’ll probably put it back.

So, how about you? What puts you off?

About the Author

Jo Walton


Jo Walton is the author of fifteen novels, including the Hugo and Nebula award winning Among Others two essay collections, a collection of short stories, and several poetry collections. She has a new essay collection Trace Elements, with Ada Palmer, coming soon. She has a Patreon ( for her poetry, and the fact that people support it constantly restores her faith in human nature. She lives in Montreal, Canada, and Florence, Italy, reads a lot, and blogs about it here. It sometimes worries her that this is so exactly what she wanted to do when she grew up.
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