Posted by: Phil Anderson | September 8, 2014

Standing Out from the Crowd

I spent some time at the bookstore last night. I wasn’t shopping for myself or searching for anything in particular, just browsing. I like to scan the shelves and take note of what catches my eye, then try to figure out why.

Most of the books are lined up so only the spine is visible. Because of that, I usually notice the series books first. They’re easy to see: clusters of matching covers that take up a large chunk of shelf space. I find the name of the series and then look at the individual titles to see if they tell a story or show some kind of progression.

While I’m doing that, however, I also tend to notice the few, lonely, single books that are not part of a series. Those often make me curious as well.

If I’m intrigued enough by the title or the series, I pull one off the shelf and look at the front. The cover art tells a lot about what a book is like (or what the publisher wants you to think it’s like). If it’s too similar to the covers of other popular books, I’ll probably slide it back betweens its neighbors on the shelf. A copycat cover design makes me think the story will just as derivative. I also generally avoid books that look too dark or too romance-y because that’s not the type of novel I enjoy or want to write.

I like a cover that reinforces the impression I got from the title, but conversely I’m also interested in a title and cover that contrast in an intriguing way. If I’m still curious, I’ll turn it over or open to the inside and read the description. Again, a plot summary that seems too much like other stories is quick to lose my attention. (For example, I think there are too many contemporary or futuristic dystopia novels out there trying to ride each others’ waves.) Similarly to the Elevator Pitch I described last week, the description can’t give too much away, but needs to give enough information to differentiate itself and present a premise that draws me in and makes me want to know more.

Nothing did that for me last night, so I didn’t buy myself anything. But I got a good idea of what’s out there and what my own stories might be competing with. So it was a profitable visit and I had a good time.

What about you? What do you look for at the bookstore? How does a book attract your attention? What makes it stand out from the crowd? Please leave a comment below and let us know.


  1. […] week I took a market research trip to the YA section of a local bookstore and wrote about what type of covers caught my attention and piqued my interest. Another thing I noticed on that […]

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