April 26, 2012: My Top 10 Bookstore Turn-offs!

You’re at your local bookstore, browsing the shelves, when something catches your eye.  Whether it’s an interesting cover or an intriguing blurb or a fantastic review, it’s an unexpected “something” that impels you to buy that particular book.  Being an impulsive shopper, it happens to me all the time and I’ve ended up discovering some wonderful authors this way.  I picked up the first book of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series (The Blade Itself (The First Law: Book One) because I thought it had a great cover.  I’ve since read all five of Joe’s books (and his short story in the Lou Anders/Jonathan Strahan Swords & Dark Magic compilation: Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery) and am anxiously awaiting the release of his sixth: Red Country.  I bought The Empire of Ice Cream (The Empire of Ice Cream), Jeffrey Ford’s brilliant collection of fantastic fiction, because I liked the title.  I’ve since read nine of his books (still on the hunt for his first, Vanitas), and am eagerly awaiting the release of his upcoming collection of short fiction (Crackpot Palace: Stories).  John Scalzi, George R. R. Martin, Iain M. Banks, Alastair Reynolds and many more – all discovered as a result of some spontaneous response to (let’s face it) a brilliant bit of marketing.

April 26, 2012: My Top 10 Bookstore Turn-offs!

Of course, it’s a double-edged sword.  A selling point that may convince one person to pick up a title could well convince another to give it a pass.  I was thinking about this today while perusing the New Arrivals section of my favorite book shop on the way to coming up with my list of the Top 10 things most likely to turn me off a book purchase.  Not always, but more often than not.  In no particular order:

1. Unicorns, women in 80’s hairdos wearing flowing low-cut robes, muscular shirtless men, garish colours.  In short – a cheesy cover.

2. “An Oprah’s Book Club Selection”

3. Authors with a single name (the literary world equivalent of a Cher or Bono).

4. “From the mind of…”

5. Any staff recommendation.

6. “First book in the – – – trilogy!”

7. The appearance of the word “inspirational” on either the front cover, back cover, or anywhere within the inside jacket.

8. “Now A Major Motion Picture”

9. “Based on the Popular…”

10. “International Bestseller/National Bestseller/New York Times Best Selling Author”

32 thoughts on “April 26, 2012: My Top 10 Bookstore Turn-offs!

  1. Interesting thoughts. Now I know what I need to do to get you to buy my book—if I ever get published. Have a great cover, a great title, and it can’t have been made into a movie yet. 😉

    Have a great night!!!!!

  2. Hey, No Man…

    I’m home right now with a head/face ache. I’m grumpy. I’m feeling guilty for not being with my husband, at church. I really want to go to sleep. But before I do…

    2. “An Oprah’s Book Club Selection”

    Amen to that, brother…A-freakin’-men to that. 🙂


  3. My bookstore turn-offs

    1. Well generally books with rip-off/punny titles. “The Empire of Ice Cream” hmmm wonder if they included Wallace Stevens’ poem “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” or are sending percentage checks to the Stevens estate.

    2. Literary legacies continued by offspring. Be it Tolkien, Herbert, or Puzo-it ain’t right!

    3. ANY unauthorized biography.

    4. Gimmicky covers. Especially ones with cut-outs. And glitter.

    5. Teeny weenie fonts, not as big a deal nowadays I don’t think…but try reading my copy of ‘Atlas Shrugged’ I double-dog dare ya.

    6. Political agenda books. Mein Kampf shold have sufficed.

    7. How-to books that ply vulgar sensibilities.

    8. Books that smell more of ink than paper.

    9. Public Domain books sold at jacked up prices.

    10. Shoddy Science panic books.

    Honorable mention – books about the history of really stupid things.

  4. I agree with all your list, especially #2. Anything with Oprah on it is a huge turnoff to me. Blech.

    Loooong day here, have a good night, all!

  5. @Joe:

    3. Authors with a single name (the literary world equivalent of a Cher or Bono).

    Or Prince or Snookie? 😉

    Number 1 for me is I hate the fad books…at the moment I am fed up with the teenage Vampire books (although I wish Christopher Heyerdahl continued employment on the film side). Completely agree with you on the Oprah reading list.

    I’m backed up in the reading department at the moment, so it will be a little while before I go browsing.


    “Face Ache”?!? What did you do? Skateboarding face plants come to mind…

    Hope you feel better!

  6. Got to admit – I agree with almost all the bookstore turn-offs. Except maybe the covers with shirtless muscular men.

  7. @Joe:

    I forgot to mention; I’ll be in Italy the week after next and I was wondering if you had been to Naples, and if so, do you have any restaurant recommendations? Thanks in advance!

