By Its Cover

I’m looking at old and new editions of some of the books, asking myself which of each set is the most effective attention grabber, at the same time as I get a lesson in humility, as I’m put in my place by the understanding (anew) of what really ‘sells’ a book.

It would be good for my ego to think that what catches the attention of a potential reader/buyer in the book store is the bewitching prose.

Not so, I’m afraid. The first thing research suggests potential reader/buyers do when they pick up a book in the store is look at the cover. Then they flip it over and read the blurb on the back, hints about the plot or mini-reviews or both. And only then, if they haven’t already decided the book doesn’t look sufficiently interesting to pursue further, do they open it at random and read a few lines of aforesaid bewitching prose.

So in order of attention grabbiness, it’s

  1. Cover
  2. Blurb
  3. Bewitching prose

Take that, writerly conceit.

Here are a few examples of old and new editions. Which of each is the grabbiest?



(Interesting how Miss Little was reduced to Little in the third edition. It was felt that Little’s Losers was more politically correct than Miss Little’s Losers. Hmmm.)



Maybe we can’t tell a book by its cover. But we sure think we can.


Something Literary at Something’s Brewing


Something’s Brewing Café sits on Milltown Boulevard in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, close to the Canada-U.S. border crossing.

It’s a bright, bustling, cheerful, welcoming, all-embracing spot, serving delicious coffees and teas, as well as morning-coffee-complementing pastries and muffins and croissants and cinnamon buns, lunchtime soups and sandwiches and wraps, all day and evening cheesecake and squares and scones and other sweets, all the time pulsing with conversation and discussion and laughter and banter, under the creative eye of tireless owner and café meister Ada Dempsey.

So a perfect venue for a reading, which I did a few days ago to a small crowd huddled in the back room, with any shortcomings on the part of the author-reader alleviated by the coffee, wine, beer and snacks the listeners carried through from the front of the café, and a view out the back across the St. Croix River to Calais, Maine.


It was a chance to share two recent releases, Colorland and Defiant Island (both Speaking Volumes Press), as well as give a kind of sneak preview of a forthcoming release (re-release, I should say) by Speaking Volumes of my first novel, The Ragged Believers, originally published by the now sadly defunct DreamCatcher Publishing of Saint John, New Brunswick.


Holding a reading in a coffee shop fits a long tradition of cafés serving as venues for artistic presentation and inspiration and creativity. Think Schubert knocking off a lieder or two on a napkin between sips of java in early 1800s Vienna, Kerouac and Ginsberg reciting in Greenwich Village coffee houses in the ’60s, T.S Eliot in a London coffee bar in 1920 jotting, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons”. Not for a moment do I mean to suggest I belong with stars such as these, but it’s nice to know that from a historic point of view you’re in good company.

Thank you, Ada, and all your colleagues at Something’s Brewing, for hosting the occasion, and for all the times you lift our spirits when we drop in for morning coffee.




“What’s the best thing about being a writer?” the grade 6 presenter-of-the-class-questions asked.

I can’t remember how I answered, but what I should have said is, simply, “You are.”


By which I mean – the most fun and rewarding perk of writing for young people has got to be invitations to spend time in their company.

That’s what had me making the short commute across town a few days ago to visit a grade 6 class at St. George Elementary School, in New Brunswick, Canada, where I principal-ed for a few years, to talk about writing, its joys and sorrows, frustrations and rewards, and some of the travels it’s brought me, and to share some kind gifts of traditional clothing I brought home from  Ethiopia.


The students were armed with a set of questions (What’s the best thing about being a writer? What’s the worst thing about being a writer? How long does it take to write a book? Where do ideas for stories come from? When did you start writing?) which were put to me by the presenter-of-the-class-questions mentioned above. The students, like all the young people I meet in school visits, were kind enough to listen carefully and patiently to my sometimes incoherent answers, and followed up with more questions, all the time with an air of mannerly attention that would put plenty of adult institutions – think political institutions – to shame.


Thank you, grade six. I hope we meet again.

And keep on reading!