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Finding a good book is a challenge

20 February 2012

From Dear Author in the aftermath of two large book conferences:

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.

. . . .

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.

. . . .

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.

Link to the rest at Dear Author and thanks to Anthea for the tip.

For Passive Guy, downloaded excerpts are much more useful than covers and blurbs have ever been, but books by authors he likes are still the most reliable way of finding something he enjoys.

Although he checks Amazon almost daily, PG seldom goes to physical bookstores any more. When he did, he nearly always ignored the front tables. The only time when paid physical placement reached him was when he was in an airport and needed something for a long plane ride.

Ebooks, Marketing

15 Comments to “Finding a good book is a challenge”

  1. To find a good book to read has always been a challenge, and will remain so.

  2. I’m amazed at what people consider problems.

  3. I confess to relying heavily on Amazon’s “people who bought this bought that” feature. Occassionally I’ll buy something I saw reviewed on a blog or from a friend’s recommendation, but I have ridiculously catholic taste and it all depends on what I’m in the mood for at any given moment. And I got burned badly by that “look inside” thing a few weeks ago. The excerpt from the book (indie pubbed) was interesting (it had been polished to a glittery shine). Sadly, the rest of the book belonged in a dung heap and left a bitter taste in my mouth.

    • *beth prods the first five pages of something she was sending to agents at one time* If the excerpt was glittery, it may’ve been due to trying to get agents/editors to look at it — many agents want the first X pages, so that’d be where the care’d be given.

      In theory, if you bought from Amazon, you can return the thing for a refund in the first… month?

  4. So this makes it sound like publishers are losing yet one more reason they say authors should pub with them – they’re not sure how to market a book anymore. And it also sounds like whether a book becomes popular depends more on what readers like than what publishers like. Interesting.

    I went over to the original post too and read the comments. Sounds like there is opportunity for someone who could figure out *how* to reach the right readers.

  5. I’m like a kid in a candy store; there are so many books I want to read I can’t read them all. It helps to have very eclectic tastes, I suppose. But not having to wade through the visual clutter of display tables and endcaps and books turned face out makes it just as easy to find all those books that were spine out in the bookstore, as well as the books that had fallen off the bookshelf because hey, it had been six months and time to make room. Sure, sometimes I’ll hit a stinker, but you know what? I stop reading it and move on! I don’t have to finish every book I start!

    • Me, too. I have a whole bookshelf that I’m dying to read, and every month I see new releases that make my mouth water. That’s not even considering all the books I want to re-read.

      Just finished Jo Walton’s wonderful AMONG OTHERS and want to re-read all those classic sf and fantasy novels.

  6. Before I got my first Kindle and I was buying paperbacks, my picks were heavily influenced by placement in the bookstore and which books were displayed by cover rather than by the spine. I look at spines only to check on my favorite authors or looking for a specific book.

    When I was buying paperbacks, I wasn’t very price conscious. Because prices were not very conspicuous, I pretty much ignored them. The total at the check out counter was usually about the same. When I buy a book from Amazon, not only is the price highly visible, I can also see the prices in all the formats.

    Now that I’m almost exclusively reading ebooks, I’m very price conscious and often put off buying books that I would have purchased immediately from the local book store when they came out in paperback. Amazon and FictFact influence me the most. I’m also looking at best seller lists. FictFact is great because they send me an email when one of my favorite authors has a new book out. If I think the book is too expensive, I go to ereaderiq.com to add the book to my list. If the price goes down, they will send me an email.

    It’s not only about reaching the right readers, it’s also about pricing. A product readable only on a particular set of devices, that can’t be loaned or given away, that isn’t scarce, that is only licensed not owned, should cost less than its other forms.

  7. It’s always been my experience that the stuff bookstores place on their front tables isn’t anything I’m looking for — bestsellers like that “Eat Pray Love” thing, cookbooks, Time-Life collections, and if it’s the beginning of school year, stuff for students (“classics” like To Kill A Mockingbird and Catcher In The Rye, etc.). Since I am, or was, mostly a buyer of fantasy and science fiction, I learned to not only ignore covers, but to actively avoid looking at them altogether. (Especially when it became a fad to put a buxom young woman in purple spandex on covers no matter if the plot of the book even featured a humanoid young woman with big boobs. I mean, some of those purple spandex-covered boobs could put your eye out!)

  8. I don’t think “good” books are hard to find at all; I get most of my recommendations from friends and family and Amazon recommendations; and of course I buy anything from my favorite authors (although I do agree with Diane about pricing).