  8. I’m with you on all of those. But also, a book on the latest Diet craze In California.

  9. No Oprah Book Club stuff for me, either. Ick!

    It is my last night at work. Scared spitless and excited at the same time. Anyone have a job they want to offer me? Heh.

  10. @profmadmax: “Books about the history of really stupid things.” HAHAHA!! Awesome!

  11. Mine definitely include:

    1. Anything that looks like a vampire on the cover. Or really any written-for-teen supernatural romance.
    2. Anything by anyone on FOX News
    3. Self-help books.
    4. Fantasy novels that look like teen romance novels with the sexy woman clothed in darkness and some jewel-toned dress. (Which makes me grateful I started the Black Jewels trilogy on the set of covers before the current ones.)
    5. Fantasy novels where there’s a women wearing jeans and a skimpy tank top and usually holding some type of weapon.
    6. Books continued by another author. With the exception of Robert Jordan’s series because I need to know how it all ends and it’s not his fault he died before getting another 2 billion page books written.
    7. Anything that seems directed solely for women. I hate chick lit. That’s there something beyond romance novels that are directed solely for women…UGH. (I mean, health book, cool, whatever. But the romance-lite fiction stories suck.)
    8. Cookbooks without pictures. I’m visual; I need to know what it’s supposed to look like so I can compare.

    And then I’m with you on the inspirational and movie books…unless of course I liked the books first or really liked the movie so that I want to compare. That’s rare, though. I didn’t end up picking up The Help though the movie was enjoyable enough. And Eat Love Pray made me never want to read the book.

  12. >>>2. “An Oprah’s Book Club Selection”

    5. Any staff recommendation.

    10. “International Bestseller/National Bestseller/New York Times Best Selling Author”<<<

    I have a couple of bookstores who have staff that have very similar tastes or who learned MINE and greeted me with info on new books I really did want to look at. But it is rare.

    Since Oprah's books include everything from classics to modern, not sure why it would be a turn off– it's not like she just recommends self help books or anything approaching that. I don't think JK Rowling is very good at writing, but she grabbed the attention of millions and helped, damned near single-handedly, bring a generation of nonreaders back into discovering the joy of the printed word. I think Oprah has helped do the same for middle age Americans. Many of the books she recommends I have already read, but sometimes she lists one that catches my eye.

    I also do check the international/NY times and other best sellers. Good starting point to see if anything others feel are good. My tastes are pretty broad — poetry, philosophy, fiction, science fiction, PWP (porn with plot, lol), classics, some mysteries, autobiographies, history, LOL the Walking Dead is on their list now, btw. 98 percent of said lists may not interest me, but I don't rule them our or get turned off by the idea that the masses buy them.

  13. Speaking of the roll of book covers…have you ever compared them across different countries? Oftentimes they’re wildly different, at least when I am comparing US and German covers, I notice that books I wouldn’t look at in English (often because they fall under your Point #1) have much more compelling covers in Germany (at which point I still buy the cheesy American copy!)

  14. Bookstores? I’ve heard of those! They’re kinda like Amazon right? But with less stuff? 🙂

    Re: Staff recommendations . . . yeah, I find it hard to believe most staff in a book store even know how to read! Although I do like the “If you like X you might like Y” recommendations. I discovered Terry Pratchett, Robert Rankin and Jasper Fforde via Douglas Adams recommendation cards.

    Re: Now a major motion picture . . . having worked on “The Lord Of The Rings” movies and now “The Pirates! Band Of Misfits” movie (based on “The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists” book) I’m probably biased. 🙂 However, I wouldn’t buy a book just because it had been turned into a movie.

    Speaking of “The Pirates!” . . . it is released in North America today. Everyone should go see it. If you’ve got kids they’ll love it but even if you don’t have kids there’s tons of jokes for adults too. And it has all been lovingly crafted frame by frame with real sets and puppets over the last three years. None of this mass produced computer generated rubbish.

    Here’s the trailer:

  15. @ JeffW – No, nothing as exciting as that. But if YOU wanna believe it, go right ahead! Makes me seem so much more daredevilish than I really am. 😀

    And I am feeling better, thanks. It was nothing some wine, chocolate, and a decent night’s sleep couldn’t fix. 🙂

    @ Joey No Man – (That sounds like one of those Indian names from 1970s Westerns, like Billy Two Hats.) So, anyways, Joey No Man, about the bookstore. I hear what you’re saying about the trilogy thing. For as much as I LUUUUURVE! my very Special Agent Aloysius Xingú L. Pendergast, I hate it when the authors (who did hit the top of the NY Times Bestsellers list) create a trilogy. Right now I’m sitting on book #2 of a three-parter, the last one due out at the end of the year. Aarrrggh! I just hate to wait for the end of the story! Still, it won’t stop me from reading a good book about a great character, but I will wait for the whole trilogy to come out before I jump in.

