Browsing and Discovery of Books in the Digital Age
Two of the largest technical publishing book conferences have just finished their sessions as of last week, Digital Book World in January and Tools of Change this past week. I attended neither but I paid attention to the articles and tweets that were written of and around the conferences. There did not appear to be much optimism nor was there much innovation. The one large question that loomed before publishers is how do they get readers to buy their books.
It used to be that publishers could essentially make a book popular by buying ads and placement in stores. Remember that everything in the store, even the bestseller lists in some retail places like grocery stores and Wal-Mart, were for sale. For a price, a publisher could position their book in the front of the store, face out, on an end cap, and so forth. It was through heightened in store placement that many books achieved success.
With the decline of in store placement due to the closure of Borders (which made up nearly a quarter of sales for some books), reduction of titles carried by Wal-mart, and retail space at Barnes & Noble replaced by nook promotions, in store book discovery is declining for many titles. There is simply less space that can be physically devoted to new books.
Further, with digital book sales increasing from 20-30% this year to likely over half by the end of the year, more customers will be discovering books in new ways. And that is the challenge for authors, publishers, and readers.
How to find a new, good book in the age of digital books.
It’s a question that we’ve addressed previously here at Dear Author. Many readers still go to the bookstore and browse the shelves. Others rely upon word of mouth which includes twitter, facebook, goodreads, and the plain old email service. Others sign up for newsletters, whether it is from authors, publishers or retailers. Still others belong to message boards at Amazon or B&N.
Finding a good book is a challenge. I’m constantly on the look out but I hate reading excerpts because excerpt reading can be time consuming. I recall one night, I spent about two hours downloading and then reading excerpts. That’s a hassle.
I try to go for recommendations from online friends, but sadly, they invariably recommend books I’ve already read. Lately I’ve been trying the recommendations suggested by Goodreads but without much success.
Mostly I try to read as many reviews as possible for a book I’m interested in and even then I’m only batting about 25% in the “decent read” game which is frustrating. I’d much rather bat 70% meaning 3 out of 4 books I purchase are decent reads. I think my low success rate, though, comes from being more adventurous in what I am trying to read. Back in the paper days, I bought primarily authors known to me and then by cover and blurb. But even back then I recall being overwhelmed by choice, with the covers all kind of running together in some big blur.
One thing I would like to see is a place where I could sign up for newsletters that would send me the author, title, blurb and link to an excerpt from specific publishers, authors, and/or tropes. Like I would love to receive an alert for every sports book, every friends to lovers romance released once a month in my inbox. There doesn’t seem to be anything like that. I’m keeping up a list of popular new releases but it is by no means exhaustive and it isn’t sorted by genre or trope.
Sometimes I’ve spent so much time trying to figure out what to read that by the time I’ve picked a book out, I’m too sleepy to read (much of my “discovery” is happening late at night after tot has been put to bed). Ned relies mainly on me and for him, I’m asking my fantasy reading friends what to read. Word of mouth is definitely the best and most reliable source of good reads. But beyond that, how does a book gain your attention and what are you doing to increase the “decent read” hit? Have your browsing and discovery habits changed from when you used to buy print books? What is one thing that authors, publishers could be doing better to bring books to your attention?
I read things that have been reviewed on DA that I think I might like. I realise this is no help to you at all.
Personally I rely a lot more on word of mouth but also good reviews from people I trust. I look online, I look for how many people have said good things abotu a book and why they have. with the internet, word of mouth seems so much larger than ever before
Has my “good book” ratio decreased? Yes, certainly, but being a nearly 100% e-reader reader now, I find I’m more inclined to take a risk with a book. Before, when it was paper and physically going to the shops (or even amazon orders), I used to take a lot of effort making sure sure sure I wanted THAT book and I’d be very disappointed if I got a duffer. I re-read a lot more books than I bought now
There’s something so… quick about the e-reader. I find I make more whimsical purchases – heard something decent? Doesn’t look half bad? I’ll give it a go. Especially ESPECIALLY if the price is reasonable for an ebook
But isn’t Goodreads word of mouth? I realize that not everyone’s taste is the same on there, but once you find a group of friends that shares your type of book, I would imagine that you could trust their reviews. I especially like Goodreads long reviews, where the reviewer takes their time and really explains what they like.
I invariably go straight to the negative reviews, because I want to know if anything in there is going to bug me, and then I start reading the positive reviews. (3 stars first, 4 stars next), but if it is on a friend’s reading list. If I know the person the rec has come from, I usually buy the book and I’m almost 90% of the time happy with the purchase.
One of the best parts about Goodreads is the shelving. I think if there could be a search on there for certain shelves (category romance: jock/nerd etc) than it’d be perfect for me. As it is, I just read through reviews.
Jane, could part of this frustration be the string of bad self-publishing efforts that you’ve had recently?
I can’t really see much of a difference between digital browsing and bookstore browsing (content-wise I mean. The experience of holding a book in you hands is incomparable, but for browsing, is what I mean). You still have the cover and blurb and there’s the availability of search and specific categories as well in the digital stores.
Or you could be like us, and read review sites (=D How unhelpful was that?)
Until recently, I mainly discovered new authors through the library ( until Overdrive forced Singapore library to close their loophole :( ) and bargains. I must admit that I preferred the library, since it allowed me to sample books before buying. In the future I think I’ll explore indie books by established authors more, since it allows me to sample authors without paying a fortune.
I read mystery and the genre as a whole right now is excellent in delivering some original and fantastic stories of late so I haven’t run into very many duds. I like to browse…online late at night but that has decreased since NONE of the major retail stores have a decent search engine that can filter out all of the self-pub books that heavily dominates the search results. NONE seem to offer search by…publication date. It’s hard to find new titles right now and that is a problem since most of the retail stores I frequent offer shitty search. Most sponsored ads like at the Sony Reader store don’t interest me in the least. I’ve quit bothering to find new titles and have just basically stuck to the authors I enjoy reading. Maybe if publishers set up a spectacular website and list all the titles, blurbs, etc that would be nice. I can see how this a challenge for them to reach readers, they need to start by demanding better user interface at some of these retail stores (not sure if they can do much about that).
