Is Ten Pages Enough to Judge a Book?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

Ford Madox Ford famously wrote, “Open the book to page ninety-nine, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.”

By Edward Nawotka

Today’s editorial by Jesse Potash of PUBSLUSH offers his vision of a crowdsourced, non-profit publishing model. The business is simliar to that of other crowdsourced publishing models, like Unbound, which ask readers to essentially pre-order a book before a decision is made to publish it once it has enough guaranteed readers. In the case of PUBSLUSH, readers are asked to judge a ten-page submission and the book will be published after it has 2,000 supporters.

This is certainly a good deal for the author, who writes knowing they have an audience, and the publisher, who knows they have customers. But what about the reader, who has no guarantee that they are getting a good book. Then again, this is nearly always the case.

Readers typically use a few criteria on which to base their book purchases. Recommendations from trusted sources, such as friends, critics and booksellers precedent — books they’ve previously read by the author; or else a small sampling of something they’ve read in a bookstore or online, perhaps an excerpt or a story.

The fact is that the reader nearly always has to take a gamble that a book will live up to whatever expectations they might have built up. The question of how to present book sampling has never quite been answered, though as Kevin Smokler noted here, “trust me” is a pretty lame sales pitch and publishing needs to find a better way of enticing readers.

So, for you, is ten pages enough? Or maybe the Page99 test works for you, as it does for critic Robert McCrum (“It’s fine with me,” he says, “plus it has the virtue of plunging the casual reader deep into the middle of the book.”)

Tell us what criteria you rely on when sampling a book. Can it be done better? If so, how?

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.