    Of course, this all really isn’t a worry for me since we no longer have any bookstores in our area. 🙁 🙁 🙁


  16. Why the issue with staff recommendations? I’d say it depends on the bookstore you’re patronizing. The main bricks & mortar store I go to is Brookline Booksmith, and in general I actually know the staff well enough to know that their recommendations are usually good. They may not always be for me, but that’s what my own taste filters are for. 🙂

  17. Oh, thanks for the book suggestions. I’ll look for “The Empire of Ice Cream” for sure. What a great title for a book!

    Today started out with a migraine and a purple toilet in my front yard. Yes, a purple toilet. There is a charity here that puts a purple toilet in someone’s yard with a demand to pay and they will come pick up the toilet. Has anyone ever heard of such a thing? This charity is very worthwhile but it just seems wrong to take this tactic for donations. My sense of humor vacates when I have a migraine.

    JeffW: Safe travels!

    Das: Hope you feel better soon!

    I too, will be glad when something else besides Vampires become popular!

  18. I saw where the amazon, probably the US one has the book you are looking for,from other sellers…

  19. I’ve never seen a book with just a single name author. i didn’t know that was even possible. Publishable even–well, according to you, Joe, it really isn’t publishable. The thing that gets me about that is that I’m in Barnes and Noble, Hastings, Auntie’s Boostore, Bookworm, Second Look Books, all sorts of mom and pop bookstores or used bookstores all the time, and I’ve still never seen a book publish with just a single name for the author on the cover or the binding or wherever.

  20. Oprah should be number one on the list. Cheesy covers are a turnoff, but they can sometimes hide some suprisingly good writing. Just as the most awesome covers can be hiding drecck. the only other thing I disagree with is employee recommendations. (Depending on the employee). Sheer random chance makes it as likely they will give me a good recommendation rather than a bad one, and with experience I can judge the person’s tastes well enough to know when to listen and when to ignore them.
    Apologies for the long silence(I know..you didn’t really notice), but things have been…eventful this month. All is more or less well right now, and with luck WordPress will finally allow me to post here. If not, then I shall continue to lurk in silence. And I apologize for missing movies of the week. I will try to contribute this coming week, and look forward to the discussion.

  21. Having just finished the Hunger Games trilogy, I have to agree on the trilogy line item. Except for Lord of the Rings, of course.

  22. 1. Unicorns, women in 80′s hairdos wearing flowing low-cut robes, muscular shirtless men, garish colours. In short – a cheesy cover.

    10. “International Bestseller/National Bestseller/New York Times Best Selling Author”

    7. The appearance of the word “inspirational” on either the front cover, back cover, or anywhere within the inside jacket.

    I’m with you on the three turnoffs above, especially the first two.

    1. When someone mentions the “fantasy” genre, I automatically think of a cover that looks like #1, and I mentally gag. That’s why I never read the Lord of the Rings Trilogy until I was in law school and more than one person insisted that if I liked Babylon 5, I would surely like LOTR, since the themes were broadly similar. (They were right.) But until then, I’d categorized LOTR as “fantasy,” and “fantasy,” to me, equated to “Cheezy-Cover Book”.

    10. I have recently learned that “NYT Best Seller” more often means “shitty book” than it means “good book.” Some examples:
    – absolutely anything written by Dan Brown
    – the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books
    – a lot of stuff by John Grisham

    BTW, here’s an awesomely funny “review” of “The Lost Symbol” in The Guardian:



    I am NOT on board with these turn-offs:

    2. “An Oprah’s Book Club Selection”

    8. “Now A Major Motion Picture”

    2. I’ve only read one Oprah’s Book Club pick, which was East of Eden. Although I recognize this is only one data point, I suspect I have more data points than Mr. M. on which to judge the quality of OBC recommendations. While overall, I didn’t enjoy East of Eden (far, far too depressing), it was a page-turner, and I felt that it was a book I should have read in high school or university, so I was glad I finally got around to it à cause de Oprah. I never watched the show where she discussed it, or any of the book club episodes, but if not for her book club, I wouldn’t have thought to read it. Her book club picks were all over the map, genre-wise, so I don’t see how you could cast a blanket aspersion on everything that she’s ever recommended.

