- Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover: 3 Keys to Help You Pick a Book Worth Your Buck
Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash
Since the invention of the printing press in 1440, about 134 million books have rolled off the presses. And that data covers only up to half of 2016.
While the numbers are scarce, UNESCO estimates that in recent years, about 2.2 million books are published annually. While many believe those numbers are conservative estimates, everyone agrees on one fact: 2.2 million books through the publishing mill every year is a lot of books.
With these eye-popping numbers, why won’t readers succumb to the temptation to judge a book by its cover — real and proverbial?
But away from the seductive designs and the clickbait titles (does that even exist?), here are three tips to guide you in judging if a book would be worth your money and your time.
Since the best way to explain something is to first describe what it’s not, I’ll highlight two overrated factors that don’t equate to a book being worth all the hype.
“It says ‘best-selling’ author, not ‘best-writing’ author.” Robert Kiyosaki, Rich Dad Poor Dad.
I cringe every time I see “NY Times bestseller” stenciled at the bottom of another book.
I get the prestige attached to that: reaching bestseller status could mean “more speaking gigs, higher consulting rates, higher visibility, and an enhanced reputation,” according to Tim Grahl in this piece on The Observer.
Yes, some books genuinely climb to the top of bestseller lists and often have enough inertia to sustain their stay at the summit for some time.
But attaining bestseller status sometimes means pulling several marketing stunts. And that’s where some have stepped out of bounds and gotten their fingers burnt cooking fake sales.
No wonder Seth Godin titled a book All Marketers Are Liars.
While he may have said it with his tongue jumping in his cheeks, he has a point. Some books didn’t become bestsellers on merit, and it’s not enough to let that phrase sway you into concluding the book must be good.
Have you noticed it’s mostly over 2 million copies sold on many books? Now, I’m not saying it’s an easy feat to clock, but then again, many authors pay book laundering firms to buy copies of their books. So what?
Probably, the book hasn’t sold those 2 million copies.
Further, a book by a relatively unknown author with a tight marketing budget that sells “only” 50,000 copies may be as successful as one from a superstar writer with a household name that sells only 2 million copies.
Also, some topics simply sell better than others, and the total number of books sold may not always tell the complete story.
With those points out of the way, here are three tips to help you find a good book.
One thing you should look out for in deciding whether to pick up a book is the chilling story that birthed the book.
It may be a persistent problem that the author finally overcame and decided to put out in a book.
Maybe the author finally accomplished a lifelong dream and chose a book ahead of a docuseries. It could even be an utter fascination that became a desire to write a book.
If there’s a compelling purpose behind a book, the contents of the book are likely to follow those lines. And it doesn’t take long for the reader to identify that thread.
I don’t want to buy — worse, read a book — because the author only wanted to keep pace with their track record of publishing a book every half year. Or every other year. Or however many years. You catch the drift, right?
As with every rule, there’s an exception.
And I’ll gladly make that exception to some novelists. Even in many of those instances, they’ve already established that track record by constantly minting quality after quality. Disclaimer: I’m a John Grisham fanboy, and he’s kept up with the one-thriller-a-year tradition.
Often, a guide to picking a well-written book would be how much work the author put in.
Assembling thousands of words into a book is a thankless task. And then there’s the need to scale mountains of research or swim through oceans of contradictory findings.
Then you have to verify facts, consult experts, and convince editors your work is good enough.
Even if you’re self-publishing, writing a book really takes the author on a journey. And as with most long journeys, the end justifies the means.
Some authors will tell the lengths they went to get put things together, and you’ll know that sounds different from the generic “this will change your life” lines.
Recently, one of my favorite authors, Daniel H. Pink, sent me an email. Okay, it was a generic email to all subscribers to his email list collecting suggestions for the title of his next book.
That was after he had earlier emailed us to gather our responses about some of our biggest regrets in life. He told us it was part of his efforts to write another book.
Off the bat, he’s parsed the curtains and taken us behind the scenes to some of the hard work that goes into writing his books.
I may be biased here, but you bet I’m jumping at that new book the second it hits the shelves, or these days, the net. That’s because I know how much work went into it, and it’s likely to be a good book.
The great books live on forever.
If a book has seen a few updates over the years, it means the book contains some truths that are so relevant they have to be adapted to suit the changing times. Or updated as new editions and reprints.
I’m not saying every book should have multiple editions to perpetuate their life cycles: we all know some books need to die a painful death for world peace to prevail.
But do you remember some textbooks in schools that are so good they never go out? Every few years, they see an updated edition.
Think of it as the yearly updates Google and Apple push out for their mobile operating systems.
Am I saying books that haven’t had to be updated aren’t outstanding books? Not at all. But I am saying a book that has seen a few updates over the years is a sure bang for your buck.
Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich and Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People are only two such examples.
These suggestions don’t fit every genre. And I also understand not every book must be the product of a near-death experience, draw insight from 121 peer-reviewed articles and 1,000 volunteers, and be a revised edition to be an outstanding book.
Also, a book may pass these tests and still suck. Everyone has their expectations from books, and people can put their unique spin on what makes for a brilliant book.
That said, from my experience, the unique stories that inspired the book, the amount of work that went into the book, and the updates the book has seen are good enough yardsticks to judge the quality of a book.
Look out for them the next time to shell out to grab a classic off a shelf.
What factors do you look out for before you purchase or read a book?
- Date of publication:
- Fri, 06/11/2021 - 11:00
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