Why? Well, first of all, I'm terribly picky after having read so many of these. Second, I have to waste my money and I will have certain buyer's remorse if I finish the book and feel like I could have spent my time doing something else.
So, I got to thinking, what catches my eye when I don't have a purchase in mind?
1. A familiar name. For those authors whom I know (matter of speaking) and love, I'll know well in advance when the next coveted book is coming out. I'll have the up and comers catalogued on my shopping list on Amazon and I'll usually be waiting and out to the bookstores on the day of release. But for those names that I'm familiar with but not in love with...that recognition of their name is vital in me picking up an unforeseen purchase.
2. Placement. I'll always check out the "New Paperback" selection that usually is consisted of 90% Romance for new reads. It's the first place I check when looking for any new release as it's easier to pick them up there instead of scouring the specific shelves alphabetically. So, that's also a good place to check for an impromptu read.
However, Placement is two-fold. Not only am I talking about placement in the New Paperback display, but I'm also referring to placement of books near or around authors that I consistently read. If a new book is placed conveniently placed near ones that I've already read, I'll almost certainly pick them up as well just to check out the back cover synopsis.
3. Cover. Ahh, the infamous cover art. How many good books have they ruined simply because of lame cover art. One that comes to mind is the original mass market cover art for Shelley Bradley's Bound and Determined. If I hadn't already been acquainted with Bradley's work, I would've dismissed that book entirely. And it's a fantastic read. Hot and sexy with heart and plot. She's mentioned in the past how she received angry (not) fan mail stating that readers were misled by the cover. It displays a very out-dated art with two models that look like they're dressed for a lazy tropical vacation. But instead, the plot has quite explicit sexual scenes (done tastefully), with a plot that has its ups and downs in terms of excitement and emotional level. Happy to say, this book has been re-released into an oversized paperback with a cover that accurately portrays the "higher" heat factor. But I won't mention how that same cover art was recycled from a Janice Maynard novel. Smartly, it was also released into Bradley's alter ego pen name, Shayla Black, the name she uses for her more erotic romances. (Not quite sure I'd put Bound and Determined on the same level as her explicitly erotic Decadent and Wicked Ties, but it's certainly not as tame as her other Bradley releases).
But I must admit the reverse, I've picked up many a Romance simply because they had a nicely done cover. And not all of those good covers were explicitly romance with a heavily muscled man flexing his goodies. Some were just a nice collaboration of colors, a good manipulation of Photoshop, or maybe it was just simple in style with clean lines and text. There are many things that make up a good cover and sometimes, it's not the revved up sex factor.
There you are, three reasons why I might buy without planning. But the occasion is rare; I usually go into Borders knowing what I'm going to buy. Most of the time, I'll leave the same way I went in, empty handed, but there have been a time or two that I found a new author to pursue from one of those surprise buys.
Interestingly enough, while on the subject of impromptu buys, Romance books recently made the New York Times. The article mentions how Romance readers are loyal and therefore sacrificing other things in order to continue to indulge in these hard economic times. I agree; readers of Romance are devoted and the thought of a happy ending is too hard to pass up when real life might be crap. Besides, who doesn't love a guilty indulgence of a hot alpha male and a good read?