Word of mouth is still best though.
I read more review sites and blogs these days and pay more attention to Amazon’s “People Who Bought… Also Bought” feature. When I read reviews on Amazon or other commercial sites I scan the top comments and then read the worst rated reviews first. If they complain about issues I consider trivial or are not consistent in what they criticize I feel more confident in the quality of the book. On the other hand, if the negative reviews consistently criticize an aspect of the writing or plot that would be important to me, I’m likely to move on to another book.
I find the major publishers’ sites to be uninformative and difficult to navigate, so I rarely check them out. They either throw too many potential titles at the visitor (their entire catalog) or not enough (where are the books?). The publishers could do a much better job of pointing readers towards the books they will enjoy.
One thing I miss about browsing physical book stores is the cover art. I used to pick up a lot of books because of their artwork. A good cover can tell you a lot about the book at a glance — the tone of the book, major characters, important tropes, etc. And there seems to be a correlation between higher quality books and higher quality cover art, I imagine because the publishers are more willing to go the extra mile for books they consider especially well written. So many ebooks, though, even the exceptionally good ones, have covers that are cobbled together from stock photos, and they all end up looking more or less the same. It’s frustrating.
eek! no edit button – but I also wanted to add that blogs have become very important to me in highlighting upcoming books and good reads. I’m open to ideas on how to keep up with new books as well. I subscribe to one newsletter which is excellent for mystery readers (Stop, You’re Killing Me) and why I like it is that they discuss new releases and also discuss what books they’ve been reading and enjoying.
I can add nothing to what has already been thrown out there. I depend on reader and review site blogs that I have come to have confidence in the recommendations. I keep an eye on friends, follows, and some romance groups at Goodreads.
One lucky thing for me is that there was a big slice of books I missed out on in the 90s along with some staples of the genre from earlier. I have several great used bookshops near me and supplement my ereading with print copies of old Signet regencies and other books that are on people’s keeper shelves. My favorite bookshop lady has been pimping me books for 20 years now.
I am responsible for discovery/word of mouth for only a few other people. The middle to low end of the discovery chain is a pretty good place to be. I think you, Jane, have the unhappy task of being Captain Janeway exploring and mapping the alpha quadrant for the rest of us (pardon my trek).
The best way for me to find out about upcoming books from an author I follow is an up-to-date “Coming Soon” page on the author website. It sucks when the upcoming books page is 2 or 3 years old.
DA and SBTB have been good resources for me in the past. I now know the reviewers who have similar tastes to me and almost always agree with their recommendations.
If a book sounds too good to be true and I can’t find a review at a trusted review sitee, I go to Amazon and Goodreads to see what others say. I go straight to the 2 and 3 star reviews for the dislikes and if there is something that hits a hot button for me, I stay away. After being burned too many times, I tend to avoid anything with all 5 star reviews.
Excerpts can be helpful since I don’t care for first person and can see if it contains grammar/spelling issues, which will most likely keep me away.
I still have my list of favorite authors, albeit a much shorter list now than in years past since many of my favorites have stopped writing.
I use blogs I trust to bring new-to-me authors to my attention.
I use the catalogs on various publishing sites to look at covers, author, blurb. Sadly, not many maintain this feature, but Penguin and Random House do.
I was using Amazon more, but nowadays when I search an author’s name and sort by publishing date books by many other authors also display. Their search feature has become somewhat useless.
I’m about 65% digital overall now, and 100% digital for new to me authors. I suppose browsing on-line isn’t really more time consuming than the old days of starting with A and browsing through Borders bookshelves, but it’s not as much fun to me. Not sure why that is. I also seem to do much of my browsing late at night.
I have been trying to use the wishlist feature more. But I have multiple lists now (at Sony, ARe, Harlequin, etc) so not sure how much that’s actually helping me to keep track of possibilities.
I read mostly ebooks. My preferred genres are speculative fiction (fantasy, sci fi, paranormal) and romance (preferrably gay). I have always found the gay romance novels via online review sites like Jessereview, here, and a couple of others. Sometimes I take a quick look at the epublishers new release pages. So, making their books available for review helps.
I do still read paper books, but mostly if they are graphic novels or unavailable in digital format. For more my more mainstream novels, I mainly used to discover new books and writers via the public library. Since the bigger publishers have made it their business to make mainstream ebooks less and less available (or unavailable) via public libraries, there is really not much they can do to attract me as a reader other than to reverse those policies and to stop fixing prices.
I’ve never found another reader whose tastes are reliably compatible with mine, so I make decisions based entirely on excerpts. I do my sample reading on the web site itself; Amazon often has “search inside” and BN often has an excerpt posted. If I get two sentences in and decide I hate it, I can move on immediately without having cluttered up my device. If the book’s publisher hasn’t allowed that sample… oops, no chance of a sale there. There’s plenty for me to choose from right where I am, so motivation to go hunt for an excerpt on the publisher’s or author’s site doesn’t exist.
I wonder if the dwindling like-ratio with books is just the product of becoming jaded. I go through periods of abandoning a genre entirely when I feel like I’ve read everything fifty times before and every new book feels like a lower-quality derivitive. If I take a break for two or three years (or ten from romance, which evolves sloooooooooooooooooooooooowly), there’s been enough turnover in authors and editors and fads that at least a few of the books feel new and exciting (or the overpowering trend has gone in a direction I don’t like and I need to remain estranged from that genre for a few more years, which has also happened).
