For the purpose of this post, what I mean by a great book is two things: (1) A book that is reasonably free from misspellings, poor sentence structure, bad prose, and outright mistakes. (2) A book that speaks to the individual reader. This is entirely subjective, but we all have personal preferences as to genre, theme, and author voice. You can love one story and hate another even if both are well written, and only you can determine what kinds of books you really enjoy.
But how do you find the books that are good quality and that you personally would love to read? With the massive number of e-books out there, how do you sift through them all to find the right one? Most of us probably download a book within the first ten pages of results on the bookseller’s site, even though the most incredible book could be on page thirty. We simply aren’t going to scroll that far. So we have to find other ways to narrow the search.
Once upon a time, you could count on certain publishers for the books you wanted. As more publishers close up shop, however, and even big-time authors switch to indie publishing in order to offer readers less expensive books, this has become a far less effective method of focusing your search. But here are some other ways you can try to find the right book to read.
(1) This is a bit of a no-brainer, but one easy method is to keep reading books by authors you already know and like. In order to stay informed about the author’s catalog and new releases, you can do several things. If you don’t mind mail in your e-mail Inbox, you can sign up for the author’s newsletter if they have one. You can also follow the author on social media. For example, I’m always sure to announce my new releases as well as discounts and other promotions on Twitter (@AllieRitch) and Google+, and a lot of writers have Facebook accounts. You can also follow your favorite authors on Goodreads, Bookbub, Manic Readers, or The Romance Reviews.
(2) Eventually, you’ll want to try a new author. This is where all that scrolling comes into play, if you’re trying to find something just by browsing. Remember, though, that where you browse and where you buy don’t have to be the same place. If huge booksellers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble have you going cross-eyed, maybe you should browse on a different site. For instance, a site like Inside Romance (created by those who brought you The Romance Reviews) has hundreds of books, not millions, and offers two different viewing methods while browsing: covers or covers with blurbs. You won’t get slammed with as many choices, allowing you to look more closely at your options. Be it Kobo, Inktera, or wherever, go to the site that offers you the browsing method you like best. Then you can either purchase the book there if you already have or decide to create an account (especially if there’s a sale going on), or you can head to your bookseller of choice to search for that title specifically.
(3) Sample an author’s work. Start with the blurb. Is it well written? Does it have you interested in the book? The blurb is your first introduction to a writer’s ability, style, and the book they’re trying to sell. If the blurb has you intrigued, then you can take the next step and read the excerpt. Many booksellers offer excerpts on their sites, or almost every author I know has an excerpt on his/her website. You can see here that I have a whole page on my site dedicated to excerpts from my books. Sites like Amazon also allow you to preview the first chapter on the book page. This is a great way to take the book for a test drive before committing to it. Most of the books I’ve purchased have been ones that hooked me with the blurb and/or excerpt, which I’ve come across at a TRR Party, blog, or on social media.
(4) These days, there are lots of free or low-cost e-books. That’s great for the pocketbook, but I think we all know how much chaff there is among the wheat. This is where you need to be a bit of a detective. If the authors are new to you, make sure you check out their resumes, so to speak. Are all their books free or $0.99? Have they written more than one or two titles? Are any of those titles longer than a short story or tiny novella? (I’m not targeting short-story writers here, but rather the huge proliferation of short works presented as if they were novels. You see a glut of these after every NaNoWriMo).
Professional writers who work hard to hone their craft and present readers with the best version of their books need to earn enough to cover the charges for editing, formatting, cover art, and advertising. Those writers might offer a couple of free or low-cost options to get readers to try their work. In my case, I offer Sexy Shorts for $0.99, so readers can try five complete short stories that include standalones and stories set in my Alien Sex Ed series and Children of Nanook series. This is basically a form of advertising for us authors—a gamble to try to get new readers hooked on our work. But serious writers aren’t going to undervalue their books to the point of giving all their titles away for nothing. If you see an author who has published very little and/or underprices their full catalog, your chances of getting a great book from them are incredibly slim.
If you’re considering a new-to-you author and the book is an indie title, I would also recommend checking if that author ever published through a non-vanity press before going the indie route. I’m indie publishing most of my titles now, but only after going through established online presses for over a decade. I can’t tell you how much I have learned about the writing craft and the industry from publishers like Loose Id, Liquid Silver Books, Cobblestone Press, and others. And that’s not even to mention the networking those publishers have afforded me with editors, cover artists, and of course, other authors. I believe writers who skip this step altogether and go straight to self-publishing are missing an incredibly important education. That’s not to say they can’t still write great books, but it’s my opinion that they’ve handicapped themselves. I can’t tell you how often I have an Editor-of-Novels-Past whisper in my head when I write now. If you’re browsing and trying to make a choice on whose work to try next, go with the writer who has more experience and has paid his or her dues.
How do you find a great book to read? Have any good tips for book browsing? Please share.