Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Choosing a new book

Image by BSGStudio
Your To Be Read pile looks suspiciously like there's fewer than 100 books in it...

How do you choose which book(s) to buy?

There are thousands of great books published every year; some by big-name publishers, some by smaller publishers and some self-published. Which do you buy? What is pushing you towards a particular book?

Maybe you've seen rave reviews about a book in a magazine. Are they genuine? Have the staff of the magazine read ALL of the new books released that month and these five or six are genuinely the best in their opinion? I'm suspecting that the answer to that is 'no'. I'm suspecting that these are the books they've been sent by the big publishers and possibly some of the smaller publishers. I'm basing that on the fact that in the magazines that I read, none of the books they recommend are published by anyone other than the main publishers. Okay, but there are loads of other, excellent books that have been released; you're just not being told about them, so maybe the recommendations aren't everything.


You go into the local bookshop (congratulations if you have one!). There are tables near the front, piled with books on offer - buy one, get one free/half price. Buy three for £10. We've all seen them. We've all been suckered in. But again, why are those books the ones on offer? Because they're the best? I've certainly read some cracking books bought off the big tables, but I've also read a couple of howlers. Again, what is being put in front of you is decided by the big publishers because they've bought the prime locations for their books.

How does the independent author compete? They'll never be on the tables inside the door of the bookshop. They may not even be on the shelves for those more adventurous readers who make it past the tables. They're not in the magazine recommendations either. So how do you ever know they are there?

Well, the large on-line shop that sells a lot of books and which begins with A, whilst having the disadvantage that it demands enormous discounts on physical books to such an extent that it can be almost impossible for an indie author to make any money off a print-run of less than 1000, does have the advantage that its recommendations are tailored. They are not decided by who has paid the most for the virtual 'table by the door' but are based on what you've bought in the past, and on what other people with the same shopping basket as you have also bought. It shows you things you may never have heard of, but don't dismiss them - they may be just what you're after!

Okay, so you click on one of these recommendations and see it may well be just what you're after, but there are almost no reviews of it so you're not sure.

At this point I'm going to make three suggestions to you, which apply to any book you're considering taking a punt on - whether it's one you see mentioned on your recommendations, a book you see mentioned on Twitter or one you see anywhere else.
  1. If you'd spend more on a coffee and a snack than the book costs, buy it. It will last longer than the coffee or snack and you may well love it. It certainly won't make you put on weight.
  2. If you read the book, leave a review. Good or bad, your opinion matters. You spent hours reading the book. It will only take a few minutes to leave a review. If you're reading on Kindle, even just completing the stars on the page you're presented with, the second you've finished reading, will help and all you have to do is touch the screen/click a button. Likewise on Goodreads - if you're logging that you've read the book, at least give it your stars out of five rating if nothing else.
  3. If you enjoyed the book, tell everyone you know.
If we do these things, we all benefit! We read something we may not have chosen because it's not on the table by the door (and this goes for any work really - from self-published to published by a big publisher and all the smaller presses in-between). The more reviews that are left, the better for everyone - readers and writers alike - because choices become more informed. And telling everyone you know about a great book you've read... well, surely we all do that anyway? And everyone's a winner - your friends get to read great books and the writer gets more sales and that might just be the tipping point they've been after - the one that helps them move from being a published book, to a successful published book.

Obviously, please buy books from anyone - big publishers, small publishers or self-published - but let's all try and read at least some books this year from self-published authors. After all, just because we are small fish in a huge ocean, it doesn't mean we're not great.

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