Of course, “try taking a break from the genre” isn’t terribly practical when you have a review site dedicated primarily to that genre, but I don’t know how practical it is to carry on when you know 75% of what you’re reading isn’t even meeting “decent” criteria.
Happily I can say that I’m not very adventurous with my reading choices anymore. I like what I like and I’m not looking to expand my choices because of advertising or on-line buzz. Books are too expensive and it’s much too disappointing when they don’t live up to the hype.
I purchase by author. I have approximately 15 authors that are auto-buys for me and I’ll buy whatever they write until their writing is no longer enjoyable.
I purchase new-to-me authors by trope. For that I depend on review sites like this one. The books don’t have to get a rave review- if I think the story might work for me I’ll try it.
I don’t pay any attention at all to covers because I’ve found that the best covers can hold the worst books, so I may look but I don’t buy.
I’m more particular about the historical mysteries and cozy mysteries I buy since I’m more critical of those then I am of the romance genre and because the mystery category is (hard to believe) generally more expensive then even the romance books.
Still my book buying budget equals the grocery bill.
Sorry, can’t help!
I use, with some success, the new releases list for Kindle at Amazon. There are free books, self-published, and mainstream books all listed and, if people are rating the books, the ratings are there. It’s a quick and easy way to see what is new, electronic, and possibly interesting.
I do the same thing as Patricia with Amazon reviews, and agree with the others who discussed issues with browsing for books on ebook sites – getting hits for other authors, not being able to sort by date/price, etc are all frustrating.
I don’t buy books based on browsing at bookstores. I’m cheap enough that I don’t want to waste money on books only to not like them, so I take note of the book and borrow it from the library. If it’s not available at the library, then I’ll do some more research on it (check amazon, blog reviews, etc) and put it on my book list to buy when there’s a sale or when I’m looking for something new to read. Covers do nothing for me (probably because some of my favorite romance novels once had awful covers? Not sure). I do the same thing for ebooks – library first, then purchase if my research makes the book more appealing.
I rarely go to Goodreads or publisher sites. With review sites that I trust, I read both the review and other users’ comments on the book before buying, and might look into further reviews if it looks like the book has a plot point I won’t enjoy but the reviewer is avoiding mention of it for spoilers. I will also check the authors site for additional information.
As for what publishers/authors can do to get my attention, I’m not sure, but to keep my attention they must have a good website. It must have easily accessible information on their books (which should be obvious, but if the site is out of date or full of flash gimmicks, forget it, I have lost interest). I also want to know if the books are part of a series and if the series has a set number of books planned or is open-ended. Book trailers, games, contests, etc are not interesting because they rarely tell me anything beyond what is in the book blurb or excerpt, so they don’t work as promotional tools for me.
This is one of my biggest pet peeves ever! It’s actually what first brought me to DA; I googled “authors like Jennifer Crusie”, and ta da!
@Library Addict- I do the same thing at amazon- author’s name, sort by publication date- and now do get other authors coming up. It’s a pain in the ass when you just want to find out about a specific author, but at times when I’m randomly looking for something new, I tend to find that a more accurate choice of similar authors than the “If you like this, you may like…” algorithm.
Like others, I find publishers websites absolutely useless unless I’m looking for a specific author or book (and often useless even then). They’re pimping their entire catalog, which is entirely unhelpful in letting me find something new that I know I’ll like. At one point I got so desperate that I downloaded excerpts for every book published by Samhain within the last year. I ended up with 3 authors I’m still reading, and ~10-15 books I enjoyed. Not a great return on the time involved.
The epubs, by virtue of being more store-like, have slightly better sorting than the “big 6”, but also have the same problems as the main retailers (Amazon, B&N, etc.), which @Keiyshon already mentioned- horrible, horrible user interface, terrible search options, extremely limited sorting, etc. I’ve been talking about this for years with friends who are programmers. The next major innovation that is desperately needed is a change in interface. Until that happens, a simple improvement in sorting and search function would make a huge difference, and I would absolutely love a monthly e-mail like the one you mentioned!
I don’t like goodreads, the B&N or Amazon discussion boards, etc. I’ve tried things like http://www.literature-map.com but not found them particularly useful. Like many others, the public library used to be my main source for discovering new authors, and my spending on new authors from the big 6 has majorly decreased with so little library e-book lending. I primarily rely on DA, SBTB, and recommendations authors post on their blogs to find new authors.
I’ve got two questions for you- any chance of reviving the “If you like” post series? Either by author or trope? I did find those really helpful. And any chance of putting the Recommended Reads into some sort of list or chart that could then be sorted as readers wish (trope, pub, author, etc)? Brings us back to interface again and what would be most accessible, and I’ve obviously got no clue…
(Sorry this is so long. Like I said, MAJOR pet peeve. One I’ve obviously spent lots of time thinking about, lol.)
I rarely listen to a recommendation for a book unless it’s someone I know personally (usually a relative.) But I’m generally satisfied with my purchases and with my reading experiences.
If I’m considering a book, I’ll check out reviews, mostly at Goodreads. I like to read positive and negative reviews to get a better sense of the book.
I also read sample chapters whenever possible, mainly to get a sense of what the author’s voice and style are like.
Overall, I am at least satisfied with most books I buy, but I suspect I’m probably a lot more selective than some readers in the first place.
Aside from the library, bookstores, goodreads and review sites, I use fantasticfiction.co.uk. When you browse books there’s a useful ‘similar books by other authors’ feature on the bottom of the page.
for example – http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/m/marissa-meyer/cinder.htm
One of the advantages (and disadvantages) of being a writer is that I get to know newer authors. Several authors went on my “auto buy” list with their first book and I’ve been loyal ever since.
I’m author loyal rather than publisher or genre loyal. But even being author loyal, I can be particular about the stuff I read.
