Tag Archives: e-books

How to Find Great Books in a Glutted Market

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.

 

(Photos are free for commercial use, no attribution required, from Pixabay.com)

The New Library

Since early times, mankind has valued organization and preservation of its texts, both nonfiction and creative. Libraries date back to about 1200 B.C., and of course the most famous one is the Library of Alexandria.

The  human race has moved away from scrolls and papyrus, and our libraries continue to evolve. You can still walk into your local library and be surrounded by towers of knowledge and imagination, bound books with colorful spines peeking at you from the shelves. In our most recent history, however, we’ve  introduced a marvelous new invention: the e-library.

Across the nation, regular libraries are adding an electronic overdrive to their websites, allowing patrons to borrow e-books from the comfort of their own homes. What are the benefits? For starters, you don’t have to burn gas to drive to the library, which is both economical and environmentally friendly. The process is also faster. I don’t know about you, but when I go to my local library, I invariably get stuck behind someone applying for a card. I’ve been known to wait a full twenty minutes to get my book. Not so with the e-library. The book is either checked out or available, which you can see instantly. If it’s available, you pop it in your cart and download it. No waiting!

Returns, of course, are easier, too. Once you’re done with the book, you can return it instantly with a few keystrokes rather than have it linger around the house a few days until you get time to drive it to the drop box. This is especially good news for those popular new releases that have a queue lined up for them. Or what if you realize you’ve already read that book you just got? At the physical library, this means you wasted time and gas to drive there, check it out, bring it home, and then drive back to return it. With an e-book, you can check it right back in again. I follow a lot of series, and I’ve picked up the same book more than once by accident. (I adore J.D. Robb, but don’t ask me to keep her In Death titles straight and in order). The e-library cuts down on my frustration.

Are e-libraries the libraries of the future? Absolutely. Will they replace the physical library completely? Maybe, maybe not. Television didn’t replace radio; it just assigned it a different role and importance. Since libraries also function as meeting places for community events, lectures, etc., I think they’ll continue to exist for a long time to come, though they may change their focus.

In the meantime, I look forward to my library stocking more e-books for me to check out online.

To Print or Not To Print

With the sale of e-books on the rise, many publishers do great business without ever sending their books to print. Others rely on a mix of e-books and print books. In both cases, we’re told that the cost of sending a book to print is far greater and sometimes prohibitive.

But some of the key costs of the books—namely the editing, cover art, formatting, and marketing—remain the same no matter what format the book takes. So the difference must be in the printing costs, the storage, and the shipping to distribute the physical books. Anyone who has bought printer or toner lately or tried to ship something through UPS or the Post Office knows those costs can really add up. Then there are the remainders and returns to worry about with print books—something you don’t see with their electronic counterparts.

There are options. Print-on-demand, for instance, creates shorter print runs, faster turnaround, and prevents an overproduction of titles that might not sell well down the line. The lattermost is especially important. POD books dodge the bullet of those dozens of hardcover books you see sold for pennies on the dollar in the bargain bins of physical bookstores.

Some e-book publishers contract to meet their print needs. Ellora’s Cave, for instance, is represented by The Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency. Yes, a publishing company can have a literary agent. Ethan Ellenberg negotiates deals with Pocket, a print publisher, to put Ellora’s Cave’s books into print. Not sure what the cost vs. profit is on these deals, but I’d have to assume Ellora’s Cave does better having Pocket print its books than if it produced its own print books.

So a lot of factors go into the cost of a print book, including whether the publisher does its own in-house printing or contracts that work out, and whether it does POD or a traditional print run. Then there’s overhead, employee and management salaries, author royalties, and the fore-mentioned cost of editing, artwork, formatting, and marketing.

But I thought authors in print—even in print at a smaller publishing house—made better money? Well, print books are usually priced higher, though authors often make a much smaller percentage of royalties off the print books. Print also reaches a different (though overlapping) audience of readers, and print sales are still going strong even as e-book sales go up. There is a confounding variable, though. Publishers who specialize in e-books don’t usually put a book into print unless that author is already selling very well. So those authors may not make more because they’re in print, but simply because they’re popular enough to be put in print in the first place.

