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Don’t judge a book by its cover is an old saying that seems to have been contradicted by the recent market, much more so when it comes to gay literature…

What do I mean by this? I have done a tiny bit of research, mainly on sites that sell books (I won’t say the A-word, but you know). I have found that there are an awful lot of books that are bought by many of us, readers, especially over a short period of time. Fine, you’d say… It would be, but if then you check what readers say about those books, especially readers who enjoy good quality books, critics, writers etc… The picture changes. Not all, by no means, but a large percentage of these books turn out to be disappointing reads.

What do these books have in common? The cover art. Two models (let’s be honest, the faking starts here) in quasi-erotic poses, half or fully naked.

If we, as readers, just want an erotic or semi-erotic picture, my suggestion is simple: there are so many we can download free from the Internet… Just browse.

But when it comes to books, browsing should not be simply browsing for covers. No doubt a book cover is the first thing that catches our attention, but discerning readers know that that is simply the first step. The market, on the other hand, is strongly encouraging us to just look at the picture and download. Let’s outsmart this market: if this is what it wants us to do, it can only mean one thing, that it’s after our wallets. Choose a book like you would choose a partner, meaning, do have a look, but remember that that’s not what you are buying.

I have read article online on how to ‘sell books by the cover’; there are quite a few of them. I can’t say I was pleased with it. It’s an attempt to fool us readers. Mumble, mumble…

Think about what you will be doing with that book, which is, presumably, reading, so why not invest a bit of reading before buying? I feel the best way to find out if you will like a book is by reading excerpts. Otherwise, it would be like getting together with someone without having ever spoken with or communicated to them. The first few pages are available on the very sites that sell the book. Those may be enough, but some books are even better later on in the story (let’s not give them a chance to write a few great pages, sell, then fob us off with a lot of drivel to follow, and this is a marketing technique which is widespread… Food companies do similar things: have you ever noticed in jars the best ‘goodies’ are visible, then you get second-class ones? Have you ever noticed that when a new product is launched, both quantity and quality are better, then, after they get us hooked, lots of them change the recipe and size?)

So, if possible, check if there are other excerpts online . Books that are keen to direct you to excerpts are often good quality ones.

Reviews… Well, I know what the problem is. How reliable are they? Let’s see… Think about them as getting to know your perspective partner through what your friends say about him or her. They are, by definition, opinions. Take them as that. If the general feel is that you are going to spend all (or a big chunk) of your life with a good person or book, then you can add these ‘voices’ to your calculations. Make sure you read both expert reviews, those you find on specialised websites, in magazines etc, and readers’ reviews. Both can be skewed, though, usually, expert reviews are more reliable. Why? Simply because the very magazines, websites etc will not stake their reputation on a book. Readers’ reviews can be skewed though. How? And how do we find out? Authors and companies can get friends to write reviews, which is fine, as long as they are not influenced. How do we find if they are influenced? Simple: if they all more or less say the same. ‘This is a great book’ tells me nothing, nor does ‘I could not put it down.’ What you want to see is how readers have engaged with the book you wish to purchase. The more readers find different aspects of the book interesting, the more the book is likely to be good, and simultaneously, the more likely it is that the reviews are honest.

So, look at your partner’s clothes (the cover), spend time with him or her (excerpts), hear what others have to say, make sure that they are not trying to ‘fix you up’ (reviews).