As a reader, I have trends I go through. Right now, I’m loving my erotic science fiction. As an author, I’m totally stumped on how to “reach readers”. So, this is a timely and excellent question for all of us.
I really like your comments about a search engine. Publishers, especially epublishers, should take note.
I read (almost) exclusively ebooks for romance, and I read so many of them that keeping my TBR folder filled with decent reads is a serious challenge. I’ve been reading a lot of m/m and it’s really hard to discover good, new-to-me authors. Sometimes it feels like I spend more time reading excerpts to find something worth buying than I do reading actual books.
I’d love an email delivered directly to my inbox of with blurbs of books featuring my favorite tropes. That sounds like book discovery nirvana. Without such a thing, I rely on all the things that other people have listed. Following people on twitter who like the same kinds of books I do has led to some great discoveries. I’ve read so much in my favorite niches that Amazon is basically useless to me now. The “other customers have purchased” option just lists books I’ve also read, or have rejected as not for me.
One thing I do love is the monthly email from Goodreads that lists new releases from authors whose books I’ve previously placed on my Goodreads shelves. That is a great source of promo and leads to a lot of pre-orders from me.
Plus, I depend heavily on reviews here for recommendations for new authors (hello, Courtney Milan!). I can’t use Goodreads, because I have metered internet and it’s a major bandwidth hog.
Right now I’ve got something of a backlog of authors to try, but I’m spending my time re-reading old favorites like Lois Bujold’s Chalion books and her Sharing Knife books. I’ve had a string of dud books, and I know Bujold never disappoints.
With luck, Celebrity in Death will break me out of my slump when it comes out on Tuesday.
I just can’t stop ;)
@Holly- I totally agree with you about what authors can do to get my attention. I know author websites have been discussed here before, but many authors still seem to be missing the important points- clear and easily accessible book information are the number one most important thing. I don’t care about videos, photos, blogs, twitter, etc. if I can’t figure out what book you’ve written.
I’ve also found the AAR lists- http://likesbooks.com/lists.html – to be somewhat helpful for specific plots, and they are carefully moderated, but they are fairly out of date, and are limited in terms of publisher/writing style/etc. Anyone know of a broader or more up to date resource that is similar?
I love e-browsing. Sit back with some coffee and click through pages of potential books. I browse using tags which I’ve found incredibly time saving. Amazon, ARe are great for drilling down to a trope or type of book, then I’m usually left with a more manageable pool of books to look through. I also totally use Goodreads for the same reason. But I still buy like I did before e-books: cover catches my eye, I’ll read the blurb, then the excerpt. If I’m still undecided, then reviews. I’m in the group that looks at 1 star reviews first, then maybe 3/4 star reviews.
I have used Novelist and Fiction Connection, subscription databases that many public libraries offer to their cardholders. These might not work well if you are only interested in new releases or if you are into category romance or self-published. Another idea is to search for “reader’s advisory” and variations. And Fyrefly created a book blog search engine that is useful for review-gathering. Safavieh CY2727-3409-210 Courtyard Collection Safavieh CY2727-3409-210 Courty Safavieh CY2727-3409-210 Courtyard Collection ard Collection
For me it’s a multi-step process.
Step 1. First, if I’ve consistently enjoyed the author’s last few books, chances are I’ll like their newest as well. But if the author is new to me, I rely on word of mouth/buzz.
Step 2. Second, I consider the source of the word of mouth. Have this person’s recommendations consistently worked out for me in the past? Is the recommending person’s taste similar to mine? Does the recommendation come from more than one source?
Step 3. The more these are the cases, the more likely I’ll enjoy the book, but even if so, I still take into account whether the genre/plot/setting/tropes are ones I often love or ones I’m lukewarm on.
Step 4. But even then, based on these factors alone, I rarely purchase a book by a new-to-me author without trying an excerpt first.
Step 5. And even if I like the excerpt, it’s not a guarantee I’ll buy it but depends on library availability or price vs. how much I want to read the book.
The same as everyone else – blogs, reviewers who themselves read interesting stuff & occasionally Radio 4. Talking to other readers.
What I haven’t found a way to do is to find the stuff I don’t read. For example, I was in my local Waterstones over Christmas, and while waiting for the children to finish browsing idly picked up a book only because it had a bright yellow cover. Read the first couple of pages, was hooked (it had pictures!) and bought it. It was, as it happened, a biography of an unfamous mathematician (‘The genius in my basement’ by Alexander Masters) and it turned out to be an enjoyable read. In a bookshop, you can do that, but how can you get there online? I don’t read biographies, I’ve no interest in mathematicians (or basements) – I wouldn’t look for, or read a review of the book. How do you accidentally encounter an ebook?
The thing I’d like would be an independent virtual bookshop: not like Amazon, which has everything, but one with a hand-picked collection of all kinds of books – diverse, but kept small enough to be of browsable proportions.
I think book blogs like this one are becoming the new gatekeepers, not so much for what gets published as for what gets read (and thus what sells well). Because I read almost exclusively on my Kindle, I often check sites like Books on the Knob for bargains, and I use eReaderIQ to alert me when a backlist book I want to reread comes out on the Kindle. I also use that site to alert me when a book I am interested in drops in price on the Kindle. It’s very handy. I hear about new books and new authors from blogs, from friends’ recommendations, and from Twitter. Regardless of how I hear about it. I always rely on the free sample function when I don’t know the author’s work.
Like Janine, I have a multi-step process
For Discovery I….
1) ….am on a couple of ‘alert’ lists that will let me know when a book by a favorite author is coming out.
2) ….peruse several blogs like this one and a few others to see what the bloggers are reviewing/listing. I have about 12 blogs I routinely check.
