Saturday, 7 May 2011

Judging a Book

How can you judge a book if not by its cover? I have been involved with publishing and bookselling industry for too long to come to terms with "Do not judge a book by its cover."
If it was not for my skill of judging the book by its cover, I would have actually never bought a book in my life let alone sold any.
I can appreciate the metaphorical connotation of this quote (with some reservations to be discussed later) but when it comes to real books, I am afraid there is no other way to judge a book but by its cover. 
As a publisher and a bookseller for a good part of my life I have been a keen observer of the book buying behavior at the bookstores. And believe me it's both funny and frustrating knowing the reasons for buying a book by the public at large.
I have seen people selecting the books for most bizarre of reasons. One of them has been during the World Book Fair at New Delhi when a gentleman picked up a book, tried judging its weight by bouncing it at his palm and then asked the bookstall attendant with a street smart look in his eye, "How much for this one."
And there is one friend of mine who recently bought some books from her favorite vendor asking him if they were any good. With "if they are bad there will be consequences" look in her eyes. It was hilarious. As if he was going to say, "No, don't buy them, they are no good."
Try buying a book when you go to a bookshop next time with these simple conditions:
You can't buy your favorite/well known author's book,
You can't buy a pre-defined "classic,"
You can't buy a book that says "A million copies sold worldwide," and
You certainly can't buy a book if the author is sitting at the bookshop signing autographs.
So how do you select a book to buy? First you go to a section of your choice, let's say Fiction and then go to a shelf marked new authors (well there is never a shelf marked new authors in any bookshop but I need to make it easier to prove my point).  
You do not know any of the authors as they all are first time published authors. There have not been any raving reviews about them in tabloids either and even if there were, that too would itself be pre-judging the book.
So you do the
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,
Catch the baby by the toe.
If it hollers let him go,
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, you are it!

in your head and pick out one.  Don't like the cheesy illustration on the cover and instantly put it back. Pick one again. Nicely done graphics with solid fonts. With a Hmmmm….. you turn it around, read the blurb and shove it in the shelf in frustration where it belongs.

The fortunes of the books and the authors heavily depend on the skills of graphic designers and blurb writers. So I learnt and accepted with reluctance much later in my career as a publisher.

One unsuccessful pick after the other, changing your criteria of selection from color of the title to Gender and then age of the author you are so disheartened by the laziness of the bookshop owners not pointing at the right book to buy.
There is another way of judging a book and that is selecting a book by one particular publisher. That is like trusting the commissioning editors of that publisher more than your taste.
Which is judging the book, again, by its cover. At bookshops, there are certain readers of this species who are more interested in the Logo printed at the spine of the book more than anything. It is rather easier for them to select a book actually.
At the end of last aisle here is a stack of assorted books which is marked 70% off. And you give in to the calculation of number of pages versus price after discount.
That is actually a very practical way of selecting a book. You do not regret it too much as you were not expecting too much out of this lot at the first place.
And maybe who knows you might get lucky and find the book of your dreams in that lot.
The truth is that the books have always been and always will be judged by their covers. So you be the judge of that.


  1. I just read the summary on the back side of the book

  2. Found your blog very exhaustive and very near to reality .
    I remember once you told me that books are to be shown in almirahs or shelves and not for reading actually .
    So the way of choosing a book by logo on spine of book is the best.