Top Ten Tuesday: 10 things that make me pick up a book

"Tope Ten Tuesday" in a white font mimicking handwriting on navy starry skies

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, TTT is a weekly meme – and I have now had my definition of a meme corrected (with minimum eye rolling at my ignorance).

This week, the topic is 10 things that make me pick up a book. I realised that only about half are content based, not because I have a wide taste, but because I generally only look at SFF books. I’m trying to expand that, but this has really shown how little I look around.

If you’ve read any of my reviews, you might be able to guess a few of the content requirements! They’re in no particular order.

1. The Cover

Whoever came up with the ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ adage really missed the point. Sure it’s a good piece of advice when it comes to not judging people based on appearance, but it flies wide of the mark with books.

A cover’s meant to entice you in. It needs to attract your attention enough that you pick it up and read the blurb. The blurb is the deciding factor for me, 99% of the time, but I won’t read that unless the cover catches my eye. If it’s blue (my favourite colour), that helps, as you might be able to see from the examples I’ve picked throughout this post.

Besides, the more effort that’s gone into a cover, the more I trust the publisher cares and believes in the book – the more effort that’s gone into crafting the book.

If a book is a stereotypical cover, I’m less likely to pick it up. You know the sort. Books with a glowing mage glaring at you. A ‘hunky’ man with swords. A weapon in front of a textured background. Girls curled up against boys while he stares out moodily. I have an idea what the book contains, and it doesn’t interest me.

I have sometimes picked up these books, but it was because I’d heard brilliant things about them, but that’s a point for later on!

2. The Title

Very similar to the above point, the book’s title plays an important role in catching my eye. I’m more likely to pick up a book with an intriguing title, than a book with your run-of-the-mill title.

I tend to like longer titles. I find that shorter ones can be very stereotypical – you’ve seen the generators. Yes, there can be some very formulaic longer ones, but the longer ones have more freedom to express the book’s ideas, or tease what’s happening.

THE BONELESS MERCIES, above, was a combination of cover and title. The title caught my attention on social media, but the US covering I was seeing didn’t intrigue me. I saw the UK one in store, and read the blurb.

3. Author I previously read and liked

Books are expensive, and getting more and more expensive as our market shifts more and more to hardbacks (which I think is a very bad idea). Yes, there are other factors, but that’s not the point of this post.

I can’t buy anywhere near as many books as I’d like, so I don’t want to spend money on books I won’t like. If I’ve read and loved their previous books, there’s a good chance I’ll like another of theirs. Sometimes I don’t like that book, but other times I fall in love instantly.

4. Fantasy, particularly POLITICAL fantasy

But, Sifa, you haven’t talked about what in the blurb is an auto-buy. OK, OK. I’m getting there!

This seems like a silly, arbitrary point, but I’m more likely to pick up a book if it’s fantasy. I like magic, and other worlds, and mythical creatures. Show me trickery, illusion and take my imagination far away.

I like the escapism of it, rather than seeing our dull, messy reality reflected back at me. Please, do make a point of commenting on our world in your book, but you also have magic…

If your main conflict revolves around schemes and alliances and all things political, chances are I’ll snap your book up immediately.

I love it when I can’t predict what moves the antagonist will do, when their goals are more than just world domination and they’re going about getting it by means that aren’t brute strength. I don’t always want the conflict to be resolved in a great final battle when what matters is how hard you can punch one another.  I want personal tension that relies on how well you can out-think your opponent. I want the mind to be more of a weapon, that the day isn’t saved because you’re a mythical chosen one with magic. That isn’t to say I don’t want to read these stories, but I want variety.

In the same order that contained THE CITY OF BRASS, I also pre-ordered THE KINGDOM OF COPPER, despite not having read either. But they were political fantasy, so…

5. Lots of buzz/recommendations

This seems self explanatory, but if I’m hearing lots of great things about a book, I’m far more likely to pick it up, particularly if it’s outside my comfort zone. I’m more interested in buzz around content than writing style and whether it feels ‘fresh’, because that’s so subjective. I like certain POV others hate. This is particularly important when something’s outside my comfort zone.

