Friday, December 19, 2008

Words on Writing - Confessions of a Shelf Skimmer

Confessions of a Shelf Skimmer By L. V. Gaudet © December 2008 I am a shelf skimmer. Perhaps that makes me a rare breed of book buyer, or just one of a very large group. Seldom do I approach the book rack with a particular title or author in mind. My approach is more that of one approaching a large buffet filled with unknown delicacies. Most of the choices look ok, some even look pretty good, and some look quite revolting. Mostly my eyes quickly skim over the displayed offerings, hoping to spot something I recognize. If something catches my eye I will give it a little bit closer look, a second glance. Only if something looks pretty good or even intriguing might I give it a closer inspection, deciding whether or not to sample it. In the case of shelf skimming, this would be the point at which the title combined with the cover art, or perhaps a familiar author’s name, draws my hand towards the book with a curious inclination to actually pick it up. At this point I’ll look at the title, read it, and consider what lies behind it. I’ll look more closely at the cover art, drawn or turned away by it, knowing full well that it may not be a real reflection of what lays within. I don’t bother to read the blurbs by other authors, papers, and miscellaneous publications and celebrities. You know those one to three word raves about how wonderful the book is. They all pretty much say the same thing and are found on pretty much every book jacket. I’ll look at the little write up blurb on the back that is supposed to tell you what the book is about, hoping that it really does. When that blurb is missing, I might look at the cover again, might skim a few pages, but likely put it down with a sense of disappointment. More vexing, of course, is when you actually buy a book based on the blurb, and read to book only to learn that the blurb did the book no justice as it gave me completely the wrong feel of what the book is about. To me that little blurb on the back jacket is like a teaser trailer. It should give a feel for the book without giving too much away, just enough to tease and tantalize me enough to want to read it. And it absolutely should be true to the story waiting within. There is nothing worse than watching a movie or reading a book and coming away feeling disappointed and lied to because the teaser was completely misleading as to what the story is about. Finally, I might skim a few pages to see if I think I’ll like what is lurking inside that book jacket. And then I will likely repeat the whole process again, looking without really seeing at the front and back jackets again and again while the mind considers all this input … or not. This may seem like a long process, but it isn’t. Depending how far a particular book gets, it might be a second or less glancing at a block of books, or less than two minutes perusing a single volume. This does, however, lead to a few other questions. When you write, who do you write for? Do you write ultimately for yourself, your agent, the publisher, or the reader? And, when that time comes, if it does, that you try to sell your work; who are you selling to? Naturally, in the process of writing these two do seem to tie into each other since it is the very writing that is selling itself, with a little help from a good title, cover art, and the teaser blurb.

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