Friday, 30 May 2008

How I choose books

I have achieved a result with chapter one, in that I think my edits are making the story better (be absolutely awful if I thought they were making it worse). I am acutely aware that the first page is so kick-fire important – and I really need this to be good.

The first thing I do in a book shop is browse the new fiction. This is usually because it is the closest thing on the shelves when you walk in – so no doubt huge deals behind the scenes are going on with publishers and booksellers. As I am browsing I am looking for two things – a good illustrated book cover, and a decent title. I avoid fluorescent colours, line drawings of women with shopping bags, anything that looks fluffy or girlie, and photographs of sad looking children. I pick up anything that uses an autumn sort of colour scheme, anything that looks old, and any book that uses montages of photo’s and illustrations. So that is me over the first hurdle.

At the same time of looking at the dust jacket, I am reading the title. I will put down anything that smacks of convoluted romantic entanglements, anything that mentions tractors, and anything trying to be too clever. At this stage I am looking for a title that suits the illustration and is intriguing enough to make me do that oh-so-tiring thing of turning the book over to read the blurb on the back. Recently I would say The Book Thief is one of those books – good title, brilliant illustration.

So I am now on the blurb. If this just consists of quotes, I tend to put the book back on the shelf, as if I have got this far it means I want a glimpse of what is inside, and not to be told that someone at The Daily Sun thinks it’s a corker. What I am looking for is a neat paragraph that sums up the story and ends with something that makes me curious – oh hold on, something just landed on my desk…


So now if my whistle is whetted, I will open the book – yes, actually open it! I go straight to chapter one, and quickly skim the first three of so paragraphs. This is the crunch time – if the book has passed all other bases, then this is the killer – the ‘make or break will I part with my money’ moment. If the book fails here, then back on the shelf it will go, although I’d probably make a note of the publisher, as they’re pretty good to get me this far. If I like it at this stage, I buy it. Simple, isn’t it!

So this is what new fiction has to contend with, and I need a cracking first three paragraphs.

*stares at first three paragraphs*

Right, I’m off to buy some chocolate…


idil o. calvero said...

i like your method. chocolate first :)

Jayne Ferst said...

Chocolate first is essential to getting first paragraphs right, I think!