3)…. check out My friends’ update feed on GR
4)…do a ‘by publication date’ search on fantastic.fiction.uk
For buying probability, though I pretty much rely on reviews almost exclusively. And I try to read them everywhere, the blogs, Amazon, GR. I love reviews that include a better synopsis than what is on the back of the book. I also like longer ones that talk about the book to include what does and doesn’t work. Or what bugged. I also try to read an equal # or low & High star reviews.
Finally if I am really thinking about buying I’ll go the excerpt route.
In the end, though, even if I have done all the above whether or not a book is truly successful really depends on how I feel after I close the book. There is no guarantee even with great reviews from trusted friends, favorite authors etc. But at least after 30+ years of reading and knowing what I like, I think I hit more than I miss.
Since I don’t have many opportunities to do in-store browsing, or even in-library browsing (my local public library is the saddest little place ever – I own most everything they have that I’d want to read), I have a few methods for narrowing down the huge number of books for sale to just the ones I want to buy.
As far as print goes, I buy used books if something about the cover art and back cover blurb catches my interest. I buy new only for authors I know I like, with the only exception being Harlequins, which tend to be cheap enough (reduced price at Walmart) to make me more willing to take risks.
As far as e-books go, my initial strategies tend to be 1) read reviews, 2) focus on the ones where I like the cover art, and/or 3) focus on particular publishers. Then I narrow down even further based on descriptions, excerpts, and (if I didn’t initially choose the books based on reviews) detailed comments from Goodreads and other sources. Price is one of the last considerations. If the post-sale or no-sale price is over $6, the book will probably sit in my wishlist for a long time.
I don’t go through the above process for e-books quite as often anymore, because I’ve since found a lot of authors I enjoy, and several of them are prolific enough that I don’t yet own all the books of theirs I’d like to own. Also, I’ve figured out after buying a few stinkers that I really have to reality check my “ooh pretty” reaction to cover art.
My first step of ebrowsing is to judge a book by its cover (bad, I know, but that’s sort of what they are there for) – it’s a telling sign of how much effort went into the book overall. If you took the time to edit your book, you probably care enough to put a nice cover on it (particularly important when I browse self-published novels).
I have become much more reliant on blogs as well, though I do prefer the more professional ones such as DA and not so much the new, single-reviewer sites.
I’ve found that Goodreads can be a much better source if you use the Groups forums. You can much more easily find readers with similar reading preferences when you join a Group specifically devoted to a genre, subtends, or even subsubgenre.
I have found, over the years, that I like to follow not just authors, but also editors. I have repeatedly tried new authors who have the same editor as another favorite author, and find myself with a new favorite. I would love to see publishers list books not only by author, but also by editor. That way I know I’m getting a quality book and I feel better about paying for a new-to-me author.
I also like the idea of getting newsletters telling me about new releases, sorted by genre. Borders used to have little flyers you could pick up each month that listed romances by genre and release date, making it easier to plan ahead.
My romance reading group has an almost voracious appetite for new authors. Fortunately we are on several publisher mailing lists and get bookmarks and occasionally, advanced reading copies. Also, three of our members regularly judge contests and usually request the first book category if such is available. We know each other’s reading tastes/habits very well so we’re able to say “take this, you’ll love it” or “not for you.”
Another advantage (I hope) is the fact that as an author, I sometimes have different sources to help us find new/new to us authors.
I don’t have friends who read romance, so I don’t get many word of mouth suggestions. I either stick to authors I know, or try new authors from the library, or if the price is really low. DA introduced me to several authors, too.
My library e-lending is a good source. The “recent returns” tend to be a random collection of books and sometimes something looks interesting, even if it is a genre I’d never otherwise read (Latest was non-fiction about large-scale commercial tomato growers).
Amazon’s others-have-bought is good, too, although when it was first implemented, I bought a book of crochet snowflake patterns, a biography of Truman, and a Lonely Planet guide to Bulgaria and I got an others-have-bought recommendation of the Joy of Sex and an Italian cookbook. I think the iBookstore is awful. It might be getting publisher promotions, but it’s a lot easier to walk by a display of the latest Patterson best seller than to scroll through it on an iThing.
I also meet authors through the used book swap.
I haven’t found an e-bookstore that lets you browse by subject in any useful way. Unlike a bookshelf, where you can see the total selection, with an e-bookstore, it’s hard to tell if you didn’t find anything you wanted because it wasn’t there, or because you didn’t put in the right search terms.
My whispersync doesn’t work, so I have to download via my computer, which is fine for books, but I’m not going through the effort for excerpts.
I wouldn’t mind a site with a list of 5 sentence reviews, but I don’t want them from publishers, whatever dreck they publish will get a glowing blurb.
Like Janine, I have a multi-step process that relies a lot on blogs and review sites, but like Marianne McA, I find that what I miss using my process are the new-to-me genres/authors/books. There used to be a Borders very close to my house, and I visited almost every week. I browsed the books on the shelves, the books on the tables of newly-released titles, the books in the sale bins, in short, the books everywhere. Serendipity happened, and I often walked out of the store with books I hadn’t even known existed when I walked in. Online I’m much more cautious, because even with the ability to read an excerpt, it often isn’t quite enough for me to tell if I want to buy. Also, not sure why, but I find browsing online is far more tiring and time-consuming than picking up and putting down a physical book. As a result, I’ve bought far more books of all types at the UBS, because I can still browse. I regret that authors get no royalties from these purchases, but I have discovered some new-to-me authors and gone on to buy their other books new, so I don’t feel completely guilty.
I really enjoy reading Regency trads. Some of them are being re-published as e-books, others are being re-released in paper and e. Here’s how I decide what to buy altho I mostly buy used or friends send me books).
1. I look the book up here: http://www.thenonesuch.com/abooks.htm Sometimes I get lucky and there’s a descriptive word or two beyond the very terse plot summary. Sometimes there isn’t even a summary … it happens. This is not an active website: but it’s up-to-date for my needs (i.e., the trads published before 2000.