    It’s the “wonderful” books that are hard to find – just like those special people who become lifelong best friends and/or spouses.

    It isn’t that they aren’t out there, but if everything and everyone were wonderful, what would be special about them?

  9. I have no trouble finding good books. I just look up the names of authors I already know are good. Same as I always did.

    Old bookstores had limited choices but were easier to browse. That’s true. And you can’t use your old browsing techniques in the new system.

    But that doesn’t mean it has to be hard. It must means you need a new tool set. My first suggestion is… Google. Look up the names of your favorite books and authors and see where it leads you. Find the word of mouth that you can trust. Find people who think like you and have the same tastes as you.

    In the new paradigm, you’re going to find a higher proportion of books you like when you’re NOT shopping for books. When you’re shopping, you’re looking to buy something, and if you don’t find what you like, you’ll have to check out things that don’t thrill you. When you’re not shopping — when you’re interacting in your normal life — you will only notice the things that sound really interesting. Therefore your percentage will be better.

    However, you won’t be in the mood to check out the books right then (you may not even have time).

    So, don’t use sampling as a browsing tool. Use it as a bookmark. When you come across a review or hear about a book from a friend, or meet an author whose attitude intrigues you — download a sample. Don’t read it, just download it.

    Then when you are in the shopping mood, use those samples as your own personal “bookstore.”

    Browse like you would in a real bookstore. Dip in here and there. All of the books you see will be ones that got your attention in one way or other. Heck, I do this with books I already know I’m going to love, too — if I can’t afford to buy a whole series, I’ll put a sample of the next one in my sample bin, so that I’ll find it when I’m looking for a book.)

    Don’t make sampling a chore. Don’t read each and every one. Just glance over the ones that sound interesting right now, the same way you would your TBR pile, or a real bookstore shelf.

    (BTW: if you find a site which is really good for you, and they are an affiliate, this method of creating your own bookstore via sampling will cut them out of their affiliate fees. If you want to support such a site, you may want to make a point of going in to Amazon via a link on their site when you want to buy something. You don’t have to use a particular product link — Amazon is generous with its affiliates in that it gives credit to them for anything you buy if you enter the store through them.)

    • That’s very much what I do, something catches my attention I download samples to remind myself to look at it closer at some point in the future. Many of them will be forgotten forever, but who knows. This habit does make me really wish publishers (self and trad) would put the product description in the front of the book, or amazon would embed it in the file so months later I don’t have to go back to amazon trying to figure out what something is and why I have a sample of it.

      Though thinking about it now I really have a more fine grained system. A sample would represent the lowest level of interest. The next level would get something added to my amazon wishlist. Above that it might go onto my Goodreads to-read shelf. The highest level stuff would just get bought.

      Of course, as someone whose TBR pile would take years of dedicated reading to get through if I were to stop adding to it today, I can’t quite grasp the problems of people who can’t find anything interesting to read. I tend to suspect they are not really readers. Though I admit sometimes one has moods. I’ll have periods where perfectly good novels that I would enjoy at some other time don’t hold my interest and I switch to primarily reading non-fiction, but I can always find something.

      • For me, lowest level of interest does not get a sample any more. It gets a mental note.

        The first, oh, ten steps of interest are not related to the book. They are related to the source of the info — I make a mental note about the blogger or person who mentioned it.

        The next step up is what I think of as passive bookmarking: if it’s a Blogger blog, I’ll click the subscribe button for that – because I don’t actually browse those much at all, but it keeps it on my radar.

        The next step is subscribing via RSS, but consigning it to the page of ten million RSS subscriptions. Or following on Twitter. (which only happens if you don’t tweet too much)

        The next couple of steps move the blog or person up my heirarchy of RSS subscriptions. For Twitter, it’s where I start following a hashtag someone uses relatively often.

        The top of that scale is when a blog gets to my first page of RSS subscriptions, or I put you on a Twitter list.

        Yeah, none of this relates to the individual book…

        … except that it does because what got me to follow this person was that I share tastes with them. So they’re a fan of yours, that means your books or your name will cross paths with me again sometime.

        Sampling happens WAY after a whole lot of other things happen.

        Here’s the irony here: One kind of blog I never ever ever follow is one which focuses on new indie books. This is not a conscious choice, it’s just that they’re talking about things I don’t already have an interest in, so there is no incentive to follow them.

        I’m much more likely to find someone if they are in amongst things I already like.

  10. I keep my mind open & consider all types of
    books so not 2 box myself in…..thus my options for books
    tomes or a saga is always limitless! ( I read it all ) I never have a problem finding a good book ;)

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