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Judging a Book by It’s Cover (Blurb)

“I don’t see how a book could be judged by only the first three chapters.”

And yet we do it all the time.

This was the response I recently received on a rejection and yet I challenge that writer, and all readers, to look at how you judge books. Do you read every genre and every book made available to you? I know I don’t. Even at BEA, where so many wonderful books are available to me for free, I pick and choose. I only have so much time and so much room in my book bag. And, frankly, not all books interest me.

I’m not typically a reader of techno-thrillers and while there might be a few that would grab my attention, after reading the back book blurb I will pass on most of them. It’s what we do and it’s what we have to do. We only have so much time in our days and for that reason we need to weed out those things that we don’t like or that aren’t productive enough for us. I can’t read every book that I’m queried, I need to find a way to weed out those that aren’t right for me, or those authors who don’t seem to want to put in the work from the start (by writing a strong query letter in the first place).

Whether we want to admit it or not, there’s a reason for cover blurbs and query letters. If you’re an optimist you would say it’s to entice the reader. A pessimist might say it’s so readers can weed out what they don’t want.

Category: Blog



  1. A formative experience in my creative life was sitting with casting directors during auditions for a regional professional theater. On the way home from NYC, the artistic director asked me what I had learned watching the auditions. My answer: You really do know how good someone is in the first ten seconds. After that, the question is whether or not they are right for any of the parts.

    This is how I imagine reading queries works. Once you (the agent) have read enough books (and queries and samples), there’s an intuitive judgement as to it’s quality and fitness for your for your list.

    This is backed up by behavioral science. Experts should always trust their gut – it’s far more reliable than longwinded analysis. The opposite is true for lay people.

    Not that I think this is helpful for worrying writers in general, but it keeps me grounded. I wouldn’t want to submit to an agent who wasn’t expert enough to reject most thing in under a minute.

  2. I totally judge a book by blurb and cover (yes, being a, let’s say “pro” has only switched positions for those two certeria, but they’re still the basis of my buying decision). I try to write blubrs as gripping as it gets, and I strive to grip the reader on paragraph one. (yes, no 5 pages or similar; PARAGRAPH ONE). I’m not saying I succeed every time, or at all. I can’t be the judge of that, an agent can, and the readers. But it’s what I aim at. Because I know what it takes to grip me.

  3. I would think getting to three chapters meant an agent thought there was potential and were giving the work a shot. I remember doing Kristin Nelson’s “Agent Reads the Slush Pile” workshop, and in many instances she didn’t get past the first page before she said she’d stop reading. With the number of queries you guys receive you wouldn’t have time to read past the point where you know it isn’t for you – after all, your authors would be your priority, and there are only so many hours in the day.

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