Readers And Writers Finding Each Other

For me, reading is similar to going to a nice restaurant. When I order my meal, do I get the item on the menu that I know I really like, or do I experiment, try something new?
on Jun 17, 2013 · No comments

863727_gift_ It’s almost like courtship, this process of readers finding the books they like, or finding the writers whose careers they want to follow.

I learned at an early age that because I liked one Sugar Creek Gang book, I’d probably like others, that since I was captured by one Nancy Drew mystery, I’d probably find the others equally interesting. But how did I stumble upon that first Sugar Creek Gang book, that first Nancy Drew mystery?

In reverse, writers are faced with this dilemma–how do they make it possible for readers to find them?

Readers, as a general rule, are loyal to the writers they like. In the same way that as a young person I read all the Nancy Drew books I could get my hands on (not knowing that Carolyn Keen wasn’t a real person, but was rather many writers hired to produce a formulaic story), I later read all the Louisa May Alcott books I could find because I loved Little Women. Still later I read multiple James Michener books because I love Hawaii. Then it was John Grisham and Dick Francis. More currently it’s Shannon Dittemore and Jill Williamson.

Perhaps other readers are more adventurous than I, and I’ll admit, free Kindle books have helped me do a little more exploring, but just a little.

371826_ordering_a_mealFor me, reading is similar to going to a nice restaurant. Once a year I take a friend out for her birthday, and the last few years she’s requested the same restaurant–a place I only visit on that one, yearly, occasion. So when I order my meal, do I get the item on the menu that I know I really like, or do I experiment, try something new?

Here are the issues. This is a once a year experience. I’m paying good money for this meal. I know there’s something on the menu I like.

But . . .

There are a couple other dishes that sound good.

Do I venture out and try something new? And risk being disappointed that I spent the money for my once-a-year visit on something bad when I could have had what I know I like?

Book buying is like that, at least for me.

When it comes to free or less expensive ebooks, the issue becomes time. Do I spend the time reading a book by an author I’ve never heard of when I can read this other book by an author whose books I like?

A friend of mine has done something I never saw as valuable when trying to decide what to order in a restaurant–she asks the server which of the dishes in question she would recommend. It’s taken me a while to realize that’s a great idea. I discounted the server’s opinion, I guess, because I figured there was no way to know whether their taste was the same as mine. Now if a friend made a recommendation, that held considerable weight. But a stranger?

Well, rarely did the server say, I recommend B, not A. Almost always they give reasons for their choice, especially something like, B seems to be popular with a lot of customers or, I’ve had B and it’s one of my favorite meals we serve.

Suddenly the server, still a stranger, has given me more of a reason to venture out and try something new.

All that to say, recommendations might be the best way for readers to find the books they want to read and the writers they want to follow.

I know that a lot of readers don’t take the time to tell others about the books they read. Some feel as if they aren’t qualified to write a review. Others say they’re simply too busy.

The truth is, recommendations, at least here at the Spec Faith library, don’t have to be reviews. If you’ve read a book and would like to voice your opinion about it, you can pull it up from the Spec Faith library and leave your recommendation as a comment.

A recommendation is nothing more than you acting like the restaurant server, saying whether or not you think people would like that particular book.

There are some books you realize aren’t for you. I’m not a big fan of science fiction, but I have a friend who writes space opera, so when I come across a book set in a galaxy far, far away, I have no trouble recommending it to readers like him. But that would not be a book I would recommend to “everyone.”

I personally like books that Spec Faith contributor and webmaster Stephen Burnett calls “Narnia knockoffs.” Clearly, his reaction tells me a book about children finding a door to another world would not be one I could recommend to “everyone,” either. But I certainly could say, people like me would enjoy that book.

All this to say, with the radical changes in the book industry, even more than ever, we need a place where readers can find the books that are worth buying. Otherwise, despite the freedom technology has created for books to be published apart from the traditional gatekeepers, no one is going to know those books exist. Or few people will.

No one is going to know which of the millions (yes, Amazon rankings are now in the millions) are well written and worth reading. No one is going to find the one book out of thousands and thousands that has been professionally edited, and vetted by a group of beta readers. No one is going to realize that the book by Josephina Anonymous is high quality and very entertaining.

Instead, the dollars will still go to Mr. Name Author because he produces a known quantity.

Unless we start talking about the books we’re reading and liking.

So how about you? Have you done an Amazon review in the last month or so? Have you left a comment here at the Spec Faith library about the books you like? Or a review? Where else do you talk about books and with whom?

Best known for her aspirations as an epic fantasy author, Becky is the sole remaining founding member of Speculative Faith. Besides contributing weekly articles here, she blogs Monday through Friday at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. She works as a freelance writer and editor and posts writing tips as well as information about her editing services at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.
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  1. Sherwood Smith says:

    Good points. I stopped writing reviews on Amazon when they began yanking reviews arbitrarily, and also, I found myself seldom reading reviews there, as there was so much fluff obviously written by the authors’ friends.

    I tend to go to Goodreads these days, to find out what ordinary readers think of something. And I do try to keep up with my reviewing, though I don’t always get everything covered.

    • Jill says:

      Funny thing is Amazon started yanking reviews to supposedly get rid of these fluff reviews. Sometimes, though, new/unknown/self-pubbed authors only have their enthusiastic friends to back them. I’ve never yet had a review yanked, so I keep on reviewing (for friends, or otherwise). And I would prefer to have an open review system than one where Amazon is a dictator trying to determine what is or isn’t a valid review.

