Friday 1 August 2014

Discovering Diamonds

Edge author Katie Dale sets a challenge...

How do you choose which book to read next?
- Good reviews?
- Prize-winning/Award-nominated titles?
- Publicity/Film/TV tie-in?
- Book trailers?
- Cover/Blurb?
- Favourite author?
- On offer/On the table/Face-out in the bookshop?

These are all good ways of choosing, but often they will lead you to select a book that is either fairly similar to previous books you’ve enjoyed, or a book that has been highly publicized. There’s nothing wrong with this – if I’m honest, these are often the reasons I choose to read books – but what about all the hundreds of thousands of other books out there?

There are many things that might put you off:

- You’ve never heard of the book
- You’ve never heard of the author
- The cover isn’t appealing
- The blurb doesn’t grab you

But does that mean it isn’t a good book?

After all, none of these factors affect the quality of the book itself – and in fact none of them are in the author’s control. It may be surprising, but authors themselves often have little or no say over their title, cover or blurb, or indeed, the marketing budget. If, for whatever reason, publishers decide not to spend a lot of money promoting a book (posters, bookmarks, review copies, paying to place it on the table in bookshops etc.), the bulk of publicity is left to the author themselves, which can be daunting, difficult, and rather awkward.

But does that mean you shouldn’t read their book? That you won’t enjoy it? That this unheard of author isn’t about to become your favourite?

I always feel a thrill when I discover a new great author or novel - like finding buried treasure - and actually came across some of my all-time favourite authors quite by accident.
Holding Me HereOne was at a car boot sale. HOLDING ME HERE by Pam Conrad, (which is sadly now out of print, though available second-hand online) became one of my all-time favourite YA reads, and is about a girl who cannot fix her own family so tries to fix someone else’s – with unexpected and dangerous results. I fell in love with the main character, empathized with her actions, and was on the edge of my seat by the end – a riveting, thrilling, heartbreaking book that stays with you for a long time.

Another discovery was whilst I was travelling through South-East Asia. I had run out of books to read, and came across a hostel doing a book-swap. There wasn’t much choice, so I picked up a novel called AT ALL COSTS by John Gilstrap – an author I’d never heard of. I read it cover-to-cover in no time, I could not put it down and I have now sought out and bought every single one of his titles and cannot understand why he isn’t more famous. They are page-turning, edge-of-your-seat fast-paced thrillers which leave other more famous thriller-writers in the dust.

I’ve also recently joined my first book club, which has prompted me to read books
 I wouldn’t have usually chosen, but have enjoyed immensely, such as COUNTING BY 7S by Holly Goldberg Sloan (another author I’d never heard of), as well as books I struggled with and couldn’t get through (THE CORAL ISLAND).

Of course it’s a risk to try a book you know nothing about – but the worst that can happen is that you decide you don’t like it, so you stop reading. But there’s a chance that you too might discover a hidden treasure – a new favourite author or book, a diamond in the rough that you would otherwise never have found.

After all, this is the process editors and agents go through all the time – reading work from unknown authors (known as the slush-pile). Great authors like Malorie Blackman and J.K. Rowling famously got hundreds of rejections before their books were published – and for us that stage of vetting is done already. These undiscovered books have survived the difficult journey to publication, and yet for some reason you’ve never heard of them, they haven’t received the hype and publicity of others.

Conversely, I find some books that receive a lot of publicity and attention – and that I’m consequently desperate to read – rather disappointing and over-hyped when I actually read them. Sometimes even award-winning books fall into this category.

So my challenge to you – go into your local library, bookshop, or charity shop and pick up a book by an author you’ve never heard of. Pay no attention to the cover or blurb – read the first page instead and see if it grabs you. If not, try another new author, and I guarantee that before long you’ll find one that does. Take a risk, take it home and read it. I’d love to know if you find any treasures. After all, who knows what diamonds are still lurking in the rough? Maybe you too will find that your new favourite author is out there just waiting to be discovered.

Katie Dale is the award-winning author of SOMEONE ELSE'S LIFE
Simon & Schuster UK
Delacorte Press USA & Canada

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