    8. This is perhaps your silliest reason to be automatically turned off. If someone thought to make a movie of a book, isn’t it reasonable to believe that it was because the book was good? You’re a writer: haven’t you ever been tempted to option a book for the purposes of turning it into a screenplay? Of course, if it was a Dan Brown book, that automatically means both the book and the movie will be shitty. But look at all the movies that came from good books:

    — Lord of the Rings series
    — Harry Potter series
    — The Hobbit (I hate the animated movie, but the book it was based on is great)
    — The Mosquito Coast (AWESOME book, even though movie blew chunks)
    — The Hunt for Red October
    — The Hunger Games (although the last book in the series is dreadful; but they haven’t made that into a movie *yet*!)
    — The Golden Compass (MUCH better book than movie)
    — Night Watch (the Russian sort-of horror genre novel)
    — To Kill a Mockingbird
    — Heart of Darkness (made into Apocalypse Now)
    — almost any Shakespeare play-turned-film
    — The Joy Luck Club (better book than film)
    — Casino Royale
    — On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

    There are tons more examples; I’m sure another commenter will list some.

    I grant you that a lot of the MODERN books-turned-movies suck. Witness the aforementioned Dan Brown and Dragon Tattoo, and add to that the Twilight series. But there are examples of *good* modern books-turned-movies also (HP and Hunger Games).

  23. I agree with you about “staff recommendations”. It appears to me that people who work in a bookstore generally couldn’t find a good book if it fell off the shelf and landed on their toe.

    As for, “Now A Major Motion Picture” I’m not so sure. Books like I, Robot for example became a “major motion picture” but it did not take away from the awesomeness that is the book. And, their filming Ender’s Game right now… does that take away from the book? I don’t think so.

  24. I don’t mind books being trilogies, as with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy or Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy, both of which I really enjoyed, but I do prefer it if they’re already all out and I can read them as one long book. Anything with the words ‘heartwarming romance’ on it tends to make me run for the hills, or anything at all in any genre that describes the heroine as ‘spirited’. (Perhaps when male characters are described in the same way it will irk me less, but it seems to be assumed that they will have spirit without it needing to be mentioned.)

    (Off topic but my TV character description ‘argh’ button equivalent would be a heroine described as ‘brilliant and beautiful’, as if that is as far as the writers’ have got in their interest in her. Something which I still see done about three decades after it became embarrassing. I don’t remember you guys at Bridge Studios ever being so reductive about either Sam or Daniel, even though that description could have applied to them. It was assumed that they had other more interesting qualities than the fact they could think even whilst bearing the terrible burden of being very attractive.)

    Anything that fits the ‘misery memoir’ genre would also be a big turn off for me. I wouldn’t normally read a book with scantily clad women on the front (I admit that, hypocritically, scantily-clad men would not be a turn off, as long as they were pretty, and in fact would probably be quite a good selling point) but in the UK the Discworld series had terrible covers that made them look like fantasy ‘Carry On’ films and had nothing to do with the content at all, which was consistently intelligent, inventive, unsexist, morally compelling, and very witty, so that was a definite case of not judging a book by its cover. I admit that I used to have a ‘do not want’ reaction to anything with a ‘Richard and Judy’ sticker on it (people who have copied the Oprah model over here in the UK) but have since found that I really enjoyed some of their books. (I liked ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell’ very much.)

    I still find the reviews on Amazon the best way of assessing whether I want to buy a book or not. (My rotten eyesight means I can only now read large print physical books or available-as-ebooks titles on my kindle, so a bookshop recommendation would be less use to me.) Buying ebooks has also made me much more miserly about the price I want to pay for them as the cost to the publisher is so much less than the printing of a physical book.

  25. I am a rebel when it comes to books, movies, TV series, etc. There’s so much lukewarm writing and content out there, and I really dislike wasting time on it. I’ll wait till the book series is completed, a few of the movies are out, or several seasons of the show have aired, and time has tested “the next big hit!” If critics and word of mouth both agree that it’s still good down the road, then it’s worth a time commitment. Also, like Das, I just hate waiting. If it’s really great, I want to read them all at once.

    Some things “jump the shark” for me very early on, such as Battle Star Galactica or Lost. BSG was deliberately dark in lighting and tone, over-fought and overwrought. Stories shouldn’t depend on those things as crutches for drama. Lost depended on so many convoluted and unbelievable plot twists and turns. The writers flew by the seat of their pants sometimes, I think, and really jerked their viewers around. I quit watching it before mid-season the first year. No matter who you are, and what the product is, you have to respect the viewers/readers and their time. Waste their time & money, and they not only won’t come back, their feedback will discourage others, too.

