I love going to used book stores. I’ve created a method to find the next great book I’m going to read in the speculative fiction section. I’ve discovered some amazing gems this way.
At any point the book can be passed aside. There are various tests that each book must pass. Sometimes a book will pass several tests, but not the following one. Then, depending on how high they rate in the previous tests, I may still give it a try.
First, the book has to be half an inch thick or less. Less is better. If the author needs 500 pages to get to the point, I’m not interested. Break it up into a trilogy if you have that much to say.
One reason for this requirement is that I often hold paperbacks with one hand while eating, and I often carry paperbacks in my purse. The smaller, the better. Size does in fact matter.
Second, I look at the cover art. Yes, I do judge a book by its cover. We all do, don’t look at me like that. There are some really amazing covers out there. There some real clunkers too. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then I want to see a picture that is worthy of the words I am considering reading.
Deal-breakers? The cover has a picture of a muscle-bound man with a sword or a gun. Especially if he has a nearly-naked woman by his side. If the woman has a sword too, I reconsider. I am tired of books where the woman has to be rescued. Then there are covers with lots of spaceships and antennae. I’ve found I like books that are set on other planets with other cultures, but I’m not so interested in books that are set on a spaceship. Somehow I get claustrophobic reading those.
Camp is not my thing, so covers that look excessively silly won’t do.
Now, if the cover art is really good I’ll consider buying it just for the cover, but the cost is then an important factor.
Third – the price has to be right. Under $2 is good. $0.75 or less is ideal. Because of this, I don’t look at well-known authors. Because of this I’ve found some amazing “new” authors. They aren’t new at all. They are probably dead, because most of the books I’m reading are 30 years old or more. But there are probably other books by that author to find the next time I go.
If the price is over $2, there had better be other factors that change the balance. It doesn’t mean it is out, but it does mean there had better be other points in the book’s favor. Now, $4 or more is right out.
Fourth – I flip to the back and read the blurb. Is it interesting? (plus) Is there excessive capitalization? (minus)
Fifth, I open it. If the print is tiny then everything ends right there, even if everything else passed. I am getting older, and tiny print is a real pain. I love my Kindle in part because I can make the print as big as I need, but that doesn’t factor into used book selection. Plenty of these books will never make it to Kindle. Even if they did, they’d cost too much. I love the Kindle, but you can’t trade in used Kindle books like you can real books.
I’ll flip to a random section and try it out. How does it read? Are there lots of unintelligible words? (minus) Does it seem plausible yet surprising? (plus) I’ll flip to several sections to check it out at this point. This part takes the longest, which is reasonable. I’m going to spend the longest amount of time reading it, so it had better be worth my time.
Sixth- How does the book smell? And I don’t mean that old-book smell. That is a plus. I mean does the book smell like pee – human or pet? Does it smell like cigarette smoke? Does it smell of some cloyingly elaborate perfume that some ladies wear to cover up the other two smells?
Those are definite deal-breakers. I have no desire to spend hours really close to a book that smells.