|THE most important factor in book choice for MG readers: |
the cover synopsis
A few weeks ago, Matt McNish posted about first lines. And he got me wondering: How important are first lines to MG readers?
Since I have a captive audience of MG readers every day, I decided to find out. I divided my class into discussion groups, gave them a stack of unfamiliar books, and asked what factors were most important in deciding whether or not to read any of them.
I specifically asked them to consider the first sentence, first paragraph, and first page. In spite of this, every group focused on the back cover or dust jacket. They had to be reminded to open the book and look inside before answering – even though that was part of their directions – because the cover blurb was the deciding factor for them.
A few students were more reflective. “You should really look inside,” Alexa said. “I wasn’t very interested in this one, from the back cover, but the first page is really interesting. I might read this.”
|The Kiss of Death: no synopsis, only review blurbs.|
Or worse -- nothing at all!
But in each group, the decision to start reading was almost always based on the blurb. Not so much the front cover, which surprised me. “Covers don’t always show what the book’s about,” Grace said. “But the back of the book tells you the problem in the story, which is what I want to know.”
I asked how important the first page was in determining whether the students continued reading. If they weren’t hooked by the first page, did they keep going? Some did not.
“I want some action on the first page,” Zoe admitted.
“I’ll give it till page two,” Grace said with a laugh. “And then I’m done.”
“If I don’t like the first chapter, I’ll skip to the next one,” Mike said.
Grace challenged him on that. “You mean, go back and read it later?”
“Nope,” said Mike with a grin. “Just skip it. I know I’m not supposed to.” He shrugged unapologetically.
But most students said they would not quit if the first page didn’t hook them; they’d keep reading further – a chapter or two at least. “Unless there are too many words I don’t know on the first page,” Chris clarified. “Then the book might be too hard for me.”
Josh added, “I always look to make sure there aren’t too many strange names and places and words in the beginning.” I pointed out that Josh reads almost exclusively science fiction and fantasy. Aren’t they full of strange names and places and words? “Yeah, but too many in the beginning is just confusing,” Josh said. “I want to learn them a little at a time.”
Owen asked his group if they would read a book because of the author or because it won an award. The answer was yes for an author they liked – Andrew Clements and Gordon Korman were mentioned – but an award sticker was not as respected. “They give awards because the book is ‘heartwarming,’” said Zoe, using air quotes to make her point. “And then it’ll have no action in it.”
So – the message for writers? Make sure your opening pages are engaging and don’t dump too many strange things in the beginning. But you absolutely need a cover synopsis that’s a grabber. Even though the author doesn’t usually write that, (unless he or she is self-publishing), make sure the publisher is putting as much effort into that summary as they do on the front cover design.
Don’t worry if you don’t have an award sticker. Kids don’t care. And if you happen to be Andrew Clements or Gordon Korman, you’re golden.