Monday, March 19, 2012

What Makes a Book Hook You?

As a reader, what makes you reach for a book on the shelf?

I love Historical Fiction. As I browse Pinterest for pictures that move me, and catch my eye, I stumbled on one that made me think--great book cover! I clicked until I found the photographer's website. Her work was copyrighted, and guess what--she works for the book cover industry. It made me think about what catches a person's eye while browsing the bookshelves of the local bookstore.

It made me wonder...

What are readers looking for in a historical fiction?
What makes it great?

Well, I'm unagented. I'm unpubbed. I'm a quasi-newbie. BUT, I am a reader. So, I'm answering as a reader.

When I browse a bookshelf, I look at the cover. Like a great antique needs some original patina, to me, a great historical should have a sense of patina on the book cover. Patina forms on the surface, produced by age, wear, exposure, or polishing. I like a little something more original than "girl in field". I like the cover to have some level of intrigue. Sometimes less is more, like not showing the heroine's face--it begs the question, what is she like? It makes me want to know what formed the patina of her character.

I read the back cover and hope for something different than what's been overdone in the past. I love a well written story about a prairie school teacher, but I'd be more likely to read it if it had a fresh twist. I want to read a story about a time and place I love--or a place I have never been--or a place that has some little known history that runs through the plot line. I can also be drawn in by an interesting occupation of the hero or heroine--especially one that will reveal the historical times. One of my favorites is Tamera Alexander's From a Distance.

I like a full length novel I can sink my teeth into. I love well developed characters that are believable. Once I've made my purchase, nothing will disappoint me more than characters who do or say things that don't ring true with a well thought out character. I like characters who rise up off the flat page and become more than black and white print on the page. A great character can do unbelievable things--and we can still believe it.

I like a writer who can keep the reader--ME--engaged through the middle. I have trouble with distractions or sagging middles. I probably have some ADD, so if that happens, I might not finish the book--and I certainly won't buy another book from that author unless it comes highly recommended. I'm always intrigued by an author who can weave well in the middle--without me guessing what will happen next--which I always try to do. So, I love it when I'm wrong and something even more interesting that I imagined starts to unfold.

I love it when the theme is one that isn't trite, or worn out. But, that said, I'd read any well written book with the theme: she can't trust him, he has a haunted past, she's a widow, he's a man out to redeem himself, etc--IF, they are written well. But, recently, I was excited to read a book with a great look at colonial America's struggle with the theme of liberty. This was Love Finds You in Annapolis, MD by Roseanna M. White. The lessons her characters learned were not only timeless, but something we could stand to remember more often than we might, two hundred plus years later. It made me ponder. It made me thankful. I came away pushed and stretched.

Theses are things I am striving for in my writing, looking for on the shelf, and hoping for in my reading.

So, what do YOU look for in a book?


  1. I'm reading a novel that has a beautiful cover - great back cover copy - and a sagging first chapter. In fact, sagging so much, it pains me to pick it up and get to chapter two. So I ditto everything you said and add, a GREAT START that sucks me in immediately - that certainly helps! :)

  2. Jaime, thanks for the comment. I do agree a beautiful cover is paramount. But so often, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Well, I'm signing off to go read a book I'm sucked into right now....

  3. Makes me feel shallow, but the cover really does matter. A lot. And that first chapter...if it's slow, I might hang around for a bit, but not long. I look for excellent writing that just flows, doesn't have to explain everything to me, and assumes I'm intelligent enough to figure things out. :) And I love mystery!

  4. Hi Rhonda! Great to see you here. Yep, slow starter is a finisher here too! Why is poor writing so easy to ditch and excellent writing so easily identified--yet so hard to create some days! I guess the Spirit blows where it will...isn't it neat that the word inspiration looks like it comes from the root word Spirit?