5 Decision Points

It would be so nice if all a writer needed to do was write. But, of course, life isn’t that easy. On September 20th I had surgery on the middle finger of my right hand (and yes, I’m right handed), which resulted in a week of one-finger typing and some pain pills that wiped out all desire to do anything but sleep for a couple days.

Finger surgery

Finger surgery

Thank goodness I’m now down to a simple wrap,

You can barely see the tape on my middle finger.

You can barely see the tape on my middle finger.

but I’m quickly learning that the finger dictates how much typing I can do before it lets me know enough is enough. So today’s blog will be brief.

I had a great time at the Tamarack Library in Lakeview, Michigan. The librarians were wonderful, and there were several local authors situated around the library with everything from children’s books to memoirs and how-to books. (Had a chance to visit with my good friends Pat Klein and Sally van Kuik.) My table-mate, Mardi J. Link, is a fascinating person as well as a very good writer, and I highly recommend her books.

My talk on “Character Development” was at 11:00 a.m. so I had time afterwards to listen to other speakers and talk to the librarians. And that’s where I learned something I didn’t know.

One librarian told me (if you’re a librarian, let me know if you do this), when  writers come to her and ask if the library will buy their books (I’m assuming these aren’t books that have received good Library Journal, PW, or Kirkus reviews or a lot of on-line reviews), she looks at five (5) places to make her decision.

  1. The first paragraph of the first chapter
  2. The last paragraph of the first chapter
  3. Any paragraph somewhere in the middle of the book
  4. The first paragraph of the last chapter
  5. The last paragraph of the last chapter

She and I didn’t have time to discuss this further, so my take away on this is strictly my interpretation. I assume she’s picked those particular spots because #1 lets her know if the book grabs her, #2 lets her know if the story or information (non-fiction) would make her want to read on, #3 lets her see if the quality of the writing is as strong in the middle as in the beginning, #4 would give her a sense of how the author was bringing everything together, and #5 would show how the author handled the ending.

What do you think? Do you do anything like this when at a bookstore checking out a book you might buy? Do you have specific parts of a book you look at before making a decision?

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12 Responses to 5 Decision Points

  1. I think your interpretation is spot-on, Maris. I wish I’d done this during my tenure as a school librarian. When selecting books for myself, I never look at the end of a book because I like to be surprised. Even as a kid, I never peeked at presents before Christmas LOL

  2. I came across this technique when I met an editor who used to be in charge of the slush pile. She indicated that books rarely sustained interest by the time she came to the end, and often the middle was not interesting at all. I’d forgotten about it till I read your post. Glad to be reminded of it. I’ve never chosen a book this way, but I’d like to try it out on books I’ve read and enjoyed and see what it tells me.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Susan, thanks for letting me know others (an editor for one) use the same technique. When the librarian told me that’s what she did, it was the first time I’d heard the idea.

  3. As usual, Maris, you have mentioned something that’s good for writers to know. I think I’ll tweet it. Thanks so much.

  4. Hi Maris,

    I’m a retired high school librarian who did all the ordering for a large school. I did mostly go by reviews. However, I met with salesmen as well. I also ordered books suggested by faculty. I followed what the students wanted to read and what they needed for book reports and research. If I were a public librarian, I would certainly order books written by local authors.
    For books I either borrow from the library or buy, I check out the first few pages and the book jacket. Reviews don’t tell all and many times they are just the opinion of one individual. I like to form my own judgments.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Jacqueline, I’ve always used your technique of looking at the first few pages and the book jacket. I think I might now (when I can) look at a paragraph toward the middle of the book. Thanks for your response.

  5. Melissa Keir says:

    Very interesting. I would assume that she’s trying to get a sense of the book, author’s voice and if it’s a good fit for the library.

    • Maris Soule says:

      I agree, Melissa. I know a lot of writers spend a long time perfecting the first few chapters, so I’m guessing she wants to see if the quality continues through to the end of the book.

  6. Paula says:

    When it comes to non-fiction, I always read the table of contents. I find that, often, the writer has made the chapter titles clever to draw me in. But I usually go in and read a portion of one or two that sound “clever” to see if they deliver on content. I suppose I’m like a fish that way. You may snag me on your hook, but you also have to get me into the boat and keep me there.
    Glad to see this is what one librarian does, if not many more of them. I’d say this gives a whole new meaning to “library science.” *smiles*