Scam or Marketing Plan?

How do you choose a book to read? Is it the illustration on the cover? A recommendation  made by a friend? Do you read the reviews to help you make a decision?

I tend to let the illustration on the book cover draw me to it. But it’s usually the blurb on the jacket cover that will make me read it. Historicals are more likely to get my second glance. But I was a bit disappointed by the last two books that I chose. The book’s blurb almost had nothing to do with what the entire book was about. It was almost as if someone read the first chapter then summarized. I was a bit upset that what had caused me to purchase the book wasn’t what I found. It was like biting into a chocolate only for it to ooze a Pepto-Bismal crème you can’t identify.

Southern Cross the Dog by Bill Chen was the first book that I wanted to throw across the room. There was a lot of hype associated with it, so I took a chance. Read the inside blurb that led me to believe I would be reading about a young boy who was displaced by a flood in 1920s Mississippi. At least that’s how Part One started. Lots of action. Beautiful, lyrical prose. Almost read like Toni Morrison’s Jazz, except with a bluesy feel. Then the book went in a completely different direction about an ex-con who is a piano-playing genius and is sought out by another man who wants to get famous through the piano player’s talent. Then the boy from flood returns after wading through two sections of the story that had nothing to do with him. Everything came together, uneventfully, in the last section of the book. Had I not wanted to post a review on Goodreads, I would have put the thing down long ago.

Then I read The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo. This book was about a young girl betrothed to a dead man in 19th century Malaya. Interesting premise with a lot of historical details. Then we detour into the afterlife. Instead of reading what this practice of marrying the living to the dead is about, it turns into a netherworld whodunit that the author doesn’t even resolve. I did like the story, though. I wasn’t so disappointed in the path it took. But still, why publicize it as one thing, only for the reader to find something else inside?

This got me to thinking about constructing pitches and query letters. I wondered if I was even doing those right. Should it be about getting an agent to read the sample pages, even thought that may not be what the actual manuscript is about? Sounds deceitful to me. But the whole point is to get someone to read it, right? Most books I’ve read deliver exactly what they promise: a mystery, a romance, a thriller. Not historical fiction-but-it’s-going-to-be-so-literary-that-there-will-be-no-discernible-plot-whatsoever. If my goal is to pick up a book so I can escape from my life, I don’t want to discover that it will take every cell in my brain to understand it. Nor do I want to read a historical and wind up with another version of Twilight (The Ghost Bride was not that bad, though the comparison did cross my mind for the moment. I’d actually recommend this book).

So what do you think? Have you ever read a book that didn’t deliver what it promised? Do you think this is a good marketing tool?

About Michelle McGill-Vargas

I hail from Gary, Indiana where I enjoy writing historical fiction, flash fiction, and short stories. My writings have appeared in "Lutheran Witness", "Splickety Magazine", "The Copperfield Review", "Typehouse Literary Magazine," and was a contributing writer to Concordia Publishing House's "Portals of Prayer" (October 2016). I've served as vice-president of the Indiana Writers' Consortium and am currently a board member of Midwest Writers. I am currently represented by Melissa Danaczko of Stuart Krichevsky Literary Agency, Inc. I pay the bills as a teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing. Visit my blog at
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