This is a complicated business, and various reports don’t agree on the stats. What are your thoughts?

Hot Authors, Sizzling Romance

Previously, I addressed the pros and cons of writing spicier romances in Some Like It Hot: Erotic Levels In Fiction. I find this an especially interesting topic since I’ve written everything from sweet love stories to erotic romances, with Switching Positions being the first work that I cranked up to quite that level of sizzle.

For my own writing process, I usually know at the moment I have an idea for a novella or book just what heat level the story should have. I can’t say exactly how this happens. I suspect it’s like a chef getting an idea for a new recipe. She/he knows right away whether they’re aiming for something sweet, salty, or savory, although the nuances of the flavoring may come later.

Well, I wanted to see what other authors had to say about heat levels – the pros and cons of hotter works, their own writing process, etc. Let’s hear it for guest authors Kayelle Allen, Caitlyn Willows, and Cassandra Carr, who took time to share their thoughts!

Kayelle Allen is a multi-published author whose works include For Women Only, At the Mercy of Her Pleasure, Surrender Love, and many more. She has some fun book trailers on her site if you want to learn more. Kayelle was kind enough to comment on the original post with her take on heat levels in romance. To see all her remarks, please click on Some Like It Hot and scroll to her comment, but here are a few great points she makes:

“There are times when leaving what happens next to the reader’s imagination produces a high that’s more satisfying than the details. If your lovers have been passionate throughout the book, it doesn’t hurt to leave while they’re engaged in an activity that you can tell will lead to more. In contrast, [in] an erotica (at least one or more steps more intense than an erotic romance) leaving the reader without the details may prove more frustrating than satisfying. Marketing the book to the right genre and readers is important.” – Kayelle Allen – Blog~ Books~ Twitter~ Facebook

Excellent summary, Kayelle. Authors, like other artists, are entertainers. We have to know our audience and what they’re looking for.

Caitlyn Willows is a multi-published author whose books include To Die For (Amber Quill Press, 2011), Soleil (Loose Id, 2010), and several other tempting works. She shares her advice and perspective on striking the perfect balance between physical passion and the deeper emotions in erotic romance:

“It’s a very fine balance to find the perfect blend of story and sex when you’re writing an erotic romance. I think the market and the wealth of erotic romances out there have made these even more challenging. I’ve learned it’s very important to make sure you aren’t having sex in the story just for the sake of putting sex in there. The sex must mean something, bind the individuals, show growth, help move the story forward. Still, it is erotic and I feel it’s important for the author to go the daring route. Think outside the box of what is ‘normal’ and dare to explore what someone might fantasize about but would never do. And never forget to include the emotion of the encounter. Emotion is as breath-taking, if not more, than the act itself. It is the anticipation that draws the reader forward. These individuals are falling in love. Show it. Make the reader feel it. As an author…make yourself feel it too.” – Caitlyn Willows – http://www.caitlynwillows.com/

Some really wonderful points, Caitlyn. Authors have to be fully engaged with their characters to bring them to life both inside and outside the bedroom. Erotic romance offers a sort of open-door policy, but the key word is still romance.

Cassandra Carr is the author of Caught, coming in December 2011 from Loose Id; Talk To Me, published by Loose Id in March 2011 and named a Top Pick by Night Owl Reviews and The Romance Reviews; and the story “Circling” in Uniform Behavior (Andrews UK, Nov. 2010). She also has a really fun blog, but then I’m a sucker for anyone who’d include A Fish Called Wanda in a post. Cassandra shares her process for creating erotic romances and the advantages and disadvantages to writing spicier works:

“I didn’t ‘choose’ to write with one heat level or another, it just naturally grew out of my books. My heat level is pretty high compared to other erotic romances I’ve seen, but I didn’t go into any book with the intention of it being really spicy. Reviewers have said that although I have a lot of sex scenes in my books, they’re all necessary to the plot and show the emotional growth of the characters, so I guess I’m on the right track.

