Discovering new books to read is becoming increasingly difficult in the current book market—at least for me—and I don’t think I’m the only one who’s feeling that way. Lately, I’ve seen posts on social media from frustrated readers begging for book recommendations. They claim they can’t find anything that’s holding their attention and that everything feels recycled and stale. Several of my fellow authors have even admitted to binge-watching shows on Netflix versus picking up a book (I’m guilty of doing the same thing. Hello, Grey’s Anatomy). And we’re writers! To choose TV over books feels like a dirty little secret none of us want to admit.
In 2011, when I self-published my debut novel, On the Island (which was later acquired by Penguin’s Plume imprint), the gatekeepers—mostly publishers and agents—issued a dire warning about how self-publishing would cause a “tsunami of crap” to hit the marketplace and because of this, readers would not be able to find quality books. I scoffed at the notion; surely, we as readers would be capable of finding books to read without someone to hold our hands as we traversed the seemingly endless digital shelves. Sadly, I now fear they might have been right.
I think the current discoverability challenges are due to several factors. Self-publishing platforms have made it easier than ever to publish a book. I have nothing but love for self-publishing because it’s what allowed me to launch my own writing career, and I’m truly thankful that after being rejected by every single agent I queried, such a platform existed for me to publish my own work. Unfortunately, in the six years since I first self-published, I’ve watched the book market become heavily saturated. More isn’t necessarily better and consumers are drowning in content choices.
When my children were born (in 1999 and 2002, respectively), e-readers did not exist. I didn’t even open an Amazon account until 2010 (I would have dearly loved the option to open my front door and find diapers, paper towels, and laundry detergent waiting for me the way parents can today). I used to discover new books by going to Target.
The thought of dragging a stroller into my local two-story Barnes & Noble was not something I wanted to tackle very often. But Target worked great for me. I was already there on a weekly basis anyway, infant and toddler in tow, so I’d swing by the trade paperback aisle as my reward for pushing a cart full of children and household supplies through the store. This was back when women’s fiction was known simply as chick lit, and the pretty pastel covers were lined up in rows. That’s how I discovered some of my favorite women’s fiction writers like Jennifer Weiner and Emily Giffin.
Fast forward to 2017 when finding books to read has become both harder and easier. I no longer have to leave the house; new titles are simply a mouse-click away. But for me, book discoverability is now a two-step process. First, I have to hear about the book to become aware of its existence. I receive an e-mail from BookBub every morning, and I scan the day’s offerings to see if there’s anything I might like.
I scroll through my social media timelines on Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, and Twitter and click on any book link that piques my interest. I also follow my favorite authors on BookBub and Amazon, and I “like” their author pages on Facebook and make sure I’ve checked the ‘see first’ box so I never miss an update. I rarely browse in physical bookshops, but that has more to do with the fact that I read e-books more than paperbacks. I do browse on Amazon and rely on a book’s “also-boughts” to lead me to titles I might have missed otherwise. And sometimes, nothing beats the recommendation of a family member.
One of the most important books I’ve ever read came into my life when my dad gave it to me. It was Stephen King’s The Stand. I still have that dog-eared mass market paperback, and I pull it out now and then for a re-read. After reading that book, I knew I wanted to be a writer someday.
Once I’ve identified a book that I’d like to read, I rely very heavily on the ‘send a sample to my Kindle’ system for deciding whether or not to buy it. I send a sample whether the books costs .99 or $12.99 because I base my decision on the value of my time more than what it will cost me in dollars.
Because reading preferences are so subjective, I sometimes find it difficult to connect with books that have been recommended to me (and if a book is overly hyped, my scrutiny will be even greater). This works both ways, of course, and readers to whom I’ve recommended my favorites may not love them as much as I did. And that’s perfectly fine. We all read books differently, and we filter them through our own life experiences.
If I enjoy the sample, I buy the book.
There may be more books available than I’ll ever be able to read in my lifetime, and sometimes I have to sift through many of them to find the one that fits my preferences and mood. But I for one am glad so many choices exist. It’s a good problem to have.
Category: On Writing