When it comes to people recommending a book directly at me (as opposed to the general ‘everyone go buy this’), I prefer it if I know the person. If someone knows me and my reading habits, I trust their recommendations more, because it feels more thought through. It doesn’t always work out, but often it does.

6. Minimum talk about romance on the blurb (particularly for YA)

I became a teen, and got into the YA genre, around the dystopia craze. Unfortunately, most of those books feature the ‘angst’ romance. That is any romance that involves all this worry and tribulations over a boy (it’s usually in teen girls POV). The MC takes something said or done completely wrong because they heard/saw out of context. Now she’s all hurt and not talking to the boy, which (obviously) makes it worse.

Because it sold so well, I’m still seeing it in YA, and I hate it. So if you don’t mention romance on the back of your book, better chance I’ll give it a go. I do like romance, but not angst-y, or anything with love triangles.

7. Female authors

If the author is female, particularly in a fantasy book, I’m more likely to take the risk on an unknown. I grew up reading male SFF, because that was what was recommended (and gifted to me) by all the adults (men) who I knew and could give book recommendations. Unfortunately, a lot of that stuff, while fun, was pretty old so wasn’t great on the female representation.

When I was old enough to wander to bookshops and into SFF myself, I suddenly discovered there were female authors writing about women saving the day! I have read some great books by men, but in SFF I find a lot of the ‘noticeable’, shelf-end books are still lacking in representing the ladies.

8. Hard Magic Systems, Scientific Magic and Magic with an Unusual Twist

We get so much hand-wave-y magic that feels like it has no limits. It feels like anything can happen, the rules are vague and the baddie is more dangerous simply because they’re more powerful. And then the hero defeats them by (a) becoming more powerful or (b) some stupid coincidence. This is a Soft Magic system.

I do love these, but sometimes it undercuts the tension and the hero feels overpowered, and this is my main problem with most Marvel movies at the moment (which might be another post).

Hard Magic systems have clearly defined rules. These can’t be broken, and we know exactly what our hero can and can’t do with their magic. In these books, the victory usually comes down to cleverness, out-manoeuvring the enemy, or using their abilities against them. Yes, it still might be a fist fight, but the magic system’s rules need to be used in a new, but still totally legal way.

I’m a huge science nerd. I’m currently studying for a degree in Physics, Chemistry and Maths, for heavens sake! I love science and magic interacting, and I love accurate science. This makes it hard to read sci-fi at times (because I end up screaming things like ‘this is basic orbital mechanics!’), but it means that if your magic system is described as being science-y, I’m in. Bonus points if you have a science degree, because then I trust you to handle the science correctly. Scientific magic is usually a hard magic system – so take another bonus point!

Magic systems with twists includes scientific magic systems, but there are many other forms this can take. The Mistborn Trilogy uses metal as its power source. THESE REBEL WAVES uses plants, allowing anyone to use the plant’s specific magic. I love how inventive, unique and fresh these takes feel. There are so many fantasy books released every year, across all age ranges, so a little something like this elevates them above their peers.

9. Books by UK-based authors

For many reasons (some within the publishers’ control, some beyond it), the market of published UK books is shrinking. The situation is worst of all in UKYA (which is in dire need of help – go buy UKYA books and make noise about them), but SFF and other genres are suffering too.

Therefore, I like the support my fellow-Brits by buying their books. I’m also more likely to take a second chance in you, or read further in the series than I might of otherwise.

10. The Author has an Event I can Attend

I love meeting authors, hearing them talk about their books and getting copies signed. I bought a lot of book before YALC last year, including several from completely new-to-me authors I’d heard about. The clincher? They were attending YALC. I didn’t get all of them signed, mainly due to timing, but it introduced me to a lot of authors I likely wouldn’t have picked up otherwise.

BONUS – The book is on Special Offer

Who doesn’t like a bargain?

What makes you pick up a book?

2 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: 10 things that make me pick up a book

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