How to Find a New Book (Electronic or Paperback)

Tuesday , 3, June 2014 3 Comments

From Nick Broadhurst’s Chariots Of Sequetus 3

Tesla is going to have to wait for a little bit longer. Something keeps coming up in recent discussions:

  1. There seems to be a long-standing major drought in quality science fiction publishing.
  2. Readers who prefer paper books are being left behind in whatever marketplace remains

The response to problem 1 can be found in the solution to problem 2. So allow me to address the paper book fanatic:

You aren’t buying them now. If you were, you wouldn’t be complaining about it. That means one of two things: either you are just a big liar who likes to complain about random things, or the quality of stories has not kept up with your memories of good books from the past. Since you appear to be an honest fellow, I’m going to assume the latter.

The fact is that story quality has not gone down, it has just gone underground. There are books kicking about today that, in all likelihood, you have never heard of, and will never find in your typical (if former) paperback haunts, assuming that they are still in business. You won’t find them just browsing categories at Amazon, either, for other reasons: as we saw last week, it is hard enough to find the top-sellers in independent science fiction. Good luck finding the bottom-feeders.

Take the 23-novel epic science fiction series Sequetus.  About a quarter-century since its first book was written by Nick Broadhurst, his series has finally completed with the publication (two days ago, no less!) of Galaxy. No, it is not available in paper — but bear with me, because I’ll get to that next time. This stuff is important for getting to that point.

The real question is were you even aware of the existence of this newly finished Wheel of Time-sized space epic? Based on its unit sales, I would guess not . So, your first step towards knowledge is to recognize: the pathways to the good books have changed. You may think nothing of wandering through your favorite book store or browsing Amazon, but because distribution has changed, so have the ways of finding those books that you seem to believe have disappeared. So, Step One to getting your books back is:

Hunt Where The Hunting is Good (ignore format…for the moment).

You can hunt for off-the-old-trail books at Amazon…you just have to be patient and careful with your search restrictions. But a faster and more efficient way is to go to a ebook aggregator like Smashwords. Because Smashwords does not typically have traditionally-published books listed, you can immediately eliminate the body of books that haven’t been delivering the science fiction you’ve been looking for.  After all, if traditional publishers were consistently giving you the sort of science fiction you enjoy in any quantity, you wouldn’t be reading this post now, would you? Also, because Smashwords only sells books (and not electronics or toilet paper), searching science fiction is literally one click off of the home page.

Which brings us to Step Two:

Hunt by Category, Ignore Blurbs

You’ve been trained to read blurbs (the book description) for a “hook”. Basically, good blurbs can sell books, and rotten blurbs can turn off readers. Independently published books are notorious for bad blurbs, and because of this, can cut themselves off at the knees before any reader ever looks inside. Now, that’s a problem all publishers should address, but it isn’t going to happen overnight. Because it isn’t, my argument is that blurbs, for the most part, are likely deceptions that readers can, and should, now avoid.

In independent fiction, the author of the book is often the author of the blurb. These are two separate talents. I doubt very much that J.R.R. Tolkien or even Frank Herbert could have written blurb marketing copy that did their epic works any justice whatsoever. Now, Harlan Ellison is a different story. But for every good self-promoting fiction author, there are ten good authors who couldn’t promote their own work to family members.

That fact hurts their sales, but it doesn’t have to hurt your ability to find their good-but-badly-promoted work. So skip the blurb, and go straight to the preview. Which is Step Three:

Read the Preview with Purpose

I’ll simply compare the opening paragraphs of two books that might hold initial appeal for the same reader – in this case a fan of apocalyptic stories:

He waited with the patience of someone who has no hope or expectations.

Something stirred in the night, beyond his vision. He felt it evolving, growing. He sensed the coming storm; the hairs on his forearms stood on end. Dread circled at the edge of his awareness like a carrion bird.

While he waited, he stood on the balcony and stared out over the white-capped waves of Tampa Bay. In the background a radio played, and a singer asked, “Where have you been all my life?”

Somewhere out there—in the inky darkness across the black expanse of open water—was Tampa. Off to the left, he had a good view of the inverted pyramid shape of one of the city of St. Petersburg’s most iconic landmarks: The Pier, a five-story building and its lighted causeway approach.

That is from Stephen North’s Dead Tide Surge 3, which came out last Friday.

Compare this to the similarly categorized novel that was published the same day: Zombies Vs. Robots 3

 Wind and rain batted against the window of the Boeing 747. As the plane rumbled in the turbulence, Thomas Benson stared out the Plexiglas but he was looking back in time to a meeting that he had with an old friend Miguel Davis last week. Davis had shown him things that even now made his mind spin. Soon, the world was going to change drastically and Thomas was going to play a critical role.

“What I find truly amazing is how the Telomere regrow; Telomeres getting longer and longer—it’s just unseen in nature,” offered the scientist, as he projected the cells image from the microscope onto the screen. Thomas sat dumbfounded.

“Finally, after decades of research,” said Miguel, “we have made progress. My father and grandfather would be proud.”

“And the money in this should be enormous. You know the old expression, play God get paid twice,” joked the Cyclone Corporation scientist. Briefly, the words echoed like an anthem in Thomas’s head, and then he felt a twinge of regret in his soul.

Now, it does not matter which excerpt you prefer or whether you even like either one. What matters is that you likely prefer one strongly over the other, even though they were published in the same genre a few hours apart from one another. What really matters is that the preview text from the actual books are a much better indicator of how well the book suits you, versus any blurbs the author struggles to come up with.

So pick your genre and compare titles and previews. There are new books in some of the narrowest categories every single day. If newest books are too much of a crapshoot for you, then go by another ranking category, such as units sold, bestsellers, word count or price. But the fact is that today, a book in your preferred niche can be found nearly every day.

Great. But what does this have to do with paper books?

Everything. I’ll get to that next time.

  • Jill says:

    If you had written about Tesla, I wouldn’t have been reminded of how lazy I am (or blissfully ignorant) in not visiting Smashwords.

    It’s just another *thing*, and I prefer ideas. But don’t worry about Tesla waiting. He’s dead, you know.

  • Daniel says:

    Heh, heh. How interesting that you would suggest such a thing. I disagree.

    The thing about Smashwords (or using any catalog of ebooks) is that it is a thing that makes ideas findable.

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