Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Judging A Book By Its Cover - Kara Isaac

It's currently contest season for authors. At the beginning of each year scores of contests kick off aimed at celebrating the best books released the previous year. Some of the most well known in Christian circles are the Carols, the Christy Awards, the Inspys, the FHL Readers' Choice Award and Christian Retailings' Best Awards but there are many many others.

I recently judged the RITA awards, a contest run by Romance Writers of America (RWA) to celebrate the best books released in romance each year. Unlike the ones listed above, the RITA is a general market contest which has a "books with religious and spiritual elements" sub category.

One of the rules for the RITA is that if your books are entered then you also have to be a judge. So in January I found myself the recipient of a box of seven books in a range of genres. I have to admit I was a bit hesitant as some of these books were not ones that I would ordinarily choose to read voluntarily!

This is what was reinforced to me as I read:

Great writing triumphs regardless of genre or topic

Of the seven books there were three books that I gave a score above 9. There reason was simple. Though the genre or content may have been out of my comfort zone, the writing was great. While the characters may have made choices that were different to mine, I was invested them and wanted to know what happened (even though they were all romance novels and everyone knows how those end!).

Covers matter!

While it's all very nice to say that you can't judge a book by it's cover the truth is that well, often you can. That's kind of the point! There's a reason why books don't just come with a plain white cover with the title in black.

Sadly, I predicted which were going to be the lowest scoring books purely by their covers. While a great cover doesn't guarantee a book is going to contain great writing, where a book is independently published it does indicate that the author is prepared to invest in a professional to do that work (if they don't have the skills themselves to do one well). And if they're prepared to do that then it's almost guaranteed that they've also paid to have the book professionally edited which is critical for a great book. No one can write a great book without input from others. Where a book looks like it's been slapped together by someone who knows the bare basics of Microsoft Publisher sadly the story itself is often of a similar standard.

Whether a book was indie (independently) published or published by a traditional publishing house didn't necessarily designate the quality of the content

One indie book that I read was excellent with a good plot, strong characters and great pacing. The author had clearly put it through all the rigours of the traditional publishing process with multiple editors etc. On the flip side, a traditionally published book had so many different points of view and subplots going on that even though the writing was good I spent most of the time thoroughly confused as to what was going on!

If you're an author do you enter contests? Why? If you're a reader, do you ever pay attention to what books win contests? Does it influence your decision at all to read them? 

Kara Isaac lives in Wellington, New Zealand. Her sophomore romantic comedy, Can't Help Falling, is a funny, heartfelt romance about how an antique shop, a wardrobe, and a mysterious tea cup bring two C.S. Lewis fans together in a snowy and picturesque Oxford, England. and was an RT Review Top Pick. When she's not chasing three adorable but spirited little people, she spends her time writing horribly bad first drafts and wishing you could get Double Stuf Oreos in New Zealand. She loves to connnect on her website, on Facebook at Kara Isaac - Author and Twitter @KaraIsaac   


  1. Fabulous, Kara, that you got the opportunity to judge. I've found it such a great experience for many reasons. I love your reminder that it "takes a village to produce a good novel" ... important especially for all those jumping into the indie world.

    1. Hi Ian! It' so true! I'm currently working on my first indie novel and am very grateful for my two editors, cover designer and proof reader. I wouldn't do it without them even if paying their bills myself hurts a little :)

    2. Indie novel ... wow. Enjoy the process. Exciting times ahead.