Randall Payleitner

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Questions I ask Before I Read a Book: Who Endorsed it?

I have a constantly rolling stack of 20 as-yet-unread books at my house (and 20 more at my office) that I really plan to read. As I hear recommendations, scour the landscape, dig through the book chaff, and consider my upcoming reading time—I need a vetting tool to help me know what to read next.

Here are the questions I ask of each possible book I encounter. If a book makes it through this gauntlet, I add it to the stack, ready to read:

  • Do the title and subtitle promise some amount of improvement to my life, health, spiritual journey, knowledge exploration, and/or entertainment? This takes about 7 seconds.
  • Who wrote it? Are they trustworthy? What do they bring to the table that I don’t? Who endorsed it? Are they experts/authorities on the subject? Are their endorsements for the content itself or the author (both are valuable, but telling)? This takes about 45 seconds.
  • How long is the book for its genre? Can I foresee the time I invest repaying itself several fold? (e.g. four hours may equal me being a 3% better dad). This takes about 5 seconds, picture me holding the book in one hand literally weighing it and computing the value.
  • Does the table of contents give a good picture of where the author is going to take me? Is it somewhere I want to go? Would I be better off reading a summary of the book to save myself five hours? This takes about about 30 seconds.
  • Even if all of the above questions are answered in the affirmative, does it pass a few final “sniff” tests: Have I already read up in this genre? Does it seem professionally done? Is there something better I should read to cover this same ground? Is it worth the price?

For the next few months, I’m going to address each of these questions with a post… Starting in no particular order.

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Book publishing has a lot of quirks. The secret way to tell how many printings a book has had (ask me sometime). The weird old-timey words we use like “book block” and “typesetting” and “galley copy.” But one of the quirkiest of all is the time-honored tradition of the blurbs on the back and inside the front cover. It’s like a cross between the town crier and an invite-only guest list for an exclusive (yet, very public) party.

The effective endorser list of people on a book has two main reasons for existing: (1) to have experts in a field lend a credible voice to a work and (2) to get those same experts/influencers excited about your book ahead of time. Ideally it’s not just a list of famous/semi-famous people willing to write something. The best endorser lists read like a who’s who in a field helping each other out toward a common goal of moving a reading audience from “A” to “B.”

Now to say something about the actual words of the endorsements themselves... A good endorsement:

  1. Acts as a commissioning of the author and their book out into the world. Like a toast at a wedding or a graduation speech… they wax eloquent about the great batch of potential before them and the important work in the rearview mirror.

  2. Gives the book a place and an audience—in the midst of a lot of noise. Good books are written in and from a certain time/place, but they are also written to last a while. A valuable group of endorsements will solidify the setting and expand its reach out into the unknown future.

  3. Highlights some key content or purpose in the book itself. It’s best for an endorsement to prove out that the endorser has a favorite piece, section, or part of the book itself. It should make you want to find their Easter egg in the paragraphs while also looking for your own.

A solid (not too long and not too short) list of endorsers and endorsements will share with me (the reader) why this book is worth getting to the top of that stack of unread books on my shelf. This will then go a long way toward me shelling out the cash and the time to give it a shot.