      • D.M. Dutcher says:

        I’d like it too, but the fluff reviews really are a problem. I’ve seen tens of five star reviews on books laden with typos and just all around bad writing. Usually I don’t mind a flawed book (I wrote one, after all!) but reviews where everything is perfect without any qualification hurt the system. Usually I get more from the three star reviews, or critical ones than the five unless the book really is five-star worthy. 

    • Here I will naturally point out: Submit A Novel Review. We don’t pull ’em. 🙂

  2. Galadriel says:

    I tend find new authors that way too–for example, I heard of Neil Gaiman when he wrote an episode of Doctor Who and then dove headlong into all his work.

  3. Becky, the restaurant thing is such a great analogy. That’s exactly how I feel!
    I’m thrilled that the Internet broadens my circle of like-minded friends, and when I find people who like the same authors I do, it’s likely their recommendations will be books I will also enjoy. There’s still a bit of variance in our tastes, but it helps.
    I find myself tasting samples a lot when it comes to finding new authors to follow. If I’m not hooked by the sample, then I don’t buy the book. I read fiction mostly on my Kindle, except for those rare occasions where a favorite author lives nearby and I can attend book launches and get a signed copy (hi, Shannon Dittemore!).
    The changes in the publishing industry have created an interesting journey for me as a reader. I don’t spend time browsing the bookshelves in Borders or Barnes & Noble anymore. I’m excited at the chance to hear new voices, and since many of my favorite authors have slowed down or stopped production in the last 10-20 years, I need that new blood.
    But now that self-publishing is so prevalent, I run into a lot of writing that isn’t quite up to par. Also, as I have less time to read these days, I find my tastes more narrow than ever. I’ve run into quality writing in Kindle samples that intrigue me but then didn’t buy the book because it just wasn’t quite the kind of story I wanted to read. And when you only have time for one book a month (for example), you want to make it your very favorite type.

  4. J. S. Bailey says:

    Most of the books I recommend to people on Goodreads are from lesser-known authors. Just trying to do my part! 🙂

  5. Kessie says:

    My favorite way to find books, still, is pulling random books off the shelves and reading their backs and first page. To a lesser degree, I’ll do this on Amazon, too, but its less comfy. And I don’t have to have money to use the library.
    Lately a lot of book bloggers have been doing big giveaways. I check out the summaries and stick the good ones in my Goodreads to-read list so I can find them later. I review books on my blog, Amazon and Goodreads, and elsewhere if the author requests. And if people need book recommendations, I’ll happily give them out.
    Need to pick up the Iron Druid books…they’re the only thing I’ve heard of that’s close to my series, and I need to scope the competition.

  6. Jill says:

    Yes, I’ve written reviews this month. 🙂 I enjoy writing reviews. Often, I will find new authors via the library or free e-books. That way I’m not out any money, but can still sample.

  7. Josie says:

    Some of my favorite authors I’ve discovered because they’ve co-authored a book with one of my favorite authors. Think Ted Dekker and Erin Healy or Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee. It’s kind of like ordering something new off the menu and getting your favorite dessert too 🙂

  8. Glyn says:

    That’s part of the importance of having different mediums for your stories too. You use short stories to get your name out there and build a small fan base. Then you write the book and already have a few readers off the bat. Then you go back and write another short story to push the book and BAM! Free advertising.
     Well, that’s the Cross and the Cosmos model, anyway. Seems to be working so far for Rebirths.

  9. Jon R says:

    I have a few go-to blogs for recommendations. I write reviews on goodreads, but generally don’t on Amazon unless I feel the book is a legitimate 5 starer. It could be the case that 4 star reviews end up hurting book sales of something that you genuinely enjoy, or so goes my hesitation. I’ve been looking for a few recommendations on this site to get into Christian SFF, starting with the CSA noms, but after going through the titles only a few looked interesting to me (too picky), and the one I’m most intrigued by is like $10 for the ebook! Unless you’re China Mieville or GRRM I have a hard time putting out that kind of money for data. Still, I might give it a try, as I’m intrigued by the book and would like to support christian books that appeal to adult males (plus I feel the author was unfairly critiqued on this website the last time he guest posted).
    While we’re on the topic of Christian Fiction recommendations, here’s mine: Silence, by Shusaku Endo. That’s the best Christian fiction book I’ve ever read. The second Best? The Tombs of Anak, by Frank Peretti. Yup, it’s been a while.

  10. Hmmmm… Jon, if you’re a fan of Peretti, you should really give JC Lamont’s PROPHECY OF THE HEIR a try. 

  11. Jon R says:

    Well, I liked Peretti when I was nine, and I’m 31 now. I really like subtlety and flawed characters in books these days. Also I wanted to back up on the ‘unfairly criticized’ comment, and change it to ‘misunderstood’. I appreciate what is being done on this site.

  12. I personally like books that Spec Faith contributor and webmaster Stephen Burnett calls “Narnia knockoffs.” Clearly, his reaction tells me a book about children finding a door to another world would not be one I could recommend to “everyone,” either.

    Just to clarify, it’s not the “children find a portal to another world” that isn’t as enjoyable to me as the “children in a fantasy world must fulfill a Quest and become Royalty or Magical according to a Prophecy, and save the World” part. For many Christian stories too, that’s also done with the role of an Allegorial Messiah — which also wouldn’t draw my tongue-in-cheek criticism if this were done more thoughtful, and not simply a reflection of what the “Narnia” series did with Aslan.

What do you think?