“There are a few pitfalls with writing spicier stories. First, you have to make sure the story isn’t all about the sex. At the end of the story the reader needs to believe that the two (or more) main characters have fallen in love. Sex scenes can’t be superfluous or just there to titillate the reader. The advantages of writing spicier books are that I think they’re overall a sexier read, which I personally enjoy. I also love it when an author can write a really smoking sex scene and I imagine other readers feel the same way.” – Cassandra Carr – http://www.booksbycassandracarr.com/

Again, Cassandra makes the point about love and integrating love scenes so that they’re integral to the plot. Without romance or other emotions and plotting going on, sex scenes could disintegrate into something resembling an instruction manual or sports review. Eg. “Insert tab A into slot B,” or, “He dribbles, he pivots, he surges up the line. He scores!” That sort of thing may make for a few funny lines, but that’s not exactly a fulfilling read.

So writers of erotic romance have to know their audience, connect with their readers, and give them what they want. These guest authors certainly know how to do that, and I’d like to thank them again for taking the time to share their experience and perspectives. And isn’t that what we like to see in our heroes? A man who knows his lover, connects with her (or him) – and, through her, the reader – and gives her what she wants? Sounds good to me. I think we could all benefit from a “really smoking sex scene.”

How Hot Is Hot? Sensual Ratings in Romance

Most sensual or heat ratings in the book industry are based on two main criteria: frequency of love scenes and how graphic and intense they are. Obviously, having more sex scenes in proportion to the length of the work earns a hotter rating. Using direct anatomical references is hotter than euphemism, while slang is spicier yet. The amount of descriptive detail and the duration of each scene also come into play. Are there toys? Props? Bondage and/or S&M? Any special kinks or costumes? More than two lovers at the same time? All of this adds to the heat of a work.

Many publishers differentiate their sensual levels by separating each one into a different line or imprint. Other publishers and even booksellers and distributors create their own system of rating. For instance, Liquid Silver Books uses the levels Sterling, Liquid, and Molten. In this system, Sterling is the sweetest, least hard-core of the group when it comes to the sex scenes. Liquid is obviously somewhere in the middle, and Molten should have you dabbing the sweat from your brow. Cobblestone Press likewise has three levels: Sensual Romance, Erotic Romance, and Erotica. These levels are more like definitions of these terms as used in the industry. Each turns up the heat a little more, with erotic romances containing more explicit descriptions and language, and erotica crossing the line so that sex dominates, even over the romance. With erotica, the story doesn’t necessarily even have to be a romance. Other companies focus only on a single heat level, like Changeling Press, which only publishes, “Over-the-top hot!”

 

So how does an author decide how hot to go? How does the heat level affect the characters and plot, and what are the pros and cons to a spicier novel? Well, I’ve asked some talented romance writers to answer some of those very questions. Following up on a previous post I did, Some Like It Hot: Erotic Levels In Fiction, I threw out the open-ended topic of erotic levels in fiction. Check out my post next Saturday (8/13/11) to read what guest authors Caitlyn Willows and Cassandra Carr have to say about the subject and be sure to scross down and check out the comment by author Kayelle Allen.

E-BOOKS VS. PRINT

Here’s a poser for you readers out there: which do you like better, e-books or print books?

Pros: E-books are generally cheaper, download at time of purchase so you can read them right away, and don’t require shipping and handling. You can also read a lot of great authors in this format that you won’t find in your library or local bookstore.

Print books are easier on the eyes, give you something physical to hold and enjoy, and can’t be lost with an accidental delete or, gasp, a virus you picked up with your music downloads.

Cons: E-books do mean more computer time for people who already sit in front of the screen a lot of hours, and that can be hard on the eyes. You can’t take them to the beach quite as easily either, although the various readers are solving that problem.

Print books can lose pages or get that yucky yellow coloration with time and wear, generally cost more, and require shipping or handling or the cost of gas to drive to the store in person. You can also misplace them or discover your pet has used them as a toy.

So what do you think? E-books, print, or a combination of both?