In five easy steps:
1. Have a good title.
I can’t really explain what makes a good title for me, but it is VERY important. Single words are generally less likely to attract my attention. Some examples of books with good titles that I randomly picked up based on name alone:
Travels With Barley
City of Ember
I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced
2. Attractive cover art
Again, this is hard to pin down; however, if you have a mediocre title with an awesome dust jacket, I might pick up the book to read a little more. Not looking stupid is the main thing. I avoided what is now one of my all time favorite books for many years because the cover looked stupid:
Those are even in order of least to most uninteresting.
This is the one that finally caught my eye:
Another book that has been recommended to me several times in the last week that I think looks totally boring:
Up til just now, I thought those were chickens. Anyways…
3. Use appropriate margins and text size.
I used to give my students a hard time if they picked up a book, flipped through it, and put it back on the shelf without reading a word, usually announcing that the words were too little/many on a page/many in general. I’m guilty of this myself, though. I like a book with enough of a margin that I can hold it without covering up too many words. If you need more pages, use them. Don’t just shrink your margins like a college kid trying to meet a professor’s criteria. I also hate when lines are too close together. If I can’t track my place easily, you’re losing my vote.
4. Equal parts character development and plot
I read a really interesting article about which makes for a better story: a strong plot with lots of twists or a character-based story. I do enjoy strong characters and internal conflict, but too much of it gets boring quickly. Same goes for too many twists in the plot. The balance is tough, but worth the work.
5. Good writing style.
The top offenses here include: not enough dialogue; too much dialogue (without tags); cliched descriptions; pretentious prose. . .the list goes on. Again, I might flip through a few pages, but too much description or overly written scenes land the book right back on the shelf.
Of course, the obvious answers are the easy ones:
Fall into one of my current interests. Recently I have devoured multiple books on the following topics:
Mt Everest; Abraham Lincoln; Catholicism; the Appalachian Trail; serial killers; Anne Frank
Be one of my favorite writers (or have a review/prologue/introduction by them):
Elizabeth Peters; John Krakauer; Bill Bryson, Gillian Bradshaw; Orson Scott Card; J K Rowling; Rick Riordan. . .again, the list is long
Come with a strong recommendation. This one is not always successful, but if I really like you, I might read a book you suggest to me. Which is why I am off to find a book by the name of “The Post Office,” suggested to me by a super-cute guy at the airport.