2. Next I go here to see if there’s a review here. Frank, honest, informed, sometimes wry reviews. What trad lover could ask for more — http://hibiscus-sinensis.com/regency/
3. I see if DA or AAR or AMZ or goodreads has a review.
4. I ask on twitter.
That’s it. Sometimes I wonder if it’s because I’m pursuing books that are no longer being written or published. Everyone agrees on what’s being described. I’ve read reviews of new books described as Historical Romances that I would not so label.
With every other genre/trope, I do what everyone else does. A reader’s best friend is a group of friends who review. They lead me to wonderful new authors and help me avoid authors that wouldn’t click with me. Especially for new authors, I check and check some more and try to eliminate the voices that are not particularly helpful for my needs.
My friends generally read different things from me (and no one I know reads romance….) so I don’t find books from word of mouth.
For romance, I depend mainly on review sites, such as DA. I look at goodreads and amazon reviews too. For women’s and general fiction, I browse in the bookstore as well. I actually found a really good book about a year ago just from browsing…but this is somewhat rare. I’ve read a lot of good books lately, so this seems to be going not to badly.
I’m pretty young, so the entire time I’ve been an adult, I’ve been able to look at reviews online. not sure what I did when I was a kid…I think I was generally introduced to authors either through the books I got as presents, or at school.
I base my buying decisions almost entirely on Goodreads these days. The Amazon forum is too conservative for my tastes, AAR needs to get a big girl website that doesn’t remind me of the AOL days, Amazon reviews are all suspected sockpuppets (especially the 5* ones, and anything that says “this should be made into a movie!”), SBTB doesn’t review books anymore, and publisher sites are all fancier than usable.
I don’t read many of the sub-genres DA reads, but I generally buy the HPs Jane likes, almost always without reading a sample, and it works out well for me. Anything else that catches my eye here sends me to Goodreads to see what the consensus is amongst my friends. Most of the time, if a book looks interesting and my friends liked it, I buy without reading a sample. If I’m flying solo – trying a book that my friends haven’t read – I read Kindle samples on my PC. But, chances are I found the book on Goodreads.
Wow, I think I’m the only person that uses the library as the sole gate keeper. I’ll take out anything that catches my eye, cover, blurb, author, genre. It’s a free look at everything. When I later glom onto an author, then I buy them when they come out (in paperback). Amazon and Goodreads often lead me in a big circle where all the recommended books are books I’ve either read or rejected already. I don’t have a dedicated e-reader but from time to time will read on my phone – for that I download the Kindle free bestsellers (has been a big disappointment so far) – but when I’m in the car wash, without a paper book, what’s a girl to do?
Jane, I haven’t read through all the posts so it’s possible someone else has suggested this. But maybe a new feature each month could be a list of new release books that feature common/sought after tropes? Before publishing each month you could ask readers and authors and publishers to pitch titles for the various categories, then compile into a list. I realise this requires more work for you – or someone who takes this on on DA’s behalf – but apart from Smart Bitches and Good Reads, I can’t think of a site positioned better to do this. And it would be so helpful – there are so many books out there, and it’s harder and harder to find those gems. For myself, I get a lot of my reading recommends from friends and DA and Smart Bitches. If a review intrigues me, I’ll go read it. If I see a lot of feedback for an author, I’ll go read it. I’ve had a pretty decent strike rate with this technique. But by far my best strike rate is simply waiting until the authors I love have a book out and buying it, no matter what. Unfortunately, this quite extensive list of ladies don’t seem to write fast enough for my reading pace. What’s up with that?
Jane, has Ned read Patrick Rothfuss starting with Name of the Wind? I was surprised at how much I liked it because it’s not really a big action-y fantasy, which normally get me. It was also interesting to read NotW along with Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. They are similar…and yet decidedly not.
As for finding new books, I just saw an ad on Goodreads: “From the publishers of The Hunger Games.” I really wonder if that’s a selling point to many readers.
I still consider myself a browser, only unlike at the bookstore or library, it’s easier for me to find a particular category, if that’s what I feel like (werewolves, menage, etc). If I want something and I don’t have an auto buy author with a recent release, I visit several epubs directly, and ARe. Once in a while I will try Amazon, but I have always detested their searches. At the epubs, I browse the new releases. At ARe, I usually start by browsing the best sellers and best rated. If I still haven’t found something, I start looking through their categories. I do shop by excerpt, but if that leaves me unsure, I might check ratings, comments or reviews.
Let me just say “here here” to checking out the three and four star reviews. They seem to tell me more about the pros and cons of a book than the five star ones. The five star reviews generally sound like, “SQUEEE, Sparkly vampires are sooo HAWT!” which while amusing is not very helpful when deciding if I want to spend my hard earned cash, and even harder earned free time on a book. Mostly I rely on sites like DA and SBTB for new author/book recs, and I browse based on reviews on Amazon. I might download a sample if the reviews and the blurb sound intriguing, rarely a well written blurb will get me to try a sample in absence of reviews. Part of my problem is that I don’t have a particular trope or genre that’s my go to favorite. I’ll read anything from historical to sci-fi. The occasional paranormal, suspense, etc doesn’t hurt either. Sometimes it just feels like I’m shooting in the dark with a gun that doesn’t shoot straight at a moving target while blindfolded.
Let me just say wow, some of you ladies do a fair bit of research when looking for things to read. I think part of the reason I stick to a few blogs and amazon is because I’m browsing from my phone more often than not, which limits how much effort I’m willing to put in.
I think that is a terrific idea, Sarah. We could do one a week or one a month. One of the commenters upthread mentioned that they enjoyed the If You Like series. I love that series too and I would love to have other readers submit one for posting. I’d even pay for it! Readers contact me: jane @ dear author.com
@Jessa Slade Yes, he has. Actually he started reading the Stieg Larrson books and he’s on book 2. He is really enjoying them so I have bought a couple of Jo Nesbo books that await his reading pleasure. He’s about a 3 week a book reader.
