Since my husband gave me a Kindle for Christmas almost two years ago, I’ve maxed out most of the good freebie classics and have been reduced to browsing the Top 100 Free Bestsellers on Amazon.com. Sometimes, you find amazing stuff. Sometimes, it’s not so great. Having read several of the not-so-great ones, I’ve developed a reliable system for judging a book by its cover. (I know, I know, judging a book by its cover – but most of the time, you simply have to if you wish to ensure your own literary survival.)
Please note that, unless I indicate otherwise, I have made up all of the following titles. Some of them may exist in real life — if so, they are probably particularly unfortunate works of fiction.
The first, and most obvious, category is the Trashy Romance Book. Once in a while, you might come across a good one. But there are many with no redeeming qualities. It appears that, with some of them, the author has spent more time in bed than in the schoolroom studying grammar. Here are some ways to spot the latter variety:
- There’s any kind of billionaire involved. For example, Heart of the Billionaire, Teasing the Billionaire, The Billionaire’s Desires, The Hot Body of the Billionaire (okay, so I made the last one up, but the others are actual titles). And now I just realized that I’ve probably just skewed my Amazon recommendations for all eternity by searching “billionaire.”
- The title begins with the word “her” or “his” — His Wild Bride, Her Forbidden Tryst — you get the picture. This is also applicable to any possessive noun at the beginning of a title (Lucretia’s Secret Knight)
- Any of the following words — or variations on these words — occur anywhere in the title: Tangled, surrender, bed, highlander (I have no explanation for that, but it’s true), forbidden, dare, innocence, lover, teasing (yes, with Teasing the Billionaire, we do have a double score), or dangerous (i.e., The Sheik’s Dangerous Lover. I swear, brain cells were killed in just reading the title).
- There is a picture on the front involving only torsos — regardless of their state of dress or undress — with the heads invisible, cut off by the top of the page.
Another type frequently encountered is the Depressing Modern Literary Work. This book is apparently designed to send the reader into a deep depression that can only be solved by consuming vast quantities of Cheetos. Since I already have a problem with eating too many Cheetos, I find it best to avoid this type of book. Here are some things to watch out for:
- The title is exceptionally non-descriptive and/or abstract. Examples of this type could include: The Color Blue, The Sound of Feathers, A Clear Glass Mirror, Waking Up Alone (all these titles were just made up by me, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find one or more of them in a search).
- The title includes anything about a thread or threads.
- The front cover depicts a shadow or silhouette.
- The front cover depicts anything sitting by itself — i.e., a pair of shoes; a lit candle, or, worse, a burned-out candle; a blade of grass; a single bird in flight (assuming, of course, that it’s not a book about wildlife). Any item sitting by itself without a person in attendance is a dead giveaway.
- The front cover depicts a highway leading to nowhere. While not infallible, this can be a sign that the book itself leads to nowhere.
Another type frequently encountered is a book spawned by a successful book. This is The Cheap Imitation or The Literary Knockoff. While identifying characteristics tend to shift with new popular titles, titles of this type may currently be identified by any of the following indicators:
- A reference to “shades” or “gray” in the title. You want to stay away from books like Eighty Shades of Gray or Fifty Shades of Black or Shades of Black and Blue. Any titles written before the popular book, however, are exempt (The Picture of Dorian Gray, for example).
- Any reference to vampires.
- An actual book, discovered while researching, is A Shade of Vampire. Hmmm.
Another popular category is The Cheap Fantasy Novel. You may have one of these on your hands if you spot any or all of the following elements:
- The title includes two words smushed together into one. Examples could include: Lightbringer, Everflame, Shadowmoon.
- Other key words to avoid include: Rise, light, fire, elemental, fall or fallen, sacred (assuming that you’re not shopping in the Religion section), legend, demon, souls, shadow, sword, moon, realm, truth, and mortal.
- Any title that includes one or more of the above words with the addition of “of” is likely to be particularly awful. Examples could include The Rise of the Fallen or The Shadow of the Realm.
Any of the above identification markers may be combined into a Hybrid Book. Examples of hybrid books could include titles such as Samson’s Lovely Mortal (an actual title that I just found). You see that the title includes both a possessive noun (Samson’s) and a fantasy keyword (mortal). This classifies the book as a Trashy Romance/Cheap Fantasy Hybrid.
These are just a few of the identifying markers I’ve observed — what else have you noticed that I didn’t include?