    Every once in a while I’ll get sucked in by a good cover on a discount book. The plot will be mal-turned, the characters illogical, the motivations inscrutable, or the story line hugely derivative of a major work already published. I’m so tempted to get out my pencil and start marking it up like a manuscript. Out of sheer determination, I finish the darn thing, if only to witness how wild the ending was. Of course, it almost always does not have a satisfactory conclusion. There are publishing houses and editors who need to use the word “NO” more often, too. 🙂

    Sorry, these thoughts have been stewing for months. 😀 They come from not only consuming entertainment/stories, but also producing them. Having worked in print media, publishing, and social media, I know it’s tough to produce good stories. You do the best you can under the tyranny of a budget and a deadline. It’s hard work, and often you have to wade through “stuff” to get it done. There’s no glamour in the trenches!

    Even so, I’ll take a chance on a new book or author if it has a killer cover, with good art direction, correct typography, and jacket copy. If the company pays attention to details, it’s a good sign. Then I’ll spot-check a middle chapter of the book. Beginnings and endings get a lot of sweat equity, but the middle will sag without strong, consistent story development.

    It’s also worth taking a chance on people with a proven track record. When the Stargate franchise began a new chapter with SGU and called it a mix of Battle Star and Lost, I groaned, but climbed on board anyway. 😀 The start was a bit bumpy, but that happens any time you tackle a new genre (drama). Many of the beloved story elements were still in place, and the production quality was outstanding. By the end of season 2 and the series, with Eli contemplating Space on the observation deck, I felt as bereft as anyone else.

    So… book turn-offs for me: 🙂
    1. Bad cover art and/or typography
    2. Bad title (writing titles is one of my fave things to do)
    3. Vague or general jacket copy
    4. Middle chapter that sags or doesn’t advance the plot
    5. Relationship advice from women. What do men think?
    6. “Romance” that never leaves the bedroom
    7. Medieval fantasy
    8. Conspiracy theories
    9. Celebrity tell-alls
    10. Vampires (or any over-worked trend)

  26. @Debra:

    Can’t speak for Joe, but my turn-off with Oprah’s list is the general lack of Science Fiction (one book by Asimov aside). It’s not just Science Fiction; none of Michael Crichton’s books made it to Oprah’s list either. I’ve just recognised that most of the selections there do not reflect my reading interest, and what use is a reading list unless it reflects what you like to read?

    @Tam Dixon:

    Thanks for the “safe travel wishes”! I’ve been to Milan quite a bit, but it’s my first visit to Naples. I’ll also be in London for the weekend, but I know that city fairly well. Barb and I lived near Bristol, two hours west of London, for three years in the late 90’s and we would spend weekends at the Westpoint Hotel near Hyde’s Park. I just have to decide what I want to go do…the British Museum maybe?

  27. I’m with you on #s 2 and 3.

    But the one thing that really, completely turns me off of buying a book (or, more likely, just makes me go to great lengths to seek out a different printing if it’s a book I really want) are those stupid tall mass market paperbacks they’ve been doing. First it was just the mystery/thriller genre. Now it’s bleeding over into my fantasy. That size drives me absolutely nuts. Why did they think printing in that size all of a sudden was a good idea? It doesn’t save shelf space because they’re as wide or wider than a standard mass market. It doesn’t look better. And most of all, it’s incredibly freaking awkward. It’s just an ugly, ugly size, and it is my huge publishing pet peeve.

    Oh, also, covers that don’t look anything like what the book contains. Mainly when there’s a picture of a person on the cover, implying it’s an image of the main character, only to find out that the main character’s description is nothing like what the person looks like. This also includes movie-based covers. Like the movie cover for Beastly, which made both main characters look very, very different from how they’re described in the book.

    As a side note, I’m slightly annoyed at the overabundance of vampire novels. I love vampire stories, but the glut of them in the market right now means that when I finally get my own vampire story written, people won’t want them anymore. I know, it’s my own fault for not finishing it years ago, back before all this Twilight stuff happened, because I’ve been working on it for that long. Oh well, can’t stop now. Guess I’ll just have to see if anyone still wants it when I’m done. (Although the fact that I still think my story is considerably different enough from anything else I’ve seen just goes to show that most vampire stories really are rehashing of the same particular type of vampire story, especially when it’s primarily a romance.)

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