I personally haven’t used a physical bookstore (or Target, etc.) do discover new books to read in over a decade and even then I seldom did. Same with the library. Since the late 90’s/early 2000’s I’ve used discussion forums (like SFF World, SFF Chronicles UK, etc.), blogs and reviews on various store sites to find new stuff to read. Amazon’s recommendations used to be another place I’d go through and find things to check out (not as much anymore) with decent results. I used to write down things that sounded like something I wanted to read in a small notebook and then hit Half Price books, etc. to see what I could find. Now I try samples and stuff, but my main problem nowadays is that there’s too much stuff I want to read and not enough time. I’ve discovered so much since going digital in ’07 that wasn’t really out there or available to me before. I acquire more books all the time and if I stopped today I’d still be set for years (and I read 300-400 books a year).
One thing that put a dampener on my browsing/shopping now is the huge number of self pubbed books coming out all the time. There’s some great self pubbed stuff coming out, but the good to crap ratio at least for me has been heavily in the favor of crap and so I have a harder and harder time going to self pubs when looking for what to read next, unless it’s an author I have previous experience with. I wish that there was a way to know ahead of time if a self-pubbed book was a re-issue of something old (authors rarely tell you in the books description), if it was edited by someone who knows what they’re doing (not that it always makes a difference), etc. I guess for the most part I still stick to known publishers because I’ve hit too many bad ones when going through the massive slush pile that is KDP, PubIt, etc.
Lately, my ‘decent’ reading books have gone up to a super enjoyable rate. It’s all because a friend created a secret Facebook group and added about 50 people who love to read, and they all added their friends, and then some of our favorite indy authors got added… and now someone reads a great book, does an amazing review, and it starts a chain reaction. It feels nice because the rest of my FB friends can’t see it and only the true book lovers can! Right now most of it is YA and paranormal stuff which is why I’m on that type of kick but I love it. The books are cheap and we also created a Lending group for our Kindle & Nook so we can try and save on costs for who is reading what, as well as encouraging people to join Lendle.me.
Plus recommendations from Twitter and GoodReads are helping. So lately, it’s all about recommendations for me.
A few amazing ones I’ve read lately from my online book club:
Double Clutch (Brenna Blixen, #1)
Junk Miles (Brenna Blixen)
Angelfall (from Jane L!)
Thoughtless & Effortless
On the Island
Beautiful Disaster (I know, not everyone loved it!)
Fifty Shades (same thing!)
The Bronze Horseman (Tatiana and Alexander, #1)
A few that I have TOREAD from that:
Inescapable (The Premonition #1)
While He Was Away
I have about ten must buy authors & about another 30 that I follow . My first stop is FictionDAtaBase, where I scroll through the new releases. Then next is Amazon, to see what they have added that I might like What I find there goes on “to buy” spreadsheet. At both of these sites, they do a wonderful job of listing any new authors in the genres I read.
Then I subscribe to Rt, check out the reviews. Also check reviews on Goodreads, and Amazon. Word of mouth is wonderful. I have at least a dozen reading friends and we all toss around ideas for books others may be interested in. The RT boards have a favorites and readers round table where a lot of recommendations are shared.
I have had no problems finding new authors, or new books by old favorites. I have tons of author friends on Facebook, that have contests and new book info. To make a long story short, I could easily spend all day online book hunting! That’s part if the fun of being a book addict…..the hunt!
@Jane: I too loved the “If you like” series! Would be great to see more of it.
Personally, I would especially love an “If you like” for “light” BDSM romance without toys, clubs, dungeons, exhibitionism, contracts or, heck, even the term BDSM! Bonus points if it’s a historical romance.
Oh, or just a basic “If you like” high angst/strong internal conflict/great characterizations historical romance.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve got a whole shelf of books that I bought after reading reviews here at DA…everything from “The Good Mayor” to “All They Need”. I can be equally seduced by a good cover, an interesting-sounding situation, and word-of-mouth, the last of which (thankfully) is something no publisher has yet been able to perfectly commodify. They can put a book in front of as many people as they want, but they can’t make people talk about it. The story has to do that, on its own.
I’ve managed to find a few new favourite authors by taking part in the annual AAR reading challenge for the past few years (this year it’s “12 in 2012”). I always stumble on someone I’ve never read before whose book I really enjoy.
And every now and then I like to go to the bookstore, to a middle shelf, and pick a book sitting there all by itself, with only its spine out instead of its cover, whose publisher didn’t buy it co-op or placement, and give it a chance…because I know behind that book is an author who poured her whole soul into that story, and might otherwise miss her chance to be read and discovered. (I’m all for the underdog, in any race).
BTW Jane, has Ned ever read Guy Gavriel Kay’s “Under Heaven”? http://amzn.to/xMNI57
I think that sites like Dear Author will become more and more important as time goes on specifically for this reason. Readers want to know that the quality is there before they start reading a book. With the advent of eBooks, it’s also much easier to screen for specific “types” of books. As a writer just starting out, I’m learning that it’s much easier to get an audience if I tag my book with very specific tags – for example, if someone wants to read a gay cowboy western romance first time encounter, I’d better have that as one of my tags! The sites that make tagging easy for readers to use will be the sites that make readers happy.
. . . and of course, when they want a new kind of recommendation, they’ll come to you!
What is the huge difference between Goodreads and blogs like this one? One thing I can see, there’s a plethora of reviews on Goodreads. This site can only do so many and have the reviews actually read. Like any social media, Goodreads has good and bad qualities. To me the most important aspect is the ability to track friends’ reviews. I love how different people will put in a comment thread “oh this would be perfect for _____” or “This definitely shouldn’t be rec’d to ____”. That’s what reading is about.
