How to discover new books

Finding books is hard

When I look at books I like on sites like Amazon nowadays there’s one extra place I always look. The ‘who bought this item also bought’. When I find a book in the list that looks interesting, I read the excerpt, if there is one, then I read the reader’s reviews.

This is where I find a lot of new books nowadays.

Another place I find new books is Suvudu’s Del Rey Spectra 50 Page Fridays.

And of course, there are still the recommendations from my reading friends of books they read and liked.

Even so, as Michael Shatzkin, of the Shatzkin Files says, one problem not really solved yet with eBooks is the ability to find books you want to read.

But the merchandising … leaves a lot to be desired. My shopping experiences are actually a bit of a random walk. I ask my ebook retailer to show me books by category and … I tend to see the same books over and over again, far too many of which I have already read …

Michael Shatzkin, Merchandising ebooks is a problem not really solved yet

The big bookstores aren’t much use

It’s a dilemma, and for me the difficulty of finding new authors hasn’t just started with the eBook revolution. I never used the major bookstores like Borders to find new authors. I only ever used them to buy books.

Why?

Because they only carry the bestsellers and new books. I don’t always want the bestsellers, and I don’t always hear about books when they’re new. When I hear about them they may be six, twelve months old—after my friends have recommended them, or I read a review somewhere.  By then they’re often out of stock at the big chains.

Back in the days when bookshops were more prolific, there were two local science fiction/fantasy shops I frequented all the time. The salespeople in those shops knew their books and they would happily recommend authors or novels based on what you were buying. One thing I really look forward to is the return of these specialist bookstores—which I think is coming, now that the big chains all seem to be going broke.

Online booksellers—both electronic and paper—have improved matters, only they’re doing it in a typical Web 2.0 fashion, putting the onus back onto users to make the recommendations rather than doing it themselves.

Reader reviews

I like reader reviews. I like the ratings they put on books.

They’re different to the reviews you read in a major newspaper’s weekend section or a magazine for two reasons.

Paid reviewers have no real choice in what they read. Well, they do have some choice, but they still need to review the major releases, even if they don’t like them, sometimes even if they don’t read in that genre. So right from the start, they’re reading a book they would not normally read as a reader.

I also find that they’re a lot like film critics in that they review so many books they’re often looking for something different. Anything new, fresh or innovative rates highly with them—even if it doesn’t suit the genre or the story.

But readers, they’re reading books in their genre. They’re reading books they chose to read. When they write a review they’re starting from the same place I am. When they give a book five stars I pay a lot more attention to it that I do to the five stars a professional critic gives it because it means that someone like me read the book and liked it.

I pay a lot of attention to one-star reviews as well, incidentally. You will often find readers give a book one star because of a subject matter that is taboo to them. A book with mostly five-star reviews and some one-star reviews is often a very good book. Read the reviews to find out.

Book sites on the web

Of the booksellers I look at regularly I find that:

  • Amazon has an excellent review system. Most of us know it already and use it
  • Fictionwise has ratings, but no capacity for comments
  • The Book Depository has capability for reviews and ratings but in my experience I find few books that I buy have been reviewed by users
  • iTunes also has capability for ratings. I haven’t used the Apple store much as they still don’t have many of the books I want—or maybe I just can’t find them—but based on the other items they sell I expect these reviews will eventually come to rival Amazon’s.

But you don’t have to just stick with the bookstores. There are specialist sites where you can record what books you are reading, keep a record of everything you have in your library, write reviews and see what other people who like the same books you do read and recommend. Some of the big ones are:

We’ve still got some way to go, but it’s getting easier to find books. Much easier than it was back in the day when the big bookstore chains were all we had. It can only be good for books.

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