Along with Goodreads are the hundreds of blogs and ofc all the social networking sites. I cannot see how browsing in the digital age is anything but easier, though not as rewarding, I have to admit, as siting down in a book store, curling into their recliner and reading bits and pieces of books.
I wonder how stores like The Tattered Cover (where I’m from) have fared. I haven’t been back to Denver, but I wonder if they’re not doing well because of the way they run the store and customer loyalty?
My teens are still big on print books, so the only time I go to a bookstore anymore is when a kid needs something. Otherwise, I’m only buying ebooks these days. Review sites have turned me on to many authors I’d not heard of, and anytime I see a post on one of my groups from a new author, I’ll click over and check out what they write. When I do check out a book, I find that I still judge them the same way I did at the bookstore…if the cover grabs me, I read the blurb. At this point, I throw in new technology and read the reviews, preferably 1-4 star reviews, because obviously the 5 star reviewers think it’s perfectly fabulous, and that’s not what I need to know. If the reviews are appealing, along with the cover and blurb, I’ll usually buy it. If there aren’t enough reviews to be sure, I’ll go to the excerpt. If it catches me, I buy. In the bookstore days, if I kept reading past the first page or so, I bought it. I haven’t ended up with many stinkers lately, so this method works for me.
I haven’t tried searching Amazon using tags to get my favored tropes. I’ll have to give that a try. Otherwise, if someone made up a newsletter like Jane suggests, I’d love to be a subscriber!
I’m new to Goodreads, so I’m finding a ton of books by going to the books lists of readers whose taste is similar to mine and going through their four and five star reviews. I’ve had a ton of luck there, but I’m already running out of people whose taste I *know* is similar to mine. I also often do a request on Twitter. I do get some good suggestions, and a lot of authors who toot their own horns. But whatever, you have to know how to separate the wheat from the chaff.
I troll alot for new books/authors because I read voraciously and I’m almost always casting around looking for new-to-me stuff. For instance a year or two ago, DA put out a Top 100 list. There were a large number of books on that list I hadn’t read. Mostly old school stuff, but whatever, it gave me an opportunity to discover some previously hidden gems.
I am mostly reading M/M, so bookstores and libraries aren’t of any use. Goodreads has a very helpful feature – it shows your friends’ reviews first and the most helpful reviews right after that. So you don’t get to the “squee! sparkly vampires!” reviews until you’ve read several worthwhile ones.
They also have groups who have similar interests, and you can join and do group reads and hear what everyone is excited about or disappointed by. There are Kindle lending groups so I can borrow a book I am not sure about.
I’ll take a look at Amazon reviews sometimes, but they aren’t as useful because it takes more work to figure out if they are fake or not.
The reviewers at Jessewave have been complaining about the ratio of good books to not-so-good lately too. M/M has always been mostly self published or the next thing to it, so that isn’t the reason there. I suspect jadedness really.
I gravitate to Mysteries, but read everything from Science Fiction to Chick-lit if I like the writing. And I can usually tell (but not always) within the first 3 pages if we’re “on the same page,” so to speak. I used to have a list of must-buy authors, but lately, I’ve been finding myself half-way through the “sure thing” pushing myself to finish it; so I’ve narrowed my purchasing down to the first few sample pages. Someone prior wrote about picking up a biography in the bookstore with the yellow cover and being intrigued within two pages. I love discoveries like that. I try not to narrow myself to one or two genres or place of purchase or place of recommendation. Nor do I expect every book I buy to stay perfect throughout the entire read. If I like the writing style, I generally enjoy the read.
@Janine: My first and second steps are pretty much identical to yours :). If I enjoyed the author in the past, I am very likely to buy her next book, and even if this book will dissappoint me, the author is likely to have a credit of trust with me that I will give couple more books from her a chance before I will give up. I read a lot of gay romance, gay fiction, mysteries, fantasies, etc and I definitely have couple of friends who know my tastes very well and with whose recommendations I am usually very happy. There are also couple reviewers on Jessewave and Sunita here whose tastes are so close to mine that I can usually buy the book based on their review alone and be happy with it.
When I search for new reads in other genres, especially historical nonfiction, which is my other favorite reading these days, I usually trust the recommendations of another friend, or just go search the topic I am interested in.
When I look for classical reads, I am not searching for anybody’s recommendations, I know what I want to read, meaning I know classical authors I love.
When I look for het romance, I just come here and grab a book after reading a review I enjoyed – it is not always a hit, simply because I am not well read in het romance these days at all, but sometimes I am very happy as well.
When I am in the mood of trying new authors in gay fiction/ or gay romance, I read blurbs mostly and do look at the Amazon reviews.
Goodreads is a bit garbagein-garbageout. If you are not too picky about who is your friend in goodreads, your friends recs in goodreads will not be too helpful. If you are only friends with people whose tastes are interesting to you, then your friends feed and seeing the opinions of your friends can be really really helpful.
Their automated recommendations are very interesting to me, when they recommend things that were not at all on my radar, but overall, it´s friends recommendations which I trust. I trust those way more than anything else. Ads online, I block. Amazon recommendations, LOL, no way, even reviewers not so much. I trust more a wordless rating from a GR friend whose taste I *know* and know to be totally honest than a long well-argued and written review from a blogger.
Has Ned read The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks? It is an urban fantasy but it is very different from many of the books in that genre. The central theme of the book is about privacy issues in the digital age and there are three books in the series, all of which are out.
@Laurie – No, he has not. He was on a Swedish thriller kick and he just finished the last of the Nesbo books. I had bought Heartsick when it was on sale for 2.99 but he said he was struggling to connect. I think he is going to read Rae Carson’s girl of fire and thorns